The 2021 Baltimore Ravens put together an 11-5 regular season that landed them a spot in the AFC wild card game. After heading to Nashville and exacting some revenge after their embarrassing 2020 playoff loss to the Titans, the Ravens traveled north to face the Josh Allen-led Buffalo Bills. Even though the Ravens’ offense out-gained the Bills on the ground and through the air, Baltimore managed to score a grand total of three points and was stopped short of an appearance in the conference championship game.
Expectations for the 2021 Baltimore Ravens are high. The Ravens return their general manager, head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and former MVP Quarterback. While the team does face the challenge of replacing starters like Matthew Judon, Orlando Brown Jr. and Yannick Ngakoue, the Ravens upgraded with experienced veterans in free agency and return starters at key positions on both sides of the ball.
2021 is the last “cheap” season on Lamar Jackson’s rookie contract. If Jackson stays in Baltimore for 2022 and beyond, he’ll be playing on a much more expensive 5th year option or on a long-term extension. This season is, presumably, the last chance for the Ravens to win a Super Bowl without the heavy burden of carrying Jackson’s contract on their salary cap. With this one-year “window”, Eric DeCosta and the rest of the Ravens front office have to find the balance between winning now and setting the team up for the future. How they choose to approach the 2021 NFL Draft could provide us some insight into their mindset moving forward.
The Ravens currently hold the following selections in the 2021 NFL Draft:
1st round: 27th overall
1st round: 31st (from KC)
3rd round: 94th (from KC)
3rd round: 104th (compensatory pick)
4th round: 131st
4th round: 136th
5th round: 171st
5th round: 184th (compensatory pick)
6th round: 210th
Here’s my ranking of the Ravens positional needs ahead of the 2020 NFL Draft:
This “2021 Baltimore Ravens Draft Guide” is my effort to compile my thoughts on the Ravens approach to the 2021 NFL Draft. For each position, I:
— Talk about players currently on the Ravens roster
— Discuss possible draft strategies
— Detail my preferred draft approach
— List a handful of players that I personally like for the Ravens for each scenario described
* Each player’s projected draft round appears in parentheses after their name
I am attempting to be an open book about how I view the draft. My hope is that this will be revealing, informative and entertaining. I appreciate you taking the time to read it. Enjoy the draft!
Former NFL MVP Lamar Jackson is on the fourth year of his four-year (five-year with a team option) rookie deal. Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley are expected to compete for the right to replace Robert Griffin III as Jackson’s backup.
Given their current situation, it seems highly unlikely that the Ravens will use the draft to add to their QB room this year. If the Ravens do decide to add a QB to the roster, I’d expect that they would look to sign a free agent to provide a veteran presence and serve as a mentor to Jackson. In any case, the Ravens should add an undrafted free agent (UDFA) “camp arm” to compete for the “QB3” job and make the practice squad. That player should also, ideally, be a fit to run the Ravens’ unique offense.
Players to Watch: Jamie Newman, Georgia (UDFA). Sam Ehlinger, Texas (UDFA).
With the considerable help of Lamar Jackson, the 2020 Ravens offense once again led the NFL in rushing yards. In 2021, the Ravens running back room will see the return of J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill.
Dobbins was the Ravens’ breakout star in 2021 and will be the “RB1” for the foreseeable future. Edwards is a fantastic second option and Hill has shown flashes to this point in his young career. The Ravens could absolutely be justified standing pat and not adding another RB for 2021. Due to the run first nature of their offense, however, the Ravens should not hesitate to add to their stable of backs if the right opportunity arises. Dobbins landed on the roster because his value with the 55th overall pick was too good to pass up. If that type of RB value were to present itself again, DeCosta should strike.
Players to Watch: Trey Sermon, Ohio St. (4th). C. Evans, Michigan (6th). Jake Funk, Maryland (7th).
Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, the team’s top WR, is back in 2021. Brown is joined in the WR room by former 3rd round picks Miles Boykin and Devin Duvernay. Former Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins, acquired in free agency, is expected to be a significant part of Baltimore’s passing attack. James Proche, Deon Cain and Binjimen Victor are exciting, but unproven depth options.
