NFL Draft Q&A w/ Scott Wright, & Lou Pickney
The NFL Draft is now just days away. To help preview some possibilities for the Ravens, Baltimore Sports and Life has reached out to two NFL Draft Analysts for their thoughts. Those questioned were:
Scott Wright, Draft Countdown
Lou Pickney, Draft King
Baltimore Sports and Life thanks both for taking the time to respond.
Baltimore Sports and Life: “More than any other player, we have seen Wisconsin Center/Guard Peter Konz linked to the Ravens with their 1st round pick. What is your evaluation on Konz? If drafted by Baltimore, Konz would likely spend 2012 at LG, before transitioning to Center when ever Matt Birk steps away. Would you have concerns about Konz’s ability to perform adequately as a starting G during his Rookie year?”
Wright: “I think Konz absolutely has the ability to play guard at the next level and learning for a year or two alongside Matt Birk might even be an ideal scenario.”
Pickney: “The further you get from the top of the draft, the less likely it is that a player who appears to be a great fit for a given team will actually end up there. That’s something Ravens fans would be well-advised to keep in mind on Thursday night.
If Baltimore does draft Konz, in many ways it would be fitting since Konz is regarded as a very smart person by most accounts, similar to how Birk is perceived. Konz may not have attended Harvard like Birk did, but he has received rave reviews for being exceptionally mentally sharp, both in terms of football knowledge and overall intelligence. I have little doubt that Konz could quickly learn the blocking schemes and packages and be able to make an immediate impact, be it in providing depth at multiple positions but more likely as a starting guard in 2012, as you alluded to in your question.
On the flip side, Konz isn’t super-strong. His injury history is also a concern, with him suffering a blood clot in both lungs in 2009 and sustaining ankle injuries in both 2010 and 2011. Also, 2011 third-round pick Jah Reid is expected to move from right tackle to
left guard to fill the void left by Ben Grubbs leaving for New Orleans in free agency, which would limit the need for Konz to fill that spot right away.
But even if Reid is able to make a smooth transition to guard, having Konz for depth would not be a bad thing. While Matt Birk opted to return for 2012, he has been in the NFL since 1998, and at some point the aging process and the accumulation of injuries through years of battles in the trenches will catch up with him. Drafting Konz would serve as insurance against that while also setting the Ravens up for a long-term solution at center after Birk retires.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “With the retirement of Ricky Williams, Baltimore will have a different back-up RB this coming year. 2nd year backs Anthony Allen, and Damien Berry will get the first crack at that opportunity. Is there a RB likely to go in the 3rd to 5th round, that you believe would be a good fit with Baltimore? What did you like/dislike about Allen and Berry going into the draft last year?”
Wright: “As always there is a lot of depth at the running back position and there will be plenty of value in the middle rounds. In fact, don’t be surprised if a guy like Chris Polk of Washington, who everyone expects to come off the board in the top three rounds, slips to the last day. A couple of other guys I really like as potential steals in rounds three through five are Bernard Pierce of Temple, Robert Turbin of Utah St. and Edwin Baker of Michigan St. Then in the later rounds keep an eye on Vick Ballard of Mississippi St. and Terrance Gannaway of Baylor.”
Pickney: “This year’s draft is very deep at running back, a position which is less important than ever in the NFL due to the balance of power shifting toward the passing game. The days of three running backs going in the top five slots in the NFL Draft, like what happened in 2005, are long gone. Rule changes made for safety reasons have made it much more rewarding for teams to utilize a strong passing attack.
But it’s not just the rule changes that impacted the RB position; it’s also the success gained by un-drafted running backs like LeGarrette Blount and BenJarvus Green-Ellis that has changed the perception about the running back spot. Why use a high pick on a running back when you can potentially find a comparable talent in the late rounds?
