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The 14: Ranking the Ravens’ Early 1st-Round Targets

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Welcome back to The 14, a series exploring all of the Ravens’ options with the 14th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. For yesterday’s introduction to the series, click here.

Today, I’ll be presenting my initial list of players who are worth selecting at 14, along with a brief overview of each player. On Thursday, I’ll reveal the rest of the players I considered for the list, along with an explanation for why they didn’t make the cut and how they might find their way onto the list before the draft.

Without further ado, here’s the First 14, ranked and broken down into tiers. (Where available, click the player name for James Ogden’s RDC Ravens-centric scouting report)

Tier 1: Top-5 Talent

 

None of these players have a very realistic shot at ending up in Baltimore; they’re all too good. The Ravens would have to trade into the top five picks and the price of an aggressive trade-up is too high to be worth it for anything other than a franchise quarterback. If any of these players were to fall out of the top five, I’d think Eric DeCosta would be interested in trading up to the sixth or seventh pick, but the teams with those picks (the Panthers and Giants) may want to snag the best player available for themselves, or hold a bidding war for their respective pick. In either scenario, Baltimore is an unlikely destination, but it’s still worthwhile to know these players to be prepared for every scenario.

Kyle Hamilton is my top prospect in the 2022 draft, who I like for the Ravens just a bit more than Aidan Hutchinson, the consensus number one pick. Hamilton has started to fall this week, but I don’t expect that to last until Draft Day. He is not a prototypical safety for the modern NFL; he’s the prototypical defensive back for the future of the NFL and the best pure football player in the draft, as Benjamin Solak of The Ringer so persuasively argued yesterday. Not only can he already do pretty much anything asked of a safety – locking down slot receivers and tight ends in man coverage, patrolling centerfield and stepping up to play the run – he has the ability to master them. He checks every physical and mental box and has the potential to be a truly great safety in a league that’s passing more than ever.

Hutchinson has insane athleticism off the edge and the production to match, finishing his college career in pole position for the number one overall pick. He’s got the on-field passion and intensity that you love to see, and he’s a sure bet to get to opposing quarterbacks consistently in his career while also being an extremely good run defender. But without interior pass-rushing upside, he doesn’t excite me quite as much as Hamilton.

Ikem Ekwonu is a dominant run-blocking tackle, making him an especially intriguing fit in Baltimore. His pass blocking technique needs work, but he has the requisite physical traits – including extremely powerful arms and legs – and experience to play offensive tackle on either side in the NFL, not to mention his sky-high potential at offensive guard if he’s not needed at tackle right away.

Evan Neal is a 6-foot-7, 340-pound gargantuan who played both left and right tackle at the University of Alabama at an extremely high level. He’s not perfect – he doesn’t have elite balance and mobility in pass protection or run blocking – but his size, power and experience mean he will start early and for a long time.

Tier 2: Potential Trade-Up Candidates

 

The Ravens definitely have the capital – including those famous compensation picks – to trade up into the top 10, and I think all three of these players would be worth such a move. Furthermore, I don’t think these players have much of a chance of falling to 14, even if they fall out of the top 10.

Kayvon Thibodeaux is a top-five talent to me, and his fall from consensus no. 1 pick is a bit baffling. Despite his all-around game and All-Pro potential, he’s been clattering down draft boards, and I’d happily jump up to the sixth or seventh pick for Thibodeaux. His rare combination of elite explosiveness, length and bend will make him an impact pass rusher in the NFL and allow him to develop more moves at the next level.

Some mock drafts suggest Charles Cross could fall to the 14th pick, but I find that hard to believe for the best pass-protecting offensive tackle in this year’s draft. Modern NFL offensive lines are built around the ability to protect quarterbacks, and Cross does that better than anyone else after spending almost 80% of his 1,639 snaps at left tackle over the past two years, per PFF. That does mean he’s unproven as a run blocker, but he has everything he needs physically and could likely refine his technique in Baltimore. Another plus for the Ravens: per ESPN’s Matt Miller, Cross even showed potential at right tackle at his Pro Day, making him another option who could start at right tackle while being ready to step in for Ronnie Stanley if needed.

Travon Walker is on the other end of the spectrum as an edge defender with a wealth of experience in a variety of roles from a variety of alignments. He’s got intriguing versatility as a 5-tech who can rush the passer from multiple alignments in Baltimore’s 3-4 scheme, and can even give quality pass coverage snaps for a defensive lineman. Sounds like a Raven to me, but his insane performance at the combine has shot him up draft boards, and he will require a trade-up to snag.