As has been the case with seemingly every NFL Draft in recent memory, the Ravens will hope to add at least one WR in their 2021 class. When exactly the Ravens front office should be targeting WRs in this draft has been, as usual, one of the most hotly debated questions among Ravens’ fans this offseason. The top three WRs – Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith – will almost certainly be gone by the time Baltimore is on the clock at 27. But if they think that the value is there, the Ravens could target a WR with one of their two 1st round picks. Ole Miss WR Elijah Moore, who has had a recent rise up the draft boards, has inside/outside versatility and is a nightmare to bring down in the open field.
Players to Watch: Kadarius Toney (1st). Moore, Ole Miss (1st). Rashod Bateman, Minnesota (1st).
Instead of taking a 1st round WR, I would advocate for taking advantage of a deep WR class and selecting a talented, NFL-ready WR on Day 2. The Ravens could find excellent value at WR in the 2nd (after a trade out of the 1st) or 3rd round. To help Jackson, Baltimore should target a WR who has the skillset necessary to have success in the middle of the field. USC WR Amon-Ra St. Brown is a polished prospect with reliable hands and a toughness over the middle that would make him an instant fan favorite.
Players to Watch: Dyami Brown, UNC (2nd). Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma, St. (3rd). Brown, USC (3rd).
If the Ravens decide to wait until Day 3 to select their first WR, this class has some exciting developmental prospects who have the physical tools to develop into productive NFL WRs. With the additions of Tee Martin and Keith Williams to the coaching staff, the Ravens front office may feel more comfortable selecting a physically gifted WR who needs quality coaching. Illinois WR Josh Imatorbhebhe and Stanford WR Simi Fehoko are raw, physical specimens who could develop into dangerous outside WRs.
Players to Watch: Imatorbhebhe, Illinois (4th). Fehoko, Stanford (5th). Frank Darby, ASU (6th).
Mark Andrews, one of the NFL’s best TEs, and Nick Boyle, the NFL’s best blocking TE, return to give the Ravens one of the league’s best TE duos. Eric Tomlinson, Josh Oliver, Eli Wolf and Jake Breeland give the Ravens plenty of depth/practice squad options.
The Ravens have enough TEs for 2021, but Andrews is in line for a massive contract in the offseason and getting a head start on adding a possible successor is not a bad idea. If DeCosta feels that a TE is a scheme fit and a value selection, he shouldn’t hesitate to add one to an offense that relies so heavily on TE production. Penn State product Pat Freiermuth is a well-rounded prospect with the skillset to develop into one of the league’s better all-around TEs. Notre Dame’s Tommy Tremble, one of my favorite players in the draft, could be an excellent NFL H-Back and a versatile piece in Greg Roman’s offense.
Players to Watch: Freiermuth, Penn St. (2nd). Tremble, Notre Dame (3rd). L. Farrell, Ohio St. (7th).
Interior Offensive Line
Bradley Bozeman and free agent signee Kevin Zeitler are expected to start at guard for the 2021 Ravens. Ben Powers, Patrick Mekari, Tyre Phillips, Ben Bredeson and Trystan Colon-Castillo provide excellent depth on the interior of the line. But without any above-average options at the center of their line, the Ravens should view the addition of a starting-caliber center a top priority in the draft. Alabama C Landon Dickerson and Oklahoma C Creed Humphrey are the top options. They would each cost Baltimore a top 50 selection, but they’d be able to step in and start on Day 1.
Players to Watch: Dickerson, Alabama (1st). Humphrey, Oklahoma (1st).
If the Ravens don’t land one of the draft’s top centers, they could decide to go another route to improve the interior of their offensive line. Bozeman, a college center, could slide over and vacate his LG position. With plenty of options to play LG already on the roster, the Ravens would likely wait and look to add quality depth at some point later in the draft. Alabama G Deonte Brown, a first-team all-SEC selection who started 13 games at LG in 2020, is a 340-pound mauler who could start right away.
Players to Watch: Brown, Alabama (3rd). D. Dalman, Stanford (5th). D. Moore, Grambling St. (5th).
After the blockbuster trade of Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Ravens’ draft outlook at tackle is drastically different than it was a week ago. Ronnie Stanley will be back as the starting LT in 2021. Second-year player Tyre Phillips saw significant time at RT in 2021, but he is unlikely to be Baltimore’s RT of the future. If the Ravens choose to draft Brown Jr.’s replacement, they should use one of their two 1st round picks to add a talented college tackle who could start immediately. Tevin Jenkins is a big RT with a mean streak who would be an excellent “like for like” replacement for Brown Jr.
