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Introducing….The 14

DeCosta the pick is in
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One month from today, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will walk to the podium in Las Vegas and say, “With the 14th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens select…”

The next words out of Goodell’s mouth will be a name, the name of Baltimore’s most important draft selection since Lamar Jackson, and one of the most consequential in team history.

That may sound like an exaggeration, but in 2022, the Ravens will be playing in a completely different National Football League than they did in 2021. The AFC has undergone an arms race of historic proportions, with so many legitimate superstars on the move that it’s foolish to even try to list them all here.

The Ravens made moves of their own, but only one major swing (so far) by signing safety Marcus Williams on a five-year, $70 million deal that I expect to age like fine wine. But after the Za’Darius Smith saga, it feels like the Ravens are still lacking another playmaker who cannot just deliver consistent snaps, but change the outcome of games.

While Baltimore may not be done yet, it’s unlikely that general manager Eric DeCosta will be banking on another addition via free agency or trade to take this team to its desired level: annual Super Bowl contender. After all, the front office has worked hard to stockpile picks in the 2022 draft with a specific eye on this year’s draft class, as outlined by ESPN’s Jamison Hensley.  

But they certainly weren’t planning to have a subpar 2021 season resulting in the 14th overall pick, and it happens to come when the franchise needs it the most. According to USA Today as of March 22, the Ravens are the only team with +2000 odds or better to win Super Bowl LVII in 2023 to possess a top-15 pick, and it could be Baltimore’s great equalizer to keep them among the contenders into the future.

That brings me to this draft series: The 14.

It stands to reason that the Ravens want to pick at least the 14th-best player in the draft with the 14th pick in the draft. Therefore, there must be 14 players worthy of being selected with that pick.

But who are those 14 players, and if more than one are available, which one should the Ravens pick?

Those two questions form the foundation of this series, and to answer them, I’ll be going through prospect evaluations and analyzing mock drafts to come up with the optimal draft strategy for the Ravens with their 14th pick.

This article is part of a two-part kickoff to this series, with tomorrow’s article covering my initial list of 14 players worth drafting by the Ravens with the 14th overall pick.

But first, I want to talk about why the 14th pick in particular is an interesting pick, both for Baltimore specifically and in recent league-wide draft history.

It’s the Ravens’ first top-15 pick since 2016, when they selected Ronnie Stanley sixth overall and brought a future All-Pro left tackle to Baltimore. Before that, the franchise hadn’t held a top-15 pick since 2008, when they traded back from the eighth overall pick to the 26th, then back up to the 18th to select (elite) franchise quarterback and future Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. Prior to 2016, the Ravens hadn’t used a top-15 pick since 2006, when they selected All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. (Notably, Ngata is the Ravens’ second-to-last top-15 selection and the only first-round defensive tackle in team history, both things that could change in 2022.)

Before 2006, the Ravens had seven top-15 picks in franchise history, none of which turned out to be a bust. In fact, each one was at least a starter on a Super Bowl-winning Ravens squad, with several All-Pros and one – soon to be two – Hall of Famers.

That’s a consistent pattern of finding elite talent and avoiding complete busts with top-15 picks – not a given in the NFL – though it’s a little skewed by three top-5 picks. For a little balance, let’s also consider the Ravens’ 2017 and 2018 first-round selections, as they entered both drafts with the 16th pick.

Here’s the list:

 

The worst of those contributors are Starks (certainly no slouch, despite the lack of accolades on his résumé) and Taylor, who both played more than 60 games in Baltimore and contributed to the 2000 Ravens, while the rest are all All-Pros with a handful of major awards among them, including two Defensive Rookies of the Year in Boulware and Suggs. (As with Ngata, the past beckons – the Ravens could sure use an award-winning rookie season from an edge rusher in 2022.)

Overall, I think it’s safe to say that the Ravens have historically found success drafting in the first 15 picks in the past, which is harder than it seems – just ask the abhorrent Cleveland Browns.

The Ravens will need to repeat the feat again this season, but they’re in a tough spot with the 14th overall selection.. The Ravens can’t necessarily hope for a top-10 player falling to them at 14 the way a team can at 11 or 12. As a result, the Ravens will have to prepare for dozens of scenarios with different draft orders, available players and trade opportunities.

There’s also an interesting recent history of 14th overall picks, which includes Pro Bowl defensive backs – Darrelle Revis, Kyle Fuller, Malcolm Jenkins and ex-Raven Earl Thomas – as well as several good-but-not-great defensive linemen – Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, Derek Barnett and Marcus Davenport. Even after the Marcus Williams signing, the former would be welcome in Baltimore, though perhaps not the highest priority, while the latter wouldn’t move the needle enough.

But looking at the last three years of selections between 12th and 16th overall, the Ravens should have a chance at an impact player at a premium position, especially along the edge of the trenches. There’s Rashan Gary and Brian Burns in 2019; Tristan Wirfs in 2020; and Micah Parsons and Rashawn Slater in 2021.

Someone to lock down opposing wide receivers or generate interior pressure would be just as valuable in the modern NFL, but those types of players share common descriptors: playmakers and game-changers.

The Ravens need to draft one at 14. It’s time to figure out who that will be.

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