The combine is over and the draft is approaching. Now’s a good time to start looking for prospects that could become Ravens on draft day. We all know that the Ravens don’t draft based on need, so trying to predict their picks is near impossible. That being said, I have to start with perceived need and then try to assess the value of players based on where they're predicted to be drafted versus what their value is to the Ravens. That should approximate the likelihood of a player to be drafted by the Ravens. It’s still a largely subjective process, but it at least has some guidelines. The following is a list, in no particular order, of prospects that I believe the Ravens could target on draft day:
Kerrigan has been extremely productive in college. His greatest strengths are his strength at the point of attack and his natural playmaking ability. Kerrigan looks a lot like Paul Kruger did in college and played a similar role for his team. The main difference is that Kerrigan is entering the draft as a legitimate defensive end and unlike Kruger who needed to bulk up, Kerrigan could make an immediate impact in that role. Kerrigan’s biggest weakness is that he’s not very versatile. He can drop into coverage but will not be very effective at it in the NFL. This may be a major blow to his value with the Ravens, who would most likely view Kerrigan as an OLB/DE prospect. If the Ravens want to draft Kerrigan, they will need to hope he falls to them at pick number 26, because most scouts have him graded as a middle first-round pick.
Carimi is the best run-blocker in the entire draft in my opinion. When he gets his hands on a defender, it’s all but a guarantee that he will push them backward. In the running game, he’s a one man wrecking crew and will often use his block to wall off entire sides of the field allowing to running back to either hit a huge hole or reach the second level with enough speed to gain several extra yards from shear momentum. Furthermore, Carimi is also a surprisingly good pass-blocker. He’s not amazing but can hold his own versus good talent. He could be a good left tackle in the NFL, but I think he could be an elite right tackle right away. I would love to see Carimi drafted by the Ravens, especially if they decide not to resign Jared Gaither. Carimi could play right tackle which would allow Yanda to move back to right guard and Oher to remain at left tackle. If the Ravens want to draft Carimi, they will need to hope he falls to them at pick number 26, because most scouts believe that he’s one of the best linemen in the draft.
3. Mike Pouncey, C/OG, Florida, 6'5 303, late 1st round.
Pouncey is considered one of the best interior linemen in the draft and was a standout center in college. He’s an intelligent, athletic lineman and is going to be a great player in the NFL. His intelligence and awareness makes him a natural center. He’s not the most physical lineman and will occasionally struggle versus bigger, stronger defensive lineman. However, seeing Pouncey struggle is a very rare sight. He typically dominates the interior line and is excellent at blitz pickup and pass-protection. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Ravens draft Pouncey if they resign Jared Gaither. The lineup of Gaither, Grubbs, Pouncey, Yanda and Oher would be nothing short of dominate. Pouncey isn’t the physical road-grader that the Ravens typically like on the interior offensive line but would be a near-guarantee to keep interior pressure off Flacco. Since they Ravens will be trying to upgrade their pass-protection this off-season, I believe that an interior lineman like Pouncey could be greatly valued by the Ravens. If they want to draft Pouncey, they will need to draft him in the first round. Drafting him would add even more drama to the Steelers-Ravens games.
Baldwin is one of my sleeper prospects. Drafting wide receivers is always tricky, and some of the best prospects can be found in the middle-late rounds. Baldwin is a big, physical receiver with deceptive speed who reminds me of Brandon Marshall. He has excellent vertical ability and will go above defenders to make tough catches. He will also make catches in traffic. He’s not overly agile or elusive but has great body control, which is one of the most underrated attributes for a receiver. He also catches balls with his hands, which is another underrated talent. I believe that Baldwin is going to be a successful NFL receiver and would not be surprised to see him shoot up boards as the draft gets closer. If the Ravens want to draft Baldwin, they can probably wait until the second round, but I believe that he has enough value to warrant a low first round or high second round pick.
5. Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State, 6'5 321, late 1st – high 2nd round.
Several scouts have called Sherrod one of the safest picks in the draft, and I tend to agree with that. Sherrod will be a good tackle in the NFL because he does so many things well, but he doesn’t really ‘wow’ you in any one area, including his measurables. Sherrod will give a team a solid tackle that can start right away. Sherrod is physical enough to push around most defensive lineman and is nimble enough to stick with most pass-rushers. He will probably struggle versus elite talent, but there is something to be said about a versatile offensive lineman (see Marshal Yanda). If the Ravens want to draft Sherrod, they will probably need to draft him at pick number 26 because some team will see enough value to draft him before the Ravens pick again. Sherrod would be a steal in the second round.