Players to Watch: Jenkins, Oklahoma St. (1st). Jaylen Mayfield, Michigan (2nd).
Recent reports out of Owings Mills suggest the team may be exploring other options. The Ravens have recently had former Steelers’ LT Alejandro Villanueva and former Titans’ RT Dennis Kelly in town for visits. Villanueva and Kelly are experienced veterans who could delay the need to start a young RT. If they do sign a veteran, the Ravens could still take an offensive tackle early in the draft. An early selection could play LG in 2021 before kicking back outside to RT in 2022 and beyond.
If the draft board doesn’t fall their way or the Ravens decide to sign a veteran to man their RT spot in 2021, they may wait until later in the draft to add a tackle. The ideal prospect would be capable of being Baltimore’s “swing tackle” in 2021 and a quality starter at RT in the future. Former Texas OT Sam Cosmi, a three-year starter for the Longhorns, is an incredibly athletic prospect with a high ceiling who could be a starter after a year of NFL coaching.
Players to Watch: Cosmi, Texas (2nd). Leatherwood, Alabama (2nd). Stone Forsythe, Florida (3rd).
If the Ravens are comfortable with a player like Villanueva as their RT in 2021 and with someone like Phillips as their swing tackle, they could decide to take a late-round flyer on a developmental tackle. Late-round developmental tackle prospects don’t have a great track record in the NFL, but the Ravens’ recent selection of Greg Senat demonstrates that they aren’t afraid to try.
Players to Watch: Adrian Ealy, Oklahoma (6th). Drew Himmelman, Illinois State (7th).
Interior Defensive Line
Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams and Derek Wolfe make up a quality trio of starters along the DL. Justin Ellis is a solid veteran backup at NT and Justin Madubuike is an incredibly promising DT who could be a breakout player in 2021. Aaron Crawford, Braxton Hoyett and Broderick Washington (who is dealing with legal trouble) are young, completely unproven commodities. Despite being well positioned along the defensive line for the 2021 campaign, the age and contract status (Williams, Campbell and Ellis are all scheduled to be free agents in 2022) of the position make it an often-overlooked draft need.
As with almost every position on the roster, a best player available approach would be best for making an addition along the DL. The DL group in 2021 is widely considered to be very weak and there are serious questions about whether a single DL will be drafted in the 1st round. If the Ravens stick to their BPA approach, there is a slight chance that they may take one of the draft’s top two DL.
Players to Watch: Levi Onwuzurike, Washington (1st). Christian Barmore, Alabama (1st).
It is more likely, and it would be my preference, that the Ravens target a DL sometime after the 1st round. As getting pressure from the interior of the DL becomes increasingly important in the modern game, the Ravens should be looking for an athletic interior DL who has the tools to rush the passer. Bobby Brown III, a highly athletic prospect with promising pass rush potential, could see the Ravens selecting a Texas A&M DL for the third consecutive draft.
Players to Watch: Brown, Texas A&M (4th). Osa Odighizuwa, UCLA (4th).
The Ravens’ pass rush needs a rebuild. Tyus Bowser, a free agent in 2020, signed a long-term contract and will be a starter in Baltimore for at least the next few seasons. Pernell McPhee is stout against the run and provides invaluable veteran leadership, but is not the long-term solution. Jaylon Ferguson, a 3rd round pick in 2019, has not shown enough development to be trusted with a starting job. Aaron Adeoye and Chauncey Rivers are the only other EDGEs currently on the roster. In the modern NFL, EDGE is a blue-chip position and must be considered the team’s top priority in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Ravens should, in my opinion, absolutely target a pass rusher with one of their two 1st round picks. Miami’s Jalen Phillips, Michigan’s Kwity Paye and Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari are widely considered the top three EDGE in the 2021 draft. Paye is my absolute favorite player in the entire draft. He has NFL-ready athleticism, sets a hard edge against the run and has a motor that doesn’t quit. He would be the ideal pick for the Ravens with the 27th or 31st overall pick.
Players to Watch: Paye, Michigan (1st). Phillips, Miami (1st). Ojulari, Georgia (1st).
