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Who the Ravens should be banging on the table for

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Players with heart; what the combine can’t measure.

Do you know why I love the NFL Draft? In the 2018 draft class, roughly $165.2 million dollars were handed out. Oh, and that was just the signing bonus money for the top 10 picks. From Baker through Rosen, one-hundred and sixty-five million dollars in guaranteed money alone.

With your first round pick, and your higher picks, you’re making them rich. Like rich, rich. When you make that investment in a player, you’re giving them the tools to change their lives. To be a true professional athlete. Of course they want to take care of their family, friends, get cars, sure. However, they can now invest in themselves. They can do this through their diet, personal trainers, and physical therapy at the highest level. So you’re basically giving that player the keys to their own kingdom.

With that being said, there are still ample amounts of “busts”. Matt Elam, Breshad Perriman, Arthur Brown, Sergio Kindle, and many others didn’t pan out to fill their full potential in the Ravens’ case. Whether it wasn’t the right scheme fit, injuries proved too detrimental to overcome, off-field concerns turned into real-world problems. Busts happen. It’s a part of the story.

Copious amounts of young players don’t receive the right combination of coaching and are left to figure out too much on their own. Several ‘Bama players have stated that as a member of the Crimson Tide they’re on a 24 hour 7 day routine that helps them walk the straight and narrow. In the N.F.L. players have more freedom, what they choose to do is their own prerogative, and rightfully so.

In my mind, there are two important factors that are quite difficult to measure, and you can’t put a number on...

1) How much do they love football?

Take a look at Ed Reed. How often did you hear about Ed Reed off the field? How often would Ed Reed miss games? His passion and love for the sport is unrivaled. You could tell through his play. Ed wasn’t the biggest guy, he ran a 4.57 at his combine, and was called “a pick without pizazz.” However... Ed Reed left it all on the field. He threw his 204 pound body around with blatant disregard for his own safety (and especially the safety of ball carriers).

Who would tell you Ed Reed ran a 4.57? He had arguably the greatest range of any safety of all time. That was because of his passion and his intelligence.

2) How intelligent of a player are they?

What a player lacks in pure athleticism an easily be overcome with intelligence. If you look at players like former Miami Dolphins line-backer Zach Thomas, he is a perfect example. He was a smaller dude by NFL standards, wasn’t the fastest or the strongest guy... but he would SMACK you in the mouth because he knew where you were going before YOU did. He had studied it, seen it, envisioned it already. In NFL Network’s series A Football Life, one episode covered former great linebacker Chris Spielman. He would project the upcoming opponent’s film onto a wall. He would line up, and go through the movements he was going to take in the game. By the time the game was played on Sunday he said, “I’ve already played the game three times.”

Unfortunately... for every Ed Reed... there are ten Matt Elam’s.

I’m banging the table for these prospects—

Hakeem Butler

Hakeem Butler is a Baltimore native. He unfortunately lost his mother at a young age and moved in with his aunt and uncle in Houston. His cousins are former UK basketball stars Andrew and Aaron Harrison. Butler is a hard worker and a more polished route runner than given credit for. He can truly do it all. His passion and work ethic for the sport are evident. He runs extremely clean underneath routes for his size. He is able to flip his hips and plant his foot in the ground to change direction extremely well. Butler is the most polished giant receiver since Calvin Johnson. He should garner being selected in the first round. If it weren’t for some questionable drops and a high drop rate, Butler would potentially be a top 10 pick.

Cameron Smith- LB, USC

Smith might not be a day one guy... or a day two guy... but he has a few attributes that show he’s quite a remarkable young man. If you watch the video above, Smith has other options aside from football. He loves wine making. Someone might watch that video and question his passion for football. However, Smith tore his ACL in November 2015 shortly after having three interceptions in a game against Utah. Something I’ve seen NO ONE talk about is how startling it is that Smith didn’t miss a game in 2016 following the injury. Smith tore his ACL... in November 2015... and was back in the starting rotation in August of 2016. Clearly he loves the game and put in the work to get back. Smith might not be a combine freak, but he did post an admirable 4.23s short shuttle time, and a 39 inch vertical. Smith has received unbridled praise from coaches and teammates alike as a high IQ player with great character.

