Honestly, the Baltimore Ravens front office has not drafted particularly well over the last five years.
Since the 2013 NFL draft, the Ravens have brought in a pair of potential future Ring of Honor inductees - C.J. Mosley and Ronnie Stanley. Kelechi Osemele, Brandon Williams and Ricky Wagner represent three more Ravens that played at a high level over the course of their rookie contracts. Beyond these five players, the team has not found many above average players in the draft. Quality depth and complimentary players are there, the top end playmakers are not.
Compare the 2012-2016 Ravens drafts to the first five in team history. From 1996-2000, Ozzie Newsome and Phi Savage drafted Jon Ogden, Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Jamie Sharper, Duane Starks, Chris McAlister and Jamal Lewis with early selections. These five draft classes built the foundation for the franchise’s first championship team. The additions of Todd Heap, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs in the first round of the next three drafts buttressed the roster to a level that enabled the team to contend in most seasons from 2003 to 2012.
Unfortunately, the Ravens have not drafted as well lately. Their current depth chart lacks the elite difference makers of years past. Did the front office change their philosophy? Were they just lucky so many great players fell to them in the early years? Is the coaching under John Harbaugh stunting the players? Did the impact of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed on their teammates mask past drafting deficiencies?
We will never have definitive answers to these questions. But the Ravens front office can help the team break out of their current cycle of mediocrity by crushing the 2017 NFL draft. Here are the three solutions to the Ravens draft woes...
1. Prioritize athletic ability over character
Since the Ray Rice debacle, the Ravens brass has emphasized character to their detriment. In the 2016 draft, they ended up with Kamalei Correa and Bronson Kaufusi from their highest second and third round picks in more than a decade, two ‘red star’ players who faced underwhelming college competition and did not have NFL ready bodies. Neither made significant contributions in their rookie seasons.
Character matters, results matter more. Arguably, four of the seven best players in franchise history came with character concerns or legal troubles when the Ravens drafted them - Ray Lewis, Chris McAlister, Jamal Lewis and Terrell Suggs. At the end of the day, fans root for the players because of their on field production.
Baltimore is a veteran laden team, they should have sufficient locker room leadership from Marshal Yanda, Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle and their $217 million franchise quarterback Joe Flacco. To make their way back into the playoffs, the Ravens need more stars, players who can win individual matchups against the opposition’s top players. Solid doubles are not enough considering the current state of the roster, the Ravens need to hit some home runs.
2. Modernize their ‘BPA’ formula to reflect the passing nature of the current NFL
There is literally no excuse for the fact that the Ravens have not selected a cornerback in the first three round for five consecutive years. The secondary has been a problem area since Ed Reed left Baltimore in 2013. Making matters worse, the team has wasted precious salary cap space on ineffective veterans such as Kyle Arrington and Shareece Wright to fill their needs at cornerback. An outdated positional component in the Ravens best player available formula has produced one dimensional run stuffers such as Terrence Cody, Courtney Upshaw and Carl Davis in early rounds of recent drafts.
Run defenders are not very valuable in today’s NFL. The Super Bowl champion Patriots passed on nearly 60-percent of their offensive plays last season. The majority of Ravens regular season games are decided in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, when both teams are passing heavily via the hurry up offense. To win more of these shootouts, the Ravens need playmaking receivers, shutdown corners, ballhawking safeties and potent pass rushers, along with poised quarterbacking.
Any fair assessment of the Ravens personnel shows they have some catching up to do. To pull even with the better teams in the league, they need to focus their drafting on players who have the talent to impact the passing game. Winning in the NFL is all about scheme and speed these days, the Ravens are behind in both areas.
3. Ensure the scouts and coaches are ‘playing to their strengths’
The Ravens have hit on every single corner they have picked in the first three rounds since 1998 - Starks, McAlister, Gary Baxter, Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith. On the other hand, the are just not very good at drafting receivers in any round, from Patrick Johnson to Chris Moore, with Travis Taylor, Devard Darling, Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Yamon Figurs, Marcus Smith, David Reed, Tandon Doss and Perriman in between, most have failed miserably. Logic indicates the Ravens should draft corners early and focus on acquiring receivers through free agency unless an absolute can’t miss prospect falls in their lap.
Zachary Orr and Michael Pierce are just the two latest examples in a long history of undrafted or late round run defenders that the Ravens have developed, so waiting on inside linebackers and nose guards would be wise. The Ravens have also had great success with mid round interior offensive lineman but not developed many project offensive tackles, they should stack their draft board with this background in mind.
This general concept also applies to the coaching staff. Paul Kruger, Matt Elam, Terrence Brooks and probably Correa have all had their development stunted because the coaching staff did not allow them to master one position before cross training at other positions. The coaches must be more direct in their communication with the scouts about which skillsets they desire for their system. The Ravens cannot afford to waste time changing players’ positions while their cost effective rookie contracts expire.
Salay cap management, coaching and free agency decisions have all played a large part in the Ravens recent regression. However, championships are still built in the draft. Undoubtedly, the Ravens front office has not been as successful in the draft as they were when they earned the reputation as the best in the business.
If Ozzie and company follow these three straightforward steps to improve their drafting, they can create a roster that is able to compete with the genuine contenders sooner rather than later. If not, more of the same draft strategy will produce more of the same mediocre results.