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Has the Baltimore Ravens drafting declined?

Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun

Most everyone is in agreement that the Ravens roster is not as talented as it once was. Free agency plays a part in roster construction, but the Ravens franchise has always built through the draft first and foremost. It would be foolish to attempt to evaluate the Ravens 2016 draft class at this juncture. However, the five draft classes from 2011 to 2015 have not produced the volume of elite level players that the Ravens have grown accustomed to.

2011 draft class

Notable Selections: #27 overall Jimmy Smith, #58 Torrey Smith, #85 Jah Reid, #165 Pernell McPhee

Synopsis: This was probably Ozzie’s best draft since the 2008 Flacco - Rice combination. Smith, Smith, and McPhee were all impact players who played a part in bringing home the 2012 championship. However, the Ravens did not find much production from the rest of the class. And Jimmy Smith, the only player still with the team, did not play up to his large contract last season.

2012 draft class

Notable Selections: #35 Courtney Upshaw, #60 Kelechi Osemele, #84 Bernard Pierce

Synopsis: Osemele was the crown jewel of this class and developed into a near Pro Bowl level player, pricing himself out of the Ravens budget. Upshaw was a stout player but underwhelmed as a high second rounder. After the top two, the Ravens received minimal returns from the other six players. No one from this draft class lasted on the team past their rookie contract.

2013 draft class

Notable Selections: #32 Matt Elam, # 56 Arthur Brown, #94 Brandon Williams, #168 Ricky Wagner

Synopsis: Williams is one of the best nose tackles in the league. Elam and Brown are holding this group back, neither have played well. Wagner is essentially a league average starter.  If fullback Kyle Juszczyk is included, the ten men class produced three starters.

2014 draft class

Notable Selections: #17 C.J. Mosley, #48 Timmy Jernigan, #99 Crockett Gillmore, #175 John Urschel

Synopsis: Mosley had a strong rookie year, but regressed last season. Jernigan has been solid, not spectacular. Gillmore and Urschel are quality role players. Too soon to make any grand proclamations about this group. Five of the nine picks are near locks to make the roster heading into their third season.

2015 draft class

Notable Selections: #26 Breshad Perriman, #55 Maxx Williams, #90 Carl Davis, #122 Za’Darius Smith, #125 Javorius Allen

Synopsis: What appears to be a second unfortunate season-ending knee injury to Perriman is disappointing. Even if he recovers to play well in 2017, losing two seasons is a big blow. Williams was decent his rookie year, but the Ravens did add a veteran free agent tight end and now have four capable tight ends on the roster.  Not exactly a vote of confidence for Maxx, who was supposed to be the best tight end in the draft. Smith and Allen have the potential to turn this into a fine draft.

Are these five draft classes actually worse than the three previous five-draft spans in team history?

The 1996-2000 period is very tough to beat. Ozzie brought in two Hall of Famers with Jon Ogden and Ray Lewis. He followed the historic first Ravens draft with multi-season Pro Bowlers or All-Pro performers Peter Boulware, Chris McAlister and Jamal Lewis. Most importantly, the Ravens were able to retain the best players for the majority of their productive years, if not the entirety of their careers.

The 2001-2005 faction is a bit top heavy. Todd Heap, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs are the headliners. 2004 and 2005 were back to back poor draft classes, which helps explain the dip in postseason success until 2008. Jarrett Johnson proved to be an excellent fourth round pick. Overall, this period did not provide quite the production that the first five years in team drafting history did.

The Ravens front office did their best mid-round work from 2006-2010. Dawan Landry, Marshal Yanda, Lardarius Webb and Dennis Pitta were all picked in the third round or later. Haloti Ngata, Ben Grubbs, Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Michael Oher were all successful early draft picks, with nine Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl MVP between them.

It is difficult to rank the groups until the 2014-15 players have had more time to develop. The most recent stretch will be challenged to beat the 1996-2000 and 2006-2010 groups. It is fair to say the Ravens drafted a greater percentage of stars in the past, at least early in their careers, over their first fifteen drafts. Mosley is the only player from the most recent five-draft section who has earned Pro Bowl accolades. None of the players in the five most recent classes to see the field seem reasonably close to All-Pro level and the Ravens as a whole were sparsely represented on the top 100 player lists released this offseason.

Why have the Ravens drafts produced fewer elite players lately? A combination of factors. First of all, they have had lower draft positions, with #17 as the highest slot. Secondly, as good as Ozzie is, there is a lot of luck in the draft. Luck to have higher rated players slide, luck to avoid injuries, luck to draft a player who every scout underrated.

The Ray Lewis effect could also be playing a part. Ray Lewis was a transcendent player who made the jobs of everyone around him easier, helping Ed Reed to win defensive Player of the Year honors in his third season, Terrell Suggs to earn defensive Rookie of the Year distinction and Haloti Ngata to make the All-Pro team in his fourth year.

It is unclear if the Ravens scouting or coaching has declined.  Maybe the rest of the league has caught up in the scouting department. The front office has chosen quantity over quality on draft day frequently, preferring to trade down instead of trade up. Unfortunately, this has not resulted in a noticeable improvement in mid-round and late round contributors.

At this point, it does appear that the 2011-2015 span has been the worst five-year period in the Ravens draft history. However, as with all thoughts pertaining to the draft, only time will tell for certain.

Do you believe the Ravens drafting has declined? If so, why?