Ben Burr-Kirven- LB, Washington

All BBK does is make tackles. Plain and simple. Over the past two seasons he’s accumulated 260 tackles, including 173 this past season. A tad undersized, but again... his IQ makes up for it.

Tre Watson- LB, UMD

The former Illinois LB turned UMD Terp hits hard. Really hard.

Watson was first team all Big 10, has posted two 100 tackle seasons, had 5 interceptions last season, and is a four time academic all Big 10 selection. Here is a little excerpt from a recent interview with Watson leading up to the NFL draft (via draftdiamond.com)

“You are working on your graduate degree in Masters of Public Health: Behavioral & Community Health. What do you want to do with that degree later in life?”

“So my undergrad was also Pre-Dental which is my ultimate post-football path of being an orthodontist. The MPH is to further the development I made in my undergraduate program and give me a well rounded knowledge base for the healthcare system, the insurance aspects of healthcare, and also for managing a health care facility.”

So lets get this straight on Watson. He’s a four-time academic all big 10 student athlete who wasn’t exactly majoring in one of the walk in the park majors some athletes undertake. He also stated that organic chemistry was his hardest course. So while he was laying out offensive lineman, he was studying hydrocarbon nomenclature, and doing it at an all conference level both in the classroom and on the field. He also had five interceptions, and ran a 4.14s short shuttle. He was a four year starter, and all big 10 last year alongside Devin Bush... so why aren’t we considering him a borderline day 1 prospect? Simply because he doesn’t run the fastest 40? Ravens... if you’re smart take this young man and don’t look back. Kenny Young and Patrick Onwuasor are both fine young linebackers, but Watson would be a yin to their yang. He excels at reading keys, filling holes, taking on blocks, and making tough stops. Young and Onwuasor both cover well and have great speed, but need some work filling the A gap on run plays still. That trio would be an awesome set, and provide good insurance should one of them inevitably miss a game or two. Rant over.

Deebo Samuel- WR, USC

Deebo just plays like a Raven. Like Cameron Smith he recovered from a horrible leg injury to be an all-world receiver for the Gamecocks again last season. He will route you up, run through you, and lay the cold shoulder on blocks in the run game. He also is an exceptionally dangerous returner. In fact, prior to his broken fibula in 2017 Deebo returned two kicks. Guess what his kick return average was on those two kicks? 97 yards. He scored on both. His release and routes might be best in show.

Pull that up on twitter and watch the rest in the thread. Deebo is going to be a problem for NFL defenses for years to come.

JJ Arcega-Whiteside- WR, Stanford

The Stanford Cardinals red-zone gameplan in 2018 went something like this...

JJ go run a fade and catch a TD. OK coach.

The defense knew it was coming. The cheerleaders knew it was coming. Even their ridiculous tree mascot thing knew it was coming. Still, no one could stop it. Listening to JJAW, the product of two former professional basketball players, talk about boxing out DBs in the end-zone is a thing of beauty. He’s an extremely talented receiver all around, and clearly a highly cerebral player. He’s quite reminiscent of a young Jordy Nelson.

Mecole Hardman- WR, UGA

Hardman may very well be my favorite player in this class. He was a 5-star high school QB turned receiver. He runs a 4.31. However, the reason I love Hardman is because he’s willing to do the dirty work. He played gunner on the punt team, and made a few big hits wrapping up returners. He runs through contact better than anyone I’ve ever seen with his smaller size and outstanding speed. His 4.31 translates to the field, and he makes corners look like they’re in slow motion. He’s an absolute freak, who has yet to come close to peaking as a receiver. You can tell how much he loves football because he brings grave intensity EVERY snap.

