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The 14: Predicting the Pick, Part 1 – Mocking Around

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Welcome back to The 14, a series centered around the Baltimore Ravens’ 14th overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. With just a few days left before the start of Round 1, it’s time to start narrowing down the Ravens’ options with the 14th pick, and I’d like to start by analyzing mock drafts and other predictive tools to see what hints they may provide towards the Ravens’ decision.

Mock drafts have grown into one of the most popular parts of draft season, as fans and experts alike relish the opportunity to play general manager, whether that’s for their favorite team or the entire NFL.

I personally love mock drafts, both for the opportunity to put together the ideal draft class for the Ravens and the chance to reshape the NFL with my favorite team-prospect pairings. With a half-dozen mock draft simulators out there, it’s fun to see the many different routes the draft could take.

My friend Michael Natelli is also a huge mock draft fan, which is why he recently launched mikedrafts.com, which offers year-round NFL and MLB draft analysis. I highly recommend checking it out, and I’m not just saying that because he agrees with me on Drake London’s fit in Baltimore. Here’s what he had to say when I asked him about his love of mock drafts:

I love mock drafting in the months leading up to the draft for three reasons: tracking players’ pre-draft stocks, exploring different scenarios, and better-understanding value propositions. So many mock drafts you see in the weeks leading up to the draft look pretty similar, even though this is supposed to be one of the most unpredictable drafts we’ve had in years. But mock drafts aren’t about being right. Even if you don’t think the Lions are taking a quarterback second overall, it’s fun and helpful to run a mock with that scenario to see what happens. As far as value propositions, mock drafts help you really understand what you’re saying when you’re calling for your team to trade up, trade down, or stand pat. They assign players to a potential trade instead of just numbers. It forces you to have real players to choose from rather than pure hypotheticals. And to me, doing those exercises is critical when evaluating how a team should approach the draft.

Mike also runs @DailyRavensMock on Twitter, exploring a wide variety of potential options for Baltimore, so be sure to follow this week for a ton of different draft classes.

As Mike explains, mock drafts are more than just a fun role-playing exercise. The proliferation of mock drafts from so-called experts and armchair analysts has yielded a treasure trove of data, which has been meticulously gathered by Benjamin Robinson at Grinding the Mocks (GtM). It’s a trusted source by a variety of reputable sites, including Pro Football Focus, FiveThirtyEight and Football Outsiders, so I’m comfortable using it here. You can check out Robinson’s blog posts if you’re curious about the philosophical underpinnings and methodology of Grinding the Mocks, but its basic purpose is this: collecting data on mock drafts and using statistical analysis to predict the NFL draft.

Today, I’ll be diving into that data to aid me in my quest to find the perfect 14th overall pick for the Ravens.

Crunching the Numbers

First, let’s take a look at how GtM predicted the last two drafts for the Ravens, with Baltimore’s actual selections in bold.

Note: While GtM breaks down their mock drafts into three categories – expert, media and fan – I couldn’t find any clear qualifiers for those categories, so I’m sticking with their overall data here.

With a gaping hole at inside linebacker after the departure of C.J. Mosley, GtM had Kenneth Murray and Patrick Queen as the Ravens’ projected picks in 2020; once the Chargers traded up to snag Murray, Queen became the obvious choice.

Again, with a huge need at wide receiver, GtM was spot-on about Rashod Bateman as the Ravens’ preferred selection in 2021, with media mocks correctly identifying Bateman and Oweh as Baltimore’s top two choices.

This tells me that the collective wisdom of mock drafts might be quite predictive towards the Ravens’ actual decision, with a few caveats.

First, the Ravens’ first-round needs in 2020 and 2021 were concentrated in two positions. In 2020, it was edge and inside linebacker; in 2021 it was wide receiver and edge. Their picks were also at the end of the first round in both years, leaving them with fewer first-round talents available. That made it easy for mock drafters to narrow down their options and nail the pick.

