On Tuesday, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta, coach John Harbaugh and director of player personnel Joe Hortiz took questions for 45 minutes during their pre-draft press conference and tried not to reveal anything valuable.
The Ravens have 10 picks in this month’s NFL Draft, and seemingly as many holes in the roster to fill. Given their considerable investment in the pre-draft process, team officials know better than to lend a hand. It’s called the “Lunch of Liars” for a reason. Last year, DeCosta said he was “insulted” by criticism from the Ravens’ unproven wide receiver group. His first pick less than two weeks later: Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman.
Not all of the words from Tuesday’s session are worth considering, but some topics deserve further analysis. Here’s a look at what DeCosta said, whether he was bluffing and what he might actually be looking at on draft day.
Will the Ravens draft a cornerback early?
Decosta: “There are opportunities for us, again, in the first round, in the second round, in the third round. … We feel we have the opportunity to take one or two corners in the repechage that could come in and contribute right away.
Verdict: Showing his hand. The Ravens need talented cornerbacks because they don’t have many. DeCosta said Tuesday he was “certainly concerned” about the depth of the position. Only Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters have started in at least three games in the previous two seasons, and both are coming off season-ending injuries. Brandon Stephens can help wherever needed — in the slot, as a deep safety, as a box defender — but he’s not a full-time cornerback.
The Ravens not only need a corner to replace Tavon Young, but also a potential successor for Peters; he is entering the final year of his contract and will turn 30 in January. With Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner unlikely to drop into the top 10, the Ravens could have LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. and Washington’s Trent McDuffie available at No. 14.
Or they could find a gem later in the draft. Four of Pro Football Focus’ six highest-rated rookie cornerbacks last season were among the first 33 picks, but the other two were a fifth-rounder (Nate Hobbs of the Las Vegas Raiders) and an undrafted player (Jerry Jacobs of the Detroit Lions).
Will the Ravens draft an offensive tackle early?
Decosta: “We think there is an opportunity in the draft to address the tackle point at some point, whether it’s in the first round or the fourth round. There are good players throughout this year. C It’s a very, very deep stance class. And so there’s a lot of different ways for us to skin the cat. And we will at some point.
Verdict: Bluffing slightly. Even with Morgan Moses signed to play at right tackle and Ja’Wuan James seemingly impressing team officials, the Ravens’ left tackle situation is perilous. DeCosta admitted that he “doesn’t know how Ronnie [Stanley]will bounce back” from his second consecutive season-ending ankle injury. “We are optimistic. I don’t want to speak for Ronnie, and I won’t go into detail, but we think he’s on a good pace to come back.
The Ravens are “trying to protect us as best we can,” DeCosta added later, and with the free agent market unlikely to produce another tackle like Moses, the draft is the surest path to stability. But what security can a fourth-round pick offer? Only two tackles taken in the fourth round or later last year have started more than four games as a rookie, and only one has started more than eight. Even Orlando Brown Jr., a third-round pick in 2018, didn’t start consistently at the right tackle until late October of this season.
Are the Ravens comfortable drafting a development center?
Decosta: “Honestly, our philosophy is that we want great players. We want strong players in all positions of attack, defense in general. And so sometimes it’s a difficult position to fill via the draft. And s ‘there’s a guy, if there’s one or two outstanding prospects in the draft, they usually go pretty high. And then after that, you look at a bunch of guys who might be pretty good, maybe not so good .
Verdict: Showing his hand. Ravens have already signaled their commitment to Patrick Mekari in the centre. There’s only one center who’s considered a first-round prospect, Tyler Linderbaum of Iowa, and he’s not necessarily a “big guy.” According to MockDraftable, he is in the top percentile for wingspan and arm length and fifth percentile for weight (296 pounds) among offensive line prospects.
If the Ravens do move on Linderbaum, DeCosta said the team has “four or five guys we like who might not be first-round picks.” Versatility might be the key. While Trystan Colon has been a solid reserve, Hortiz indicated the Ravens could be looking for college guards who can take center to the next level.
Could the Ravens draft a running back with a first- or second-round pick?
Decosta: “I don’t know about a first-round pick, because I just don’t see that player there for us. But as we go into round two, round three, round four, we’re going to look at the top players. And if the best player is a running back – I mean, let’s face it: we run the ball more than most teams. … So if the right guy falls, we will definitely strike.
Verdict: Slightly stunning. The Ravens running back room is a work in progress. Harbaugh said at NFL owners’ meetings last week that JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards could start training camp on the list of physically unable to perform as they return from knee surgery. Judge Hill is coming back from a torn Achilles tendon. Ty’Son Williams struggled to stand out after a promising debut.
But even with the Ravens’ heavy approach, it’s hard to imagine DeCosta valuing a better running back in the second round over an offensive tackle, point rusher or cornerback. Teams find top running backs year after year in the later rounds of the draft. Edwards wasn’t even drafted. The Ravens’ injury situation has made running back a need this offseason, but not a major one.
Is this draft deeper than the previous ones?
Decosta: “I think in the last two years we’ve had more guys. I don’t know if our scouts were more optimistic or [whether] it was just more players. But we have about … 180 players, I think, more or less, on the roster before we think are draftable players for the Ravens. That number will likely be between 170 and 195 players when all is said and done.
Verdict: Probably stunning. Consider that, minutes earlier, Hortiz had called it a “pretty deep draft,” citing the number of players who used their extra year of NCAA eligibility to improve their draft stock. “When you look at our board, the volume of players on our board compared to previous boards, it’s probably a bit higher,” Hortiz said.
The Ravens have been thinking about this draft “since last year,” according to DeCosta, who made three trades during or after the 2021 draft to acquire later-round picks in the 2022 draft. Good faith hopes in the later rounds than expected, the Ravens should find great value in the fourth round, where they have five selections.