Josh Allen- LB, Kentucky

One of the media’s favorite questions for NFL combine participants is “Who is the best player you played against in college?” Routinely during the 2019 combine, SEC players stated, “Josh Allen. His combination of instincts and IQ are evident on nearly every single snap. He certainly is a film-study all star. “He knew all of our plays before we ran them” has become a common phrase when opponents discuss Allen. He is a former walk on, changed positions, and clearly worked his tail off to become arguably the top prospect in this class. In my opinion he’s the #1 prospect in this class. The Ravens won’t sniff him without trading away the family farm, but I just wanted to acknowledge his greatness.

Zach Allen- DE, Boston College

Dude is just an animal. I see so much JJ Watt in his game it’s scary. In almost any other draft Allen would be a consensus top 15 pick. The strong DE/OLB class drives him down the board a tad, but he’s a first round talent. He moves extremely well for his size, but plays as strong as his size suggests. His hand usage is outstanding, often plowing through blockers with a nasty bull rush. Mean, tough, gritty, day one starter, and four down capable.

Garrett Bradbury- Center/Guard, NC State

Converted to play center from tight end, and plays like he wants people to stop saying it. He’s mean, nasty, and tough. He’s a TAD undersized, but plays much bigger than he is. He wants to pummel you into the earth, but the NCST grad is also an avid reader. He and his roommate/QB Ryan Finley started a book club among teammates, and every interview you see of Bradbury his intellect isn’t hard to distinguish.

Erik McCoy- Center/Guard, Texas A&M

Mecole Hardman, Terry McLaurin, Chase Winovich, and Mr. Erik McCoy are my favorite players in this draft. McCoy is simply the best pulling center I’ve ever seen. His combination of footwork, low center of gravity, ability to engage his hips, and drive a defender off the LOS are outstanding. I’m hanging my hat on a healthy Erik McCoy being a 10 year starter and being an all-pro in the NFL. He’s perfect for the Ravens. Humble, works hard, talented, and he put Quinnen Williams on his rear. He handled Alabama and Clemson admirably who boast somewhere between 8-12 NFL caliber players in their front 7’s.

Chase Winovich- OLB/DE, Michigan

Winovich posted freakish agility numbers at his size at the combine: 4.59s 40 time, 4.14s short shuttle, and 6.94s three-cone time. He has excellent get off at the line, and is dominant both against the run and pass. He has heavy hands that he uses to pull off a push-pull move that sends tackles and tight ends flying, while propelling Winovich towards his target. Wino gives me goosebumps. I’ll just let the film do the talking.

Terry McLaurin- WR, Ohio State

Ohio State’s website has a great breakdown of McLaurin and his outstanding work ethic, “nothing short of durable, he played in every game between 2015 and 2018 – 54 total – and started 32 times … he totaled 75 career receptions for 1,251 yards … he was also an outstanding special teams player on punt coverage; one of the best in the nation, in fact … McLaurin scored three touchdowns in Big Ten title games at Lucas Oil Stadium in his home city of Indianapolis, including a game-igniting 84-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the win over Wisconsin in 2017.”

Pundits always talk about Michael Thomas shocking them in the NFL and how strange OSU’s offense is to try to predict which players will succeed at the next level. Many think Parris Campbell is “The next Michael Thomas.” I do like much about Campbell’s game, but McLaurin is going to take off at the next level. He brings his hard hat and lunch pale every play. He was arguably the best gunner in college football over the last few years.

Here are some of the other prospects that I think possess a brilliant blend of toughness, passion, smarts, and ability:

Diontae Johnson, Riley Ridley, Taylor Rapp, Nate Davis, Trayveon Williams, Elijah Holyfield, Jalen Hurd, Lamont Gaillard, Maxx Crosby, Sione Takitaki, Greg Dortch, Miles Boykin, and Jerry Tillery.

I hope that DeCosta is favoring these players come April 25th. With these smart, yet hard-nosed junk yard dogs, the Ravens will be in the best place to compete in 2019 and beyond. If we can come away with 4 of those prospects, then this draft will be a glowing success as DeCosta’s first.