Allen and Berry are both capable players, with Allen in particular having the potential to provide strong depth at running back. Neither guy going into the draft last year were seen as being adept at receiving from the RB spot, nor was either able to wow scouts with their speed. It Baltimore does go with a mid-round running back in this draft, Allen and Berry could find themselves in a camp competition for the #3 running back spot and a spot on the opening day roster. Allen would be the prohibitive favorite in my estimation, inpart because his 6’1” 230 pound size would provide a great change of pace for Baltimore in conjunction with Ray Rice.
I’m a fan of Utah State RB Robert Turbin, though he isn’t a prolific pass catcher, either. Oregon RB LaMichael James has impressive speed, but he might not be on the board when Baltimore goes on the clock in round three. Temple RB Bernard Pierce is very much under the radar, but he has nice size and could, like Allen, prove to be a good change of pace with Rice, who Baltimore almost for sure will sign to a long-term deal before the July 16 deadline for franchise-tagged players to ink a multi-year contract with their team.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Should the Ravens not select Offensive Line help with their first round selection, a Safety is probably the next most likely option. We’ve also seen Alabama’s Mark Barron connected to Baltimore. If the Ravens have their choice of Konz or Barron with the 29th pick, who do you think has the greater upside?”
Wright: “That is easy because Alabama S Mark Barron is going to be LONG gone by #29, probably in the Top 15 overall. However, Notre Dame S Harrison Smith could be a possibility in late round one and would be a nice replacement for Tom Zbikowski, another former Golden Domer. I think Konz would be the best fit for Baltimore though.”
Pickney: “I have my doubts that Barron will fall to the #29 spot. Barron is coming off of double hernia surgery, but he also is the top safety prospect in this year’s draft and showed at Alabama’s pro day that he is mostly recovered from his surgery, running in the mid 4.5 range in the 40-yard-dash.
Barron has a higher upside than Konz, though Konz provides the type of versatility that Barron can’t match. But look at what Barron did in his time in Tuscaloosa: he recorded 235 tackles, made 12interceptions, broke up 34 passes, and was an important cog in Alabama’s dominant defense last season. He was a three-time first-team All-SEC selection and a two-time first-team All-American, plus Barron somehow managed to lead the SEC in interceptions as a sophomore in 2009, a rarity from the safety position. Make no mistake: Barron is the real deal.
If Baltimore somehow ends up with the opportunity to choose between Barron and Konz, they would almost surely opt for Barron. But it’s also entirely possible that Barron will go off the board in the first half of the first round. He’s an elite player at an important position that is very thin in this draft, and I imagine there are multiple teams plotting to potentially trade up to get him, perhaps working a deal with Dallas at #14.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “SI‘s Peter King has Baltimore trading up to the 23rd pick, to select Barron’s college teammate LB Dont’a Hightower. What would Baltimore likely have to give up to move-up into that position? Do you see Hightower being available at 23?”
Wright: “I actually chose Hightower for the Ravens in a recent live mock draft that we did on the Draft Countdown Podcast! I think the Ravens would probably have to move up for Hightower but that would be a great fit and give them a perfect long-term successor to Ray Lewis, both physically but also as an extension of the coaching staff on the field. Don’t be surprised if Hightower is selected earlier than most expect though, with the Top 15-20 not beyond the realm of possibility.”
Pickney: “Last year, Cleveland traded up from #27 to #21 with Kansas City and coughed up their 2011 third-round pick to make the move. Something comparable would make sense if the Ravens worked a deal with Detroit to move up from #29 to #23. Hightower played ILB in Alabama’s 3-4 defense, and he might be able to maximize his potential in the NFL if he can end up with a team like the Ravens that also utilizes the
Ray Lewis has had one of the all-time great NFL careers at linebacker, but time waits for no man, and Lewis will turn 37 next month. Hightower would be a great selection by Baltimore, and I could see him still being available at #23. I concur with King that trading up will likely be necessary for the Ravens to get Hightower, with the Houston
Texans lurking at #26 and needing to replace ILB DeMeco Ryans, who they traded to the Eagles along with their 2012 third-round pick in exchange for Philadelphia’s third-and-fourth round 2012 selections.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “If the Ravens go with Konz, who are some of the Safeties who could be available for the Ravens with the 60th pick? If the Ravens go with a Safety in the 1st, what interior linemen intrigue as late 2nd round options?”