It is entirely possible that the top three options could be off the board before the Ravens are ever on the clock. In that case, they could presumably select a pass rusher from the “second tier” of prospects with a 1st round pick. Ideally, though, they would make a small trade back to accumulate picks and take a quality pass rusher with a newly acquired Top 50 pick. Joe Tryon and Joseph Ossai are both excellent athletes and would be ideal fits in the 3-4 defense.
Players to Watch: Tryon, Washington (2nd). Ossai, Texas (2nd). Carlos Basham, Wake Forest (2nd).
If the Ravens don’t land a top pass rush option with a 1st round pick and aren’t able to make a trade that nets them a 2nd rounder, they’ll have to wait until the 3rd round (or later) to select their first EDGE. In that case, Baltimore is fortunate that the 2021 EDGE class is deep. Temidayo “Dayo” Odeyingbo is a “tweener” DL/EDGE with a hot motor and NFL athleticism. Given their history with “tweeners” like McPhee and Za’Darius Smith, it’s hard to imagine that the Ravens don’t have him graded favorably.
Players to Watch: Odeyingbo, Vanderbilt (3rd). Cam Sample, Tulane (3rd). Q. Roche, Miami (4th).
The Ravens used the 2020 NFL Draft to completely overhaul their ILB group. After selecting Patrick Queen in the 1st round, DeCosta pounced on value and drafted Malik Harrison with one of his 3rd round picks. Harrison is expected to compete with L.J. Fort for a starting spot next to Queen in Wink Martindale’s base 3-4 defense. Chris Board, an excellent special teams player, has improved defensively and provides great depth.
With four ILBs under contract in 2021 and the future of the position secured, it seems unlikely that the Ravens will add to the position via the draft. If they do, it seems likely that they’d be looking for a “tweener” ILB/SS who can be effective in coverage and as a core special teams player. TCU LB Garret Wallow is a former safety with all the traits to have a long career as a special teamer.
Players to Watch: Nick Niemann, Iowa (5th). Wallow, TCU (7th).
The Ravens enter the 2021 season with one of the best CB groups in the NFL. Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters combine to form one of the league’s top CB duos on the outside. Tavon Young, who returns from injury, should start in the slot. Jimmy Smith, Anthony Averett, Davontae Harris, Iman Marshall, Khalil Dorsey and Chris Westry round out a very deep group full of intriguing backups.
While the Ravens are seemingly set at the CB position for 2021, injuries can strike at any time and the Ravens know as well as anyone that a team can never have enough good cornerbacks. So, if the Ravens see value at CB at any point in the draft, they shouldn’t be scared to stock up for the future. Ohio State CB Shaun Wade is a former five-star recruit who didn’t live up to expectations in college, but could be intriguing to a team that has the luxury of taking the time to develop him.
Players to Watch: Wade, Ohio St. (5th). D. Lenoir, Oregon (6th). Keith Taylor, Washington (7th).
Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott will start at safety for the Ravens in 2021. Anthony Levine and Jordan Richards can play safety when they’re called upon, but are at their best as special teamers. Geno Stone and Nigel Warrior are second-year players who can’t be considered anything more than developmental projects at this point.
The Ravens need to upgrade at the safety position. Ideally, they’d take a FS prospect capable of patrolling the deep middle of the field. Free Safeties are hard to come by in the NFL Draft so DeCosta should be prepared to take one in any round in which the fit and value make sense. TCU S Trevon Moehrig is an NFL-ready prospect who has long been discussed as a dark horse option for the Ravens in the 1st round.
Players to Watch: Moehrig, TCU (1st). Caden Sterns, Texas (4th). Damar Hamlin, Pittsburgh (6th).
While adding a quality FS option might be ideal, adding a do-it-all safety prospect would be a smart move. Elliott is a free agent after the 2021 season. Levine and Smith, who occasionally cover TEs and play some S, aren’t getting any younger and are also free to leave after this season. A player who can play SS and as sub package LB would be an immensely valuable addition to the defense. Virginia Tech’s Divine Deablo is one of my favorite players in the entire draft. Deablo would give the Ravens a player who can play in the box on 3rd down and serve as a matchup weapon against TEs.
Players to Watch: Deablo, Virginia Tech (3rd). H. Nasirildeen (5th). D. Forrest, Cincinnati (6th).