Austin is a player that I really like, but I’m not sure how well he’d fit with the Ravens because he has most value as a 4-3 DT. Nevertheless, he’s going on my prospect report because I love defensive lineman like him. He’s not a very strong defensive lineman, but he works fast on the inside to get off his blocks. He’s also excellent with his hands and leverage. Austin will usually hold his own against his blocker but will occasionally get man-handled. Austin really shines at getting after the quarterback and generating inside pressure, which was really lacking with the Ravens last season. He’s also pretty good at making inside tackles because he can shed blocks as the ball carrier runs by. I could never see Austin playing nose for the Ravens, but he could be ideal in the role that they had Corey Redding playing last season. Either way, I like Austin as a prospect and believe that he’s going to be a good player for some team. If the Ravens want to draft Austin, they will probably need to draft him in the second round because he is unlikely to fall to them in the third as 4-3 teams will probably have a high value on him.
Houston is a very good pass rusher who has been outstanding in college. He would play OLB for the Ravens if they drafted him and reminds me of Antwan Barnes, an ex-Raven that was also a pure pass-rusher. Houston will likely be a better player than Barnes, but he’s similar in that he has a very one-dimensional game. He very rarely makes plays in the running game and is average at setting the edge as an OLB. That’s my biggest issue with Houston. He’s an excellent pass-rusher and has elite quickness off the line but doesn’t offer much in run support. I like Houston and think that he will make an impact on any pass rush, but I don’t really like his value at where he’s likely to be drafted. He’s probably going to be drafted in the middle-late first round as many teams over-value pure pass-rushers. That’s why I don’t really see Houston as a Raven even though I believe he’d be a very good player for them. If the Ravens want to draft Houston, they will probably need to draft him in the first round even though many scouts have a second round grade on him. I have a suspicion that he’ll actually be gone before pick number 26.
Smith is a player that I’m still trying to figure out. He’s an excellent physical specimen. Like Patrick Peterson, he has the build and the speed that makes scouts drool. However, he hasn’t been fantastic on the field. His measurables tell you that he’s a future shut-down corner, but I’m disappointed every time I watch his tape. He’s not bad. He locks down some receivers but struggles versus others. He has good hips and can stick with most receivers but doesn’t always fight for the ball. He’s not very physical in run support despite his size. His balls skills are questionable at best. Don’t get me wrong; I like Smith as a prospect, but I also think he’s a classic example of over-valuing measurables. I don’t know if it’s better to draft a guy like Smith who looks amazing but shrinks every time the tape goes on or a guy like Brandon Harris who looks like a shrimp but plays twice his size on tape. Make no mistake about it; Smith has all the physical abilities to become the next Asomugha. Sometimes, guys like Smith turn into a special players, but most of the time, they bust. If the Ravens want to draft Smith, they will need to draft him in the first round, and I really doubt they’ll value him that highly. One of the other corners probably have more value. Smith might even be gone by pick number 26 since many teams overvalue measureables. He’s been shooting up draft boards since his stand-out combine performance.
Williams is another one of my sleeper prospects. He has ideal size for a corner and uses that to his advantage. He plays very physical with receivers and is a sound tackler. He will read the receiver’s hips and the quarterback’s eyes but will also play too aggressive, causing him to fall for play-action and double moves. He does not have great recovery speed, and that really hurts him when being overly-aggressive. Williams has very good ball skills and will make plays on the ball in the air. He consistently makes plays, and his team relied on him heavily in coverage. He’s a very good blitzer, which will add to his value as a nickel corner immediately. He’s confident, aggressive and isn’t afraid to gamble for the big play. The only real negative with Williams is that he’s a bit of a ‘tweener’ corner/safety prospect. His hips are a little stiff and his recovery speed is lacking. He reminds me of Malcom Jenkins with a little more speed. Ultimately, Williams may be more effective in a zone-coverage scheme, and that may downgrade his value with the Ravens. If the Ravens want to draft Williams, they may be able to wait until the second round to do so. He will probably be drafted in the middle second round and may be a good option if they decide to trade down from the first round. Williams may have the most value between Harris and Smith since he will probably be drafted after both.
