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The 14: Predicting the Pick Part II – The Rest of the Top 5

Baltimore Ravens pick 14
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Welcome back to The 14, a series about the Baltimore Ravens’ 14th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. After introducing the predictive powers of Grinding the Mocks and breaking down the database’s top two players mocked to the Ravens yesterday in Jordan Davis and Tyler Linderbaum, I’ll now turn to the rest of the top five.

Building the Trenches

As a reminder, here’s Grinding the Mocks’ top five players most frequently mocked to the Ravens in their database.

One interesting note is that all five of these players play on either the offensive or defensive line. Sure, Johnson may play 3-4 OLB in Baltimore, but he’ll spend most of his time lined up on the edge of the defensive line. Seems like mock drafters have been paying attention to the calls to Build the Trenches in Baltimore.

Pondering Penning

Trevor Penning comes in third place with an 8.7% mock draft share and a long history of being projected to the Ravens due to their need at offensive tackle and love of physical blockers like the Northern Iowa product. His nasty streak and powerful run blocking make him a fit in Baltimore’s gap rushing scheme, and his 9.96 Relative Athletic Score from Kent Lee Platte make him a tantalizing prospect.

But I have too many issues with Penning to justify taking him with a top-15 pick. His technique in pass protection is extremely lacking, specifically his hand placement and footwork. That’s really concerning considering the competition jump from the FCS to the NFL, which will make it harder for Penning’s technical skills to catch up. As a result, I think he’ll be more susceptible to relying on his physicality in the pros, which will result in him getting beat or committing penalties. The former happened too often at the Senior Bowl, where Penning curiously drew praise for his physical but fundamentally unsound play, while the latter happened too often in college. He has an excellent build for the position, but his athleticism doesn’t show up on the field. That would be one thing if it were just in pass protection – I’d chalk it up to Penning’s overall technique issues – but he struggles to run block in space as well. While he wouldn’t be asked to do that too often in the Ravens’ scheme, it’s concerning that his testing athleticism doesn’t translate into his functional play. I think he could probably start as a rookie, but it’s not going to be pretty when he lines up against T.J. Watt and Myles Garrett twice a year.

(For more technical details, I’d recommend checking out Two Guys Watching Football with Cole Jackson and Mike Crawford breaking down Penning’s 2021 tape.)

But after talking with Cole for the next episode of Russell Street Replay, I don’t think Penning is an insane reach at 14, even if I don’t like the value. He’s a perfect scheme fit for the Ravens with plenty of tape at left tackle, even if that tape isn’t ideal. I also think Penning could be a strong right tackle in Baltimore, especially with his unteachable physical traits. The Ravens may believe in their ability to coach up Penning’s technique and help him reach his ceiling.

If that’s the case, I’ll live with it, but it would still feel like a reach for positional need with uncertainty about Ronnie Stanley’s recovery despite a positive update this week. While Penning is the clear OT4 in this draft glass, the gap between him and the top three tackles is massive. If the Ravens are truly seeking an insurance policy for Stanley’s health, I just don’t think Penning is that answer.

A Ronnie Replacement

However, I do think Charles Cross, who has the fourth-highest mock draft share of 7.8%, could be an ideal pick for the Ravens if he falls there. He’s thought to go in the top 10, but with two offensive tackles ranked ahead of him (Ikem Ekwonu and Evan Neal), he could drop to the Ravens at 14. That might be one of the best outcomes for Baltimore, whose offensive line has struggled without Ronnie Stanley for the last two seasons. Those struggles have come especially in pass protection, so while Ekwonu and Neal might be better style/scheme fits for the Ravens, Cross might be Baltimore’s best backup plan for Stanley.

He’s the best pure pass protector in this draft class, but he’s consistently ranked behind Ekwonu and Neal for his smaller frame and lack of run blocking experience. I don’t disagree with those rankings, but the difference between the three is much smaller than the gap between Cross and Penning.

As a result, I see a lot of value in taking Cross at pick no. 14, starting with his elite pass protection entering the NFL. He has excellent length, strength and footwork and knows how to use them to stymie opposing edge rushers. He’ll be a quality starting left tackle the minute he sets foot in the league, but in a perfect world where Stanley is healthy, Cross would need to be able to play right tackle quickly. That could limit his value with the Ravens, though, as could his lack of quality run blocking experience. But I think both are not cases of what Cross can’t do and but rather of what he hasn’t done yet.

