3 takeaways from the Ravens’ 2019 draft class
The 2019 NFL Draft still has one day and four rounds left to go, but the most important selections have already gone into the books. Teams have already exhausted 102 picks, leaving mostly lottery tickets and specialists left on the board. While some stars will emerge from the final rounds, the majority of the impact will come from the past two days.
So far, the Baltimore Ravens have made three selections. From those picks, we can glean what newly minted general manager Eric DeCosta prioritized for his team and, just as importantly, what he decided to pass over.
Volume approach to fixing receiving corps
The Ravens entered draft week with weaknesses at several places, perhaps none more pronounced than the dearth of top-level pass catchers. Their receiving corps primarily consisted of Willie Snead, Seth Roberts, and a trio tight ends. While that group featured a wide variety of skills, none appeared to have the skills necessary around which to build a passing game.
DeCosta lacked the means to transform the unit in free agency but decided not to sit idly by once the draft rolled around. Instead, he invested two of his first three selections at wide receiver, nabbing Oklahoma speedster Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Notre Dame uber-athlete Miles Boykin.
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That volume approach should seem familiar to Ravens fans. The team threw multiple early draft picks at tight end a year ago, landing Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews. Hurst finished his rookie season with modest production (13 receptions on 23 targets for 163 yards and a touchdown), but Andrews led all rookie tight ends in receiving yards (552) and looks like a long-term answer at the position. Even if Hurst never catches up to his classmate, Baltimore probably doesn’t need to worry about tight ends for several years.
And the same logic applies at receiver. Brown’s scrawny figure might undermine his world-class speed, and Miles Boykin’s lack of college production could presage issues at the NFL level. But by taking both, the Ravens have given themselves a good shot at uncovering a solid or better starting receiver, perhaps even two. Doing so allows DeCosta to focus on other concerns moving forward.
Valuing college production over athleticism at edge rusher
Most of the NFL’s smart teams prioritize athleticism when it comes to pass rushers, a position group that relies more on physical tools than arguably any other. Virtually all of the NFL’s top sack artists tested as top athletes at their position, with otherworldly talents Aaron Donald, J.J. Watt, Chris Jones, Danielle Hunter, and Von Miller one through five in that statistic last season.
But not every star pass rusher comes from that athletic profile. Future Hall of Famer Terrell Suggs famously bombed his combine and pro day before joining the Ravens and amassing 132.5 career sacks and a Defensive Player of the Year award. Examples of Suggs-like success come along rarely, but an eagle-eyed team can still spot such prospects on occasion.
Exactly 16 years to the day the Ravens selected Suggs with the No. 10 overall pick, the franchise drafted record-breaking defensive end Jaylon Ferguson out of Louisiana Tech.
Ferguson comes to Baltimore after setting the FBS record for career sacks (45), amassing an incredible 17.5 sacks just this past year. His long 6-foot-5 frame and 271 pounds allow him to play off the edge or as an interior defensive lineman, versatility that Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale will likely use to full effect. But he doesn’t have the plus-athletic profile of many of his early round rookie classmates, scoring in the eighth percentile for his position group, according to 3 Sigma Athlete.
Though Ferguson’s lack of athleticism scared off teams in the first round, it didn’t keep the Ravens from pouncing in the second. They’ve produced with long-armed, savvy pass rushers before, most recently turning former late-round pick Za’Darius Smith into one of the most coveted free agents this past March. Accordingly, DeCosta and company deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their evaluation of Ferguson.
C.J. Mosley void remains entering Day 3
This offseason, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley’s defection ranks as the Ravens’ biggest loss in terms both financial and football. Mosley served as the centerpiece of the AFC’s best defense in 2018, earning second-team All-Pro honors for the fourth time in his young career. That success put the linebacker on the New York Jets’ radar and, in turn, netted him a five-year, $85 million deal Baltimore simply could not match.
With Mosley gone, the Ravens have a massive void in the center of their defense. His range and football intelligence boosted the unit in ways beyond the stat sheet, and no other linebacker on the roster possesses the skill set to adequately fill his shoes. That put the onus on DeCosta and his personnel department to locate a successor somewhere in the draft.
At least through three rounds, no such successor has emerged. The Ravens had little chance at the consensus top off-ball linebackers in the draft — Louisiana State’s Devin White and Michigan’s Devin Bush — each landing within the top 10 picks. Baltimore also eschewed Day 2 talents such as Hawaii’s Jahlani Tavai and BYU’s Sione Takitaki. While DeCosta can defend those decisions on the basis of value, his team still needs an influx of talent at the position.
Some potentially enticing options remain for the final day of the draft. Mack Wilson, an instinctive and physical linebacker, came out of the same program that produced Mosley. Notre Dame’s Te’von Coney started for the better part of three seasons in one of the nation’s best defenses and can affect the game as a pass rusher. Still, neither offers the full package of athleticism and consistency of Mosley nor, by most accounts, do the other remaining options. The Ravens tackled multiple areas of concern this draft, but this one appears likely to go unaddressed.
Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. He has bylines at SB Nation, Sports on Earth, and other outlets. He also serves as the senior writer and editor for Acme Packing Company, a Green Bay Packers blog.