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Why trading up in the first round makes sense for the Ravens, and not for a wide receiver

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Oklahoma vs Georgia Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens need for a playmaker on offense is clear this offseason. In a division with Antonio Brown, A.J. Green and Josh Gordon, the Ravens lack a receiver who can be a game changer. John Harbaugh discussed in his season ending press conference the need for a playmaker, but said the draft will be the biggest way in which the Ravens attempt to add that type of a weapon.

Unlike last year’s draft that possessed top tier talent at wide receiver, this year’s draft has a lot of good, but not a lot of great. Calvin Ridley of Alabama is my top rated receiver, but I just don’t see how he falls all the way down to the Ravens at 16. The Ravens could look for a playmaker in the form of Christian Kirk at the 16th pick, as he will likely be there.

However, what this draft possesses that last year’s didn’t is depth. The drop off between the top rated receivers and the mid-round projected players isn’t as pronounced, arguably because the top of the class isn’t as good. This means that the Ravens could wait until a later round, and select a receiver like Equanimeous St. Brown, Simmie Cobbs Jr., Anthony Miller or Deon Cain.

Harbaugh mentioned that the Ravens could look for the best player available at the 16th pick, which they always seem to do. The Ravens don’t absolutely have to select a wide receiver in the first round, especially if Ridley isn’t there. Though the Ravens, a team that wants to win now, could be a prime candidate to trade up in this year’s draft, with the ability of landing a playmaker, one on the defense side of the ball.

Enter Roquan Smith.

Your probably thinking right now, “Why would the Ravens trade up for a linebacker?” That though is reasonable, it’s not something team’s often do. In mocks that I’ve done, I see picks 9-11 as prime landing spots for Smith (the Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins pick in that range). While wide receiver is an obvious need for the Ravens this offseason, inside linebacker is a pretty big one too.

In no game was the need at inside linebacker more pronounced than the Ravens Sunday night loss in Pittsburgh, when Steelers’ tight ends Jesse James and Vance McDonald ran wild on the Ravens. C.J. Mosley isn’t going anywhere, but it’s the spot next to him that could use a change. Patrick Onwuasor, who is a restricted free agent, has been nothing more than above average, and second round pick Kamalei Correa has never panned out. Neither Mosley nor Onwuasor proved to be particularly adept in coverage over this past season, and finding an athletic linebacker who can cover will be a key need.

If you’ve watched college football all season, you know who Roquan Smith is. Even if the first college game you’ve watched this season was the Rose Bowl, Smith stood out when he was on the field, and you know who he is now. Smith is an incredibly athletic linebacker that can do it all. He tackles well, can rush the passer, but most importantly for the Ravens, he gets to edges extremely well, and he is great in coverage. He proved that he can be a leader this season with Georgia, has he led what was one of the best defense’s in the country. Even in a game against Oklahoma where they couldn’t stop Baker Mayfield at times, Smith stood out time and time again.

Roquan Smith could be plugged in as the starter at inside linebacker next to Mosley today, and I would feel much more comfortable about covering tight ends, or any receiver in the middle of the field for that matter.

Trading up to get a player of Smith’s caliber makes a lot of sense for the Ravens. I just don’t see how Smith makes it to 16, and the Ravens wouldn’t have to move too far up to get him. They may be able to convince a team like Miami or Oakland to move back, as they also have a variety of needs which should be able to be filled at the 16th pick. If Baltimore wants to show that it is a win-now team, despite having one of the oldest rosters in the NFL, they have to make a move to go for it, trading up could be that move.

Could the Ravens also trade up for a wide receiver, namely Ridley? Sure, though I think they would have to move further up to get Ridley than they would Smith, and the further the Ravens move up, the more they would have to give up. The Bills made a big trade to move up for Sammy Watkins, but that didn’t work out so well. There is less depth at inside linebacker that at wide receiver both in the draft, and in free agency. While I’m not saying the Ravens should put inside linebacker ahead of wide receiver on the offseason priorities list, if Baltimore has a chance to land Roquan Smith, they should definitely get him.