It’s really hard not to love Harris. The whole time I was watching his tape, I was saying, "Wow! Yeah… but he’s still short." I think Baltimore fans have an aversion to short corners because it’s been really hard for me to get on board with Harris. After watching enough tape on him, I have to say that I’d be excited if the Ravens did draft him. Harris plays very similar to Brandon Flowers, a 5’9 corner, and plays much bigger than he really is. He’s very physical and doesn’t shy away from contact even if the ball carrier is bigger and lowers his shoulder. Harris has excellent hips and his movement transitions are outstanding as he loses very little speed in transition. He possesses very good ball skills and will consistently fight for the ball. He lacks top-end speed and will not catch receivers from behind if they beat him deep. He struggles to reroute big receivers at the line and will often be out of position in zone coverage. He has excellent technique in man coverage with elite recovery speed, and opposing quarterbacks started throwing away from him as receivers could rarely get any separation from him. All in all, it will be hard for the Ravens to decide between Harris, Smith and Williams if they decide to draft a corner. Right now, I’m leaning towards Harris because he seems to have the best instincts and the elite man-coverage abilities that the Ravens need, but the best option may be to see which one falls into their lap. If the Ravens want to draft Harris, they will probably need to draft him in the first round or trade down into the early second round.
Acho is a highly undervalued player in my opinion. Many scouts do not like him because he’s a ‘tweener’ and is perceived to be too small to play 4-3 DE and not versatile enough to play 3-4 OLB. There may be some truth to that, but I really think Acho is a player who plays outside his measurables. He hasn’t had much experience dropping into coverage but does seem to show good awareness in pursuit. He’s stronger than seems possible for his size. Watching him on tape, he’s always pushing has man into the backfield and getting penetration. He’s incredible strong at the point of attack and is an outstanding tackler, which would immediately add value on special teams. Furthermore, he doesn’t just rush the passer with reckless abandon and is often able to change directions at full speed to pull down an elusive quarterback or running back. It’s this ability that makes me believe Acho could be a good OLB in the Ravens system, which has often recruits ‘tweeners’ from the college ranks. The best part is that Acho is being largely overlooked due to his measureables and could give the Ravens great value in the late rounds as a result. If the Ravens want to draft Acho, they could probably wait until the later rounds to do so. Getting a player like Acho in the 3rd round could be a steal.
Smith’s name has repeatedly been connected to the Ravens in several mock drafts, articles and interviews. I really like Smith as a receiver and player but don’t see his value as a first round pick. Smith has good speed and excellent acceleration. He also has good vision and can track the ball in the air. Those qualities make him a dangerous deep threat. However, Smith is an extremely raw route runner, and therefore, will be a project player in the NFL. That’s fine for middle-late round picks, but first rounders should be capable of contributing right away. I really like Smith because he’s a high-character, high-effort player from our home college and he’s also very dynamic, but the Ravens probably won’t value him as highly as other teams. If the Ravens want to draft Smith, they will probably need to draft him in the first round. Smith’s measurables and college production will cause other teams to leap on him before the Ravens pick in the second round.
The defensive linemen in the draft class are much faster than any other class I can remember. I really believe this is a good year for the Ravens to upgrade their pass-rush. There are quality pass-rushers in every round, and Sheard is no exception. Sheard played mostly on the line in college, and may struggle dropping back into coverage. Sheard has good acceleration and is very active on the line. He uses his long arms well to get off blocks and disrupt plays. He gets off his blocks quickly and can shoot gaps along the interior line. He always seems to be playing fast and aggressive. His ability to play in space is a concern as he can struggle changing direction at speed. Sheard would probably be a good addition to the Ravens and would help their pass rush, but his lack of versatility may keep him off the field and lower his value with the Ravens. If the Ravens want to draft Sheard, they can probably get him late in the second round.
I must admit that I’ve watched very little tape on Marecic, but I know the Ravens love versatile players and they’ll need a FB if Leron McClain walks. Marecic is a rare player that has played on both sides of the ball. He played FB and ILB for Stanford, coached by Jim Harbaugh, and even scored offensive and defensive touchdowns in the same game. That takes a very tough player, and I‘m sure John Harbaugh took notice during some of the games which I’m sure he’s watched his brother coach. If the Ravens want to draft Marecic, they can probably wait until the later rounds to draft him.
I really like watching Matthews play football. He’s certainly a force for his team and a natural playmaker. He’s one of those players who always seem to be around the ball and plays with great instinct and passion. He’s not the quickest or biggest linebacker, but he makes up for all of that by virtually never being caught out of position. Scouts always knock his physical abilities, but I think he actually looks pretty gifted on tape. If the Ravens could draft him in the later rounds, I believe Matthews could be worth a shot. I don’t see him ever being the next Ray Lewis, but players like Matthews can sometimes surprise you. Honestly, he reminds me of a young Zach Thomas, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he was that type of player in the NFL. I really like him on film and think he could be a good player at some point. At the very least, he should be a good special teams player. If the Ravens want to draft Matthews, they should be able to draft him in the middle-late rounds. However, a team may want to take a risk and draft him earlier because of his family’s pedigree.