Wright: “Safety is one of the two weakest positions in this class, along with tight end, so if you need one it’s best to pull the trigger early. In fact, after Barron and Smith the only other true safety that I have a Top 100 grade on is George Iloka of Boise St. and he is more of a late third or early fourth round value. I would say if the Ravens don’t get Barron or Smith their best bet would be to wait because after the top three you can probably throw fifteen names in a hat and get wildly different rankings depending on the team. With that said, a few guys that I personally like are Markelle Martin of Oklahoma St., Brandon Taylor of L.S.U. and Janzen Jackson of McNeese St.”
Pickney: “With this being such a lean draft at safety, it’s possible that safeties who would go at #60 in most other years might be gone early by teams stretching for need. Barron will be long gone and Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith likely to be off the board as well. Some options could include Boise State FS George Iloka, who is huge for the
position at 6’4″ 225 and can run the 40-yard-dash in the mid 4.6 range. Another possibility is LSU SS Brandon Taylor, 5’11” 210 but quicker with a mid 4.5 40-yard-dash time.
There is also a wild card in the mix with Oklahoma State’s Markelle Martin who could play free safety or strong safety in the NFL. He sustained a knee injury before the combine that was a concern, but he had a workout on Thursday where he ran the 40-yard-dash in the 4.6 range, which might give him a late push to potentially press Smith for
the #2 safety spot. When 100% healthy he should be able to run a sub-4.5 40, and at 6’1″ 205 he has the size and speed to fill a variety of need spots depending on where he lands.
As for interior offensive linemen, a player I’m quite bullish on is Miami (OH) offensive guard Brandon Brooks. He is 6’5″ 345 and can rub a sub-5.0 40-yard-dash. He was a combine snub, but at the Miami (OH) pro day he posted an impressive 36 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. Brooks played both guard and tackle in college and was a
four-year starter, so he has experience, strength, and ability to provide depth at multiple positions.
Other likely candidates in that range include Midwestern State’s Amini Silatolu, a 6’4″ 310 pounder with Division I-A/FBS skill who academically was unable to qualify for either Boise State or Nevada. He played left tackle in college but projects to play offensive guard in the NFL. Another LT-to-OG prospect who might go in that range is
6’4″ 305 James Brown out of Troy.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “With Dickson and Pitta, Baltimore has two pass-catching TE’s. Is there a TE who could go late, that is known as a superior blocker?”
Wright: “This is probably the worst tight end class that I’ve ever seen… A couple of guys who excel as blockers to watch out for late are Kevin Koger of Michigan and George Bryan of North Carolina St.”
Pickney: “Perhaps the best fit for that on a player likely to go on day three is USC tight end Rhett Ellison. At just a shade under 6’5″ and 250 pounds he has good size, and blocking is the strongest aspect of his game.
In the copycat NFL, many teams are looking for tight ends with elite receiving ability after watching Jimmy Graham, Aaron Hernandez and Gronk have a major impact in last season’s playoffs. That works to Baltimore’s advantage since they are in the market for a blocking tight end, and they might be in position to snap up Ellison late in round five, either at #164 overall or with the compensatory pick the team received at #169 overall.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “The FB seems to be being phased out of of football. Baltimore has one of the best in Vonta Leach. Any strong-blocking late round FB’s that could be groomed behind Leach?
Wright: “The top fullback in this class is Bradie Ewing of Wisconsin, who could come off the board in the later rounds. Chad Diehl of Clemson could get some looks late as well.”
Pickney: “The days of Lorenzo Neal leading the way for running backs on
his team to 1,000+ yard rushing seasons year after year are mostly gone. This trend started somewhat before the rule changes made for player safety reasons tilted the game in favor of passing-heavy attacks, but that shift has further devalued the position.