But in 2022, the Ravens have four clear positional needs – edge, interior defensive line, offensive tackle and cornerback – plus center if you’re not a Patrick Mekari believer like me. However, none of those needs are as intense as inside linebacker in 2020 and wide receiver in 2021, when it almost felt like the Ravens had to go after those positions in the first round. That makes it tough to know which position they will prioritize in the first round. (The positional depth of the draft class also factors into that decision, something I’ll explore tomorrow.) However, while the Ravens are unlikely to reach for any one specific position of need, they will almost certainly fill one of their needs with their first-round pick.

Baltimore also has a much earlier selection than in past years, with multiple options at almost every position they could consider. That increases the variability even more, but GtM still has a clear top five options for the Ravens’ 2022 pick. Let’s check it out.

Overall, I think there’s a very good chance that the Ravens’ 2022 selection with the 14th overall pick (provided they stay there, of course) is one of these five players. There’s a very strong argument for each one to end up in Baltimore, even if I don’t love a few at 14.

Interestingly, the percentage splits between the top five – especially the concentration in the top two – are similar to the data from 2020, while 2021’s mocks were more split on the Ravens’ top choices.

Let’s briefly start with Jordan Davis, who accumulated a whopping 17.6% share of the Ravens’ first-round pick in GtM’s database.

[Ravens Draft Central Prospect Profile for Jordan Davis]

I’ve written about Davis’ insanely-high ceiling as an otherworldly physical freak, so I won’t rehash why I think he’s worth the 14th overall pick here. Davis reportedly visited Baltimore during his pre-draft process, and he almost makes too much sense for the Ravens. They love elite athletes in the front seven and consistently keep massive, run-stuffing defensive tackles on their roster in the AFC North. Davis checks both of those boxes, so it’s no surprise to see him linked with Baltimore so frequently.

The Linderbaum Conundrum

Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum is second with a 12.4% mock draft share from GtM’s database. He’s been a popular pick for the Ravens for months, which has only intensified after the departure of Bradley Bozeman. But something just doesn’t feel right about that projection.

[Ravens Draft Central Prospect Profile for Tyler Linderbaum]

The consensus around Linderbaum is that he’s one of the best center prospects of all-time. He’s a Day 1 starter at center for any team, but he’s best served in a Shanahan-style, wide zone rushing scheme where his movement skills and football I.Q. will shine the brightest. That’s not Baltimore, where the Ravens have become one of the most gap-dominant rushing offenses in the NFL in the Lamar Jackson-Greg Roman era. While Linderbaum is certainly talented enough to start in the Ravens’ gap scheme, he has less-than-ideal size and length, though his play strength in college made up for these concerns. That could get exposed at the next level, preventing Linderbaum from hitting his ceiling as a perennial All-Pro. While the Ravens could deploy more zone concepts in 2022, their bread-and-butter is still their gap-power system, and they shouldn’t change that for a center.

Just look at his 2021 blocking grades from PFF. He finished with a 95.4 overall grade, which is heavily weighted by his 96.6 overall run blocking grade, with a 96.1 grade in zone. But he only earned a 65.4 grade in gap run-blocking, and a 79.8 in overall pass blocking. While I don’t think PFF’s grading system is infallible, I think their blocking grades offer a solid representation of the concerns of Linderbaum’s fit in Baltimore.

As a result, why would they draft a player who may not be able to be the best version of himself in Baltimore? They wouldn’t get the most out of Linderbaum on his rookie contract, and as a result, the Ravens may not offer a competitive extension when that contract expires. To me, that would be a waste of any first-rounder, especially the 14th overall pick. With a top-15 selection I want the Ravens to draft a franchise cornerstone, the type of player who you plan to keep around for 10+ years.

The Ravens’ plan could be to start Linderbaum at center and free up Patrick Mekari to either compete for the starting right tackle job or backup both center and offensive tackle. That doesn’t seem like their best outcome with the 14th pick, unless the Ravens see a better projection for Linderbaum in a gap scheme than the general consensus of the draft community. Throw in some concerns with his phone booth pass protection, and I just can’t talk myself into the pick, though I love Linderbaum as a player and would love to see him thrive in a Shanahan-style scheme in the NFL.

I’ll be back tomorrow with breakdowns of Charles Cross and Trevor Penning – who are both in GtM’s top five as the Ravens’ most-likely offensive tackle options at the 14th pick – as well as some insight from a few other predictive tools.

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