I think Cross would adapt to the right side quite well. We’ve seen tackles struggle to switch sides in the NFL, but I don’t think it would be as much of an issue for Cross this early in his playing career. Just because he only played left tackle in college doesn’t mean he can’t switch in the pros, and his pass protection skills wouldn’t be wasted at right tackle in the NFL with players like Watt spending most of their time on the left side of the defense. Similarly, Mississippi State’s Air Raid offense rarely gave Cross the chance to refine his run blocking technique, with 1,293 pass blocking snaps to just 346 run blocking snaps in 2020 and 2021. But he’s not a bad run blocker; he’s just not an especially proficient or experienced one in pro-style rushing schemes. His dominant traits in pass protection, especially his strong arms and light footwork, can easily translate to run-blocking with the proper coaching in Baltimore. I think the risk is small enough to make Cross’ upside worth it.

In fact, the only reason that Cross isn’t more frequently mocked to the Ravens is because he’s not likely to be available at the 14th overall pick. The Vegas line for his draft position is 6.5, per DraftKings Sportsbook, and his Estimated Draft Position from Grinding the Mocks is 10.2.

ESPN Analytics’ draft predictor tool disagrees, giving Cross a greater-than 16% chance of being taken by the Ravens even though he’s available at the 14th pick with less than 50% of the time. That 16% figure is also Cross’ highest chance of being selected at any draft position, as well as the highest chance of any individual player to be selected by the Ravens at 14.

I personally don’t think he’ll be there at 14, with three tackle-needy teams picking twice before the Ravens. But if he is, he’s an absolute no-brainer, home run pick.

Other Predicted Options

Jermaine Johnson has the fifth-largest mock draft share from GtM at 7.0%. I’ve expressed my desire to get Johnson in Baltimore, even by trading up for him, so I won’t rehash it here. Similar to Cross, Johnson would be an easy pick at 14, but I doubt he’ll be available. Betting markets placed the line at 9.5 and his EDP is just behind Cross at 10.8, while ESPN gives him a less-than 30% chance of making it to 14. But like Cross, if Johnson is available, he’s an instant impact starter at a premium position of need and another no-brainer.

But in lieu of Cross, Johnson or Derek Stingley Jr. falling, ESPN likes the chances of Jordan Davis and Trevor Penning landing in Baltimore, as well as Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie. (Notably, ESPN doesn’t even have Linderbaum as an option, which makes sense considering his GtM and betting market expectation to go in the late 20s.)

A Sure Thing CB

I’ll admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of McDuffie when draft season started – he seemed like a fine default pick at 14 – but I’ve come around to his potential as a versatile cornerback who plays with plenty of toughness, intelligence and competitive fire. He lacks the elite length the Ravens usually prefer at the position, but he’s an extremely well-rounded player with speed and strength that show up on the field. His tackling, instincts and overall technique project extremely well to the NFL. McDuffie’s ability to play in the slot and drop back in zone coverage would fill a void in Baltimore, and I could see the Ravens falling in love with his intangibles. Put all of that together, and I think that’s a potential 10-year starting cornerback with the 14th overall pick, who could grow into an elite slot corner while maintaining the flexibility to flip outside or even moonlight as a safety when needed.

It wouldn’t be the sexy, flashy pick some (including me) have been looking for with the 14th pick, but McDuffie might be the surest bet in this class. He has an NFL-ready floor with an All-Pro ceiling, but he’ll need to improve his press-man technique to thrive in Baltimore. But that’s where the Ravens would bet on his intangibles, and I would, too.

That covers the most-predicted options for the Ravens. Cross, Johnson and Stingley aren’t likely to be available at 14, but they’re easy picks for Eric DeCosta to make if they are. But in the more likely scenario where Davis, Linderbaum, McDuffie and Penning are the Ravens’ top four on the board, I’d go with Davis’ insane upside or McDuffie’s surefire success over reaching for offensive linemen that don’t really fit Baltimore’s needs.

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