The Ravens went into every of the final two seasons believing they belonged on a shortlist of true Super Bowl contenders.
With Lamar Jackson at quarterback and former All-Pros at different premium positions similar to cornerback and left deal with, that they had the posh of viewing the draft as an adjunct bundle for his or her Cadillac.
That’s not the case in 2022 as they attempt to choose up the items from an 8-9 season through which they misplaced their final six video games to dive-bomb out of the AFC playoff race. They nonetheless have Jackson and people different former All-Pros. Oddsmakers nonetheless deal with them as a contender, albeit not a top-tier one. But they’re making an attempt to climb again up the mountain with a roster that wants patching and fortifying at a number of key positions, from cornerback to offensive deal with to edge rusher.
General supervisor Eric DeCosta gained’t simply be searching for helpful components when the 2022 NFL draft — his fourth because the Ravens’ prime soccer decision-maker — begins Thursday night time. He wants core starters for a protection that fell to final within the league in opposition to the cross. And protectors for Jackson, who took far too many sacks final season.
Is this the workforce’s most essential draft since 2018, when the Ravens traded into the final spot of the primary spherical to pick out Jackson and arrange a transition from the Joe Flacco period? No one with the workforce has mentioned so explicitly, however there’s a feeling that with 9 picks within the first 4 rounds, DeCosta may go a good distance towards fixing what ails the roster.
It’s a place that fits a basic supervisor who realized to anticipate the draft like Christmas morning beneath his predecessor and mentor, Ozzie Newsome. As lengthy as he’s operating the present, it’ll “always be the foundation” of how the Ravens construct, and reload, their workforce.
“We feel very good about where we’re situated right now,” DeCosta mentioned earlier this month. “It’s a great opportunity for the club.”
Outside analysts additionally spoke of the Ravens’ place extra by way of alternative than desperation. They prompt few entrance workplaces are higher geared up to capitalize on a deluge of middle-round picks.
NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former Ravens scout, famous that solely 5 occasions within the final decade have groups drafted a number of Pro Bowl gamers within the third and fourth rounds of the identical draft. The Ravens, with tight finish Mark Andrews and deal with Orlando Brown Jr. in 2018 and nostril deal with Brandon Williams and fullback Kyle Juszczyk in 2013, accounted for 2 of the 5 examples Jeremiah’s researchers unearthed.
“So they’re very confident about what they can accomplish in that part of the draft,” he mentioned.
Drafting was part of the job DeCosta didn’t need to develop accustomed to after his promotion in 2019. He had sat at Newsome’s proper hand and served as his chief counsel on so many stellar picks, together with some inevitable stinkers. But with three drafts beneath his basic supervisor’s belt, he has began to face some criticism from followers, who see his observe report as blended at greatest.
The 2019 class was significantly tough; of the eight gamers DeCosta chosen, solely first-round choose Marquise Brown is projected to start out for the Ravens in 2022 (although fourth-round choose Ben Powers will compete for snaps at left guard). The 2020 class yielded extra contributors, however first-round choose Patrick Queen remains to be trying to find week-to-week consistency, and second-round choose J.Okay. Dobbins is making an attempt to bounce again from a torn ACL. The 2021 group acquired off to a promising begin, with first-round picks Rashod Bateman and Odafe Oweh flashing star potential as rookies.
DeCosta has spoken brazenly about his workforce’s wants for next-generation assist at cornerback, offensive deal with, defensive position and edge rusher. Given how skinny the Ravens are at key positions on protection, they can’t afford to return up empty within the third and fourth rounds. Even proprietor Steve Bisciotti alluded to their wants in a uncommon session with reporters final month, saying “it could be an all-defensive draft for all I know.”
At the identical time, DeCosta is a realist who views the draft as a quantity recreation relatively than a precision train. Though he’d prefer to suppose all 5 of his fourth-round picks will assist the Ravens instantly, he is aware of the chances are in opposition to it. He and director of participant personnel Joe Hortiz don’t have to be prefect of their assessments to make important enhancements to the roster. Their pile of third- and fourth-round picks will afford them room for a number of misses and provides them flexibility to maneuver up for particular gamers in the event that they select.
“I think we do have a lot of flexibility, which is something that we covet — having the chance to move up and down,” DeCosta mentioned. “Sometimes, you get into a situation, we see it with other teams, where they want to do a trade with us and they want to maneuver, but they don’t have the picks to do it. … So, having picks in the first, second, third and fourth round, and then also a sixth-round pick, I think, gives us the flexibility to do whatever we want to do.”
ESPN analyst Todd McShay mentioned he may see the Ravens buying and selling all the way down to accumulate much more complete picks.
“They’ve always done a good job with their picks and knowing when to move around,” he mentioned. “It wouldn’t shock me at all with that 14th pick if they end up moving back. That’s an area where some teams are, I would guess, moving up to try and get a wide receiver. … Eric DeCosta and that Ravens organization, for years, have done a great job of taking advantage of other teams when they’re — I don’t want to say desperate — but they’re eager to move up for a guy.”
The drawback, different analysts mentioned, is that with so few groups enamored of the quarterback prospects on this class, there aren’t many trying to commerce up. They’d relatively maintain a number of picks within the 20-50 vary.
“You talk to other GMs around the league, I think that’s kind of actually the target area, is kind of that late first, early second,” Jeremiah mentioned. “It’s kind of the sweet spot of this draft.”
This is a yr when few analysts appear thrilled with the expertise on the prime of the draft however most see a larger quantity of draftable gamers as a result of the pandemic triggered so many prospects spent an additional yr in faculty.
Jeremiah, for instance, mentioned he often runs out of gamers he needs to review across the 350 or 360 mark. This yr, he simply discovered 400 that may be worthy of roster spots.
DeCosta and Hortiz have made related feedback in regards to the depth of their board.
“I think COVID, the extra year the players had, it allows the board to kind of beef up toward the bottom, Day 3 of the draft,” Hortiz mentioned. “So, I’d say, when you look at the volume of players on our board compared to previous boards, it’s probably a little bit higher.”
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It’s excellent news for a workforce that wants fast contributors at each stage of its protection, to not point out insurance coverage insurance policies at offensive deal with, operating again and maybe middle or tight finish.
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