The Baltimore Ravens made a value pick when they selected Carl Davis in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Davis showed flashes of great play in the preseason. He started three of the first four games of the 2015 season at 3-technique while Timmy Jernigan nursed a knee injury. Surprisingly, Davis' playing time greatly decreased as the season wore on.
In fact, Davis was a healthy scratch in three of the final six games of the season. These gameday inactive decisions were puzzling since Davis showed great promise and the Ravens gave many other young players increased playing time as their playoff hopes faded away late in the season. In total, Davis accumulated eleven total tackles and two passes defensed during his rookie season.
It is undoubtedly much too early in his career to write Davis off. He was always considered a bit of a project which is why he fell to the third round on draft day. Davis' was prone to fatiguing at Iowa so it makes sense that he hit the proverbial rookie wall late in the season. The surplus on the Ravens defensive line is another cause for his diminished playing time.
Defensive tackle, along with tight end and possibly wide receiver are the strongest positions on the entire roster in terms of youth, depth and quality. Nose guard Brandon Williams was one of the top two or three players on the team last season. Timmy Jernigan regained the disruptive play that he exhibited during his rookie campaign in the second half of 2015.
Lawrence Guy is a solid defensive lineman who has the versatility to play either defensive tackle or defensive end, although he may be asked to play more defensive end in 2016 after Chris Canty's release unless the Ravens draft another defensive end to rotate with Brent Urban. And Kapron Lewis-Moore is another versatile defensive lineman who was finally able to remain healthy last season.
The Ravens had the twelfth best rushing defense in the NFL last season. That is a respectable ranking for a defense that was playing from behind in most games. It remains to be seen if the departure of inside linebacker Daryl Smith will help or harm the rush defense overall while replacing Courtney Upshaw will not be a small task.
However, there are multiple reasons to expect better run defense in 2016. Namely, the healthy return of Terrell Suggs, a healthier C.J. Mosley, ZaDarius Smith developing into a more consistent run defender to allow Elvis Dumervil to focus his energy on rushing the quarterback and an expected infusion of talent into the defensive front seven from the upcoming draft.
The interior defensive lineman crop in the 2016 draft class is outstanding. Defensive tackles Sheldon Rankins, Jarran Reed, and Andrew Billings are all considered first round prospects. Adding even more sturdiness to the defensive interior, Vernon Butler, Sheldon Day, A'Shawn Robinson, Adolphus Washington, Kenny Clark, Maliek Collins and Hassan Ridgeway should all be worthy of a Day 2 selections.
DeForest Buckner, Chris Jones, Bronson Kaufusi Jonathan Bullard and Robert Nkemdiche are high upside prospects with legitimate pass rushing ability. Since these three are more likely to play defensive end in the Ravens scheme with the ability to kick inside on 3rd down, they are not direct competitors with Carl Davis for playing time.
Herein lies the conundrum. There is a high probability that one of the pure defensive tackles will be the 'best player available' when they Ravens are on the clock at some point in the first three rounds. But drafting over Carl Davis with two young established starting defensive tackles already in place ahead of Davis will likely stifle his growth while doing little to address the Ravens more pressing needs of increased speed and pass rushing ability on defense.
So should the Ravens eschew their 'BPA' philosophy for the first three rounds after a down season if a run plugging defensive tackle is the top prospect on their board? Or for the 'BPA' purists, should the Ravens trade out of the slot if this scenario presents itself? Does short term opportunity outweigh long term strategy for the Ravens in the 2016 draft?