Tier 3: Hoping They Fall

 

These are all players who could go in the top 10, but have an outside chance of falling to the Ravens at 14. But those players are often snapped up at 11 or 12, and I’d be surprised if all three of them fell out of the top 10. If there’s a cheap trade-up opportunity available, it might be worth taking, especially if only one of these players is remaining at 11 or 12.

Derek Stingley Jr. is my top cornerback, with an elite combination of talent, technique and athleticism. He’s an island cornerback who can be left alone against top competition – something the Ravens love, and an important consideration when playing the Bengals twice a year. He should be a top-10 lock, but his best tape is from his 2019 freshman year on that loaded LSU team, and he suffered injuries in 2020 and 2021, including the Lisfranc injury from which he’s currently recovering. He could fall, and the Ravens could swoop.

Like Stingley, Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner profiles as an elite press-man cornerback – I give it until October before “Sauce Island” is a thing – with a massive wingspan and excellent technique. But he has more questions than Stingley, with several minor concerns that he often makes up for, whether it’s his lack of top-tier speed or his thin frame. Neither were an issue at Cincinnati as he limited opposing receivers to just 131 yards in 14 games in 2021 and didn’t allow a single touchdown in his college career, per PFF.

Jermaine Johnson plays like a Raven, as James Ogden expertly outlined, with a ton of upside as a three-down edge defender. He sets a very hard edge and is generally quite good against the run, but he’s not an elite pass rusher like Hutchinson or Thibodeaux, nor does he have Walker’s versatility. However, with his length, moves and motor, Johnson will win off the edge, get to opposing quarterbacks and impact games in the NFL.

Tier 4: Worth a Swing

 

Both of these players have the upside to be game-changing players in the NFL, but it’s not clear that they can consistently play up to that potential. There’s a good chance they’re available at 14, and while neither would be a bad selection, there’s a higher risk these players can’t hit their ceiling or consistently win against top talent in the pros.

We all know about Jordan Davis at this point: Georgia’s beast of a defensive tackle who had an absurd combine performance. His floor is the type of run-stuffing defensive tackle that shuts down opposing running games and will occasionally collapse the pocket. He constantly demands – and beats – double-teams, but his NFL ceiling will be based on his ability to impact passing downs. Davis has the requisite athleticism and more than enough size to get to the quarterback, but he’ll need to develop some pass rush moves to win frequently against the best interior lineman..

Andrew Booth has the length, technique and athleticism to be the press-man, island cornerback the Ravens want, but he doesn’t have the proven track record of Gardner or Stingley. He lacks the game-to-game, rep-to-rep consistency of the top two cornerbacks that’s required to deliver in the biggest moments, so he’d also be a slight risk at 14. However, his upside is certainly worth it, and I think he’ll still be able to comfortably cover second and third wideouts even if he can’t consistently put away opposing WR1s.

Tier 5: Seeking a Trade Back

 

The Ravens know better than any team, that you can never have enough talented cornerbacks, so they may understandably default to taking the best one available with the 14th pick. That would definitely be McDuffie, who has everything but length, the only thing keeping him out of the CB1 conversation currently occupied by Stingley and Gardner. He’s athletic enough to keep up with almost anyone, but his lack of length and overall size shows up in press-man and at the catch point. McDuffie will almost certainly be available, but the Ravens should explore options to trade back before taking him. It’s always possible that there won’t be good enough offers from other teams to trade back, especially with the hard bargains historically driven by general manager Eric DeCosta. At that point, defaulting to McDuffie is acceptable given his slot versatility and excellent tackling; the Ravens could do worse than that.

Now, the mathematically-inclined among you may notice that I only listed 13 players, leaving open the 14th spot on the list. That was intended for Michigan edge defender David Ojabo, who suffered a torn Achilles at his Pro Day that knocked him out of the running for the 14th overall pick and likely out of the first round completely. He was linked with the Ravens both for his mid-first-round projection and his connection with new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, who oversaw Ojabo’s 2021 breakout and could likely bring out the best of him in Baltimore alongside his high school teammate Odafe Oweh. But with Tyus Bowser also rehabbing from an Achilles rupture, and so much of Ojabo’s pass-rushing prowess rooted in his athleticism and explosiveness, the former Wolverine just isn’t an option at 14.

Instead, Ojabo could fall to the second round, and there’s a theoretical nightmare scenario where the Ravens are staring at a draft board without any of the 13 players I’ve listed above. So, who should fill that last spot on the list?

Come back on Thursday to meet my candidates for the 14th spot, with an explanation for why each player didn’t make the first list, but why they could make the final one on Draft Day.

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