Despite that, Leach is a special player who played a key role in helping Ray Rice have such a strong 2011 campaign. When the Ravens signed Leach to a three-year deal with $6 million guaranteed shortlyafter the new CBA was ratified in July of last year, that pretty much sealed up Baltimore’s need at the position.
With Leach under contract through 2013, the Ravens don’t particularly need to groom a fullback. It might not hurt to have one on their practice squad as insurance in case Leach, who turns 31 in November, runs into injury issues.
Opinions vary wildly on fullback rankings, though a few names seem to keep popping up, guys like Clemson’s Chad Diehl, Wisconsin’s Bradie Ewing, Texas’ Cody Johnson, and Northwestern’s Drake Dunsmore. And while they may be drafted late or sign free agent deals with teams that have a more pronounced need at fullback, the Ravens should be
able to bring in a decent free agent fullback even with Leach on their roster. There is the distinct possibility that Leach’s presence will dissuade some of the top undrafted guys from signing with Baltimore since they know there is almost no way they can leapfrog Leach on the depth chart, and no NFL team in 2012 is going to carry two fullbacks
on its active roster.”
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Currently, 2nd year WR Tandon Doss could be penciled in as the Ravens 3rd WR. How did you rate Doss last year as a possession wide-out? Are there WR’s that may be available at 60, or 91 that you would prefer?”
Wright: “I liked Doss last year and while I didn’t necessarily see a ton of upside I think he can be a quality #3 or #4 option for the Ravens. There will be plenty of options in round two and three if Baltimore wanted to go that route again though. Brian Quick of Appalachian St. is a personal favorite and will probably be a second rounder. In round three Marvin McNutt of Iowa and Nick Toon of Wisconsin could be possibilities. Some mid-round names to watch out for are Dwight Jones of North Carolina, Jeff Fuller of Texas A&M and Marvin Jones of California. Juron Criner of Arizona could be an interesting late-round possibility.”
Pickney: “The Ravens used two picks in the first four rounds last season with Maryland’s Torrey Smith in round two and Doss out of Indiana in round four. There is a giant question mark hovering over Doss’ head. He barely saw the field in 2011, which Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh hinted was due to the lingering impact of a sports hernia suffered in the 2010 season at Indiana, something Doss underwent
surgery on in December of that year.
The difference between a sports hernia and a standard hernia is that sports hernias don’t have bulging as a symptom but involve a tear and/or weakness in the lower abdomen where the muscles connect with the pelvis and leg. It hurt me just writing that last sentence. The hope for the Ravens is that Doss will be not only fully recovered
physically but that he will benefit from a full off-season of training and learning in mini-camps and workouts to be in position to be an effective part of Baltimore’s offense in 2012.
Doss isn’t a speedster, and while he was effective as a kick returner at Indiana, he doesn’t appear to be groomed for punt or kick return duties in Baltimore. Undrafted free agent WR LaQuan Williams, a Baltimore native who was one of the feel-good stories of 2011 after managing to make the Ravens, might actually press Doss for the slot receiver position for Baltimore in 2012, with the loser potentially not making the final 2012 roster.
But don’t throw in the towel on Doss just yet — he has fantastic hands, and after the infamous Lee Evans drop in the AFC Championship game last season, I suspect the organization will place tremendous value on receivers in camp who show the ability to catch the ball with great consistency. He rated as a third-or-fourth round talent in
large part because of his reliability in catching the ball, and in the slot that is exactly what will be expected of him.
The Ravens could use at least one more top-notch weapon at wide receiver, and targeting someone like South Carolina WR Alshon Jeffery at #60 if he falls to that slot would be advisable. Jeffery’s slide has been rather bemusing to me since he has the size and speed and leaping ability to be a tremendous red zone force, if not an outright breakout star at wide receiver.
Arizona WR Juron Criner is another under-the-radar player who was lowered on some draft boards for posting a 4.68 40-yard-dash time at the Combine. But he countered that with a 4.52 40 at his pro day, and at 6’3″ 225 he has the size and the skills to contribute to the Ravens passing attack right out of the gate.”