With the NFL scouting combine scheduled to begin this Sunday, February 23rd, draft season has officially commenced. In the lead up to the first round on April 23rd, prospects will be re-evaluated, needs will shift and opinions will evolve.
For this pre-combine roundtable, the Baltimore Beatdown staff was asked who their three most wanted first round prospects are at this point of the cycle:
Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama: While I’m admittedly not the biggest fan of the idea of drafting a wide receiver in back-to-back first rounds, Henry Ruggs III is the exception. He was overshadowed a bit by Jerry Jeudy, but he is a heck of a receiver prospect in his own right. Ruggs would be a perfect complement to Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin on the depth chart and add another dimension on the outside. He’d make a rich offense even richer.
Javon Kinlaw, DL, South Carolina: Like Ruggs, It’d be surprising to see Javon Kinlaw slip to pick No. 28 in the first round. However, I’d feel comfortable about trading up for either player. Kinlaw has game-wrecker written all over him as a physical and disruptive presence on the defensive line, which is exactly what the Ravens need. Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce and Chris Wormley offered little in terms of interior pass rush, an area where Kinlaw could shine.
K’Lavon Chaisson, Edge, LSU: In addition to having a unique name, Chaisson possesses a unique combination of size and speed, which is especially impressive when considering his talent as a pure pass rusher. Chaisson has an array of pass-rushing moves up his sleeve and can hold his own in coverage, similar to Matthew Judon. Regardless of whether or not Judon is back next season, Chaisson would be a home run selection.
CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma (via trade up): The Ravens offense is flush with up and coming talent surrounding MVP Lamar Jackson. They must make the most out of the rookie contract window and giving him a blue chip prospect opposite of Hollywood Brown can take this team over the top. With the Super Bowl window wide open and plenty of depth on the roster, now is the time to be aggressive with their draft picks and make a splash for an explosive playmaker with superstar upside.
Henry Ruggs lll: Here is another wide receiver prospect that makes a ton of sense in the first round. Pairing Ruggs opposite of Hollywood would give this offense an unfair amount of speed that can take the top off a defense on any play. Imagine the stress they could put on a defense trying to stop both these guys while also having to worry about Mark Andrews and the tight end group while Jackson is a threat to keep it on any play. Ruggs may not be available at 28, but it would cost a whole let less to trade into his range compared to CeeDee Lamb. Again, it’s time to be aggressive and add the top end talent this team needs to get over the hump.
Javon Kinlaw: The Ravens need to grow more disruptive upfront. Although they blitz at a higher rate than any team in the NFL, the defense needs more sacks from the interior. Enter Kinlaw who is a disruptive force and could be a day one starter with the possible departure of Michael Pierce. He is effective at collapsing the pocket and his explosiveness is off the charts. Everything about Kinlaw screams Ravens, from his tenacity on the field to his tough upbringing, this kid is hungry and would be joining a team starving for a Super Bowl.
Bottom line: The Ravens have been effective in recent years at moving back to accumulate picks while still getting their guys. I believe this is the year to take the opposite approach and be aggressive targeting blue chip players while utilizing their 10 picks to move up the board in the first round. Depth is not an issue and getting a day one starter in the first round gives them all kinds of options with their available cap space.
A.J. Epenesa, Edge, Iowa: Epenesa is a well balanced, three-down disruptive force who could line up all across the Ravens defensive front depending on down and distance. He’s equally effective as a run defender or penetrating pass rusher due to an outstanding combination of length and strength. Think of A.J. Epenesa as a cross between J.J. Watt and Calais Campbell.
Cesar Ruiz, C, Michigan: Ruiz is the best interior offensive lineman in this draft. A technician with great mobility and a low center of gravity, Ruiz is a plug and play starter who has all the tools to be a ten year starter at guard or center.
Henry Ruggs III: Ruggs is rare. Few, if any prospects have ever had his combination of speed, play strength and route running. Ruggs often came in motion to be an in-line blocker at Alabama, similarly to how the Rams use Robert Woods. Considering Ruggs was clocked at over 24 mph, the combination of speed and tenacity might be something the NFL hasn’t seen before.
Henry Ruggs III: I am firmly in the group of wanting the Ravens to take a wide receiver early in the draft to pair with last year’s first-round pick Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and give Lamar Jackson better threats on the perimeter. Ruggs would give Baltimore another speedster at the position to threaten defenses over the top. As the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs have shown, a track team of weapons around a young superstar quarterback can be a nightmare for opposing defenses.
K’Lavon Chaisson: Chaisson is one the best pass rushers in the draft, so it’s a given that the Ravens could use a player like him. Chaisson would give Baltimore exceptional speed off the edge as a pass rusher, something they clearly lacked in 2019.
A.J. Epenesa: Espenesa could line up at multiple positions along the defensive front, something defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martidnale obviously values. Espenesa would help bring pressure from the defensive line, which has been a huge area of need for the Ravens in recent years.
Chase Young, Edge, Ohio State: Obviously a pipe dream but the question is requesting my three most wanted prospects and he’s the top of the list. If somehow the Ravens were capable of making the leap, I’d be all for it but going from pick 28 to pick two is not possible. In fact, if you attempt to trade the Ravens’ first six draft picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, the trade value chart only amounts to 1,226 points. The second overall pick accounts for 2,600 points. You would need to include multiple future first-round picks to make up the value and I don’t see DeCosta giving up those picks. Also, with such a lock at second overall, it’s not a deal capable of being swung.
Henry Ruggs III: The first-of-its-kind Ravens offense was nearly unstoppable with Mark Ingram, Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards, but I’d love to witness the passing attack increase with a second star wide receiver to pair with the unrivaled speed of Marquise Brown. Ruggs is that dude. The speed and size of Ruggs, paired with Hollywood, Willie Snead IV and Mark Andrews forces defenses on their heels as they can’t continue prepping for the bulldozing rushing attack from the Ravens. He has sure hands, great change-of-direction speed and is more possible to land with the Ravens than his teammate Jerry Jeudy or Oklahoma product CeeDee Lamb.
A.J. Epenesa: The exciting picks of Ruggs and Chase Young need to be followed by a more realistic trench pick. With Brandon Williams never progressing in the pass-rush department and Michael Pierce likely finding a new home team in 2020, the Ravens need to find an interior pass rusher. Through his three years at Iowa, Epenesa racked up 26.5 sacks and totaled 36 tackles for loss. He also forced nine fumbles in his three years. I see Epenesa as a player worth jumping a few spots to select, as he’s a solid prospect and the Ravens need a young work-horse to play beside Williams and possibly Domato Peko, if he’s re-signed.
CeeDee Lamb (via trade up): The Ravens need an upgrade at wide receiver, and outside of Jerry Jeudy, Lamb is the best one in this class. More importantly, he might be the most NFL ready. He will likely go in the top-10, but the Ravens would be set at receiver with Lamb and Brown for the considerable future.
Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson: Higgins is another good wide receiver option. He has excellent ball skills, and at 6’5, the former basketball player is among the best at hauling in jump-balls. His skill set would be a nice complement to Marquise Brown.
Curtis Weaver, Edge, Boise State: If Matthew Judon departs in free agency, pass rusher should become a huge priority. Look, Curtis Weaver is not the flashiest prospect. His combine numbers will not be eye-popping, but he knows how to get to the quarterback. Weaver recorded 34 sacks in three seasons at Boise State. He is a versatile rusher that can line up all over the defensive line. His skill and motor will translate to the next level, and he can contribute from day one.
Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado: I would be thrilled if Ruggs fell to the Ravens at 28, but for the sake of variety, I’ll make the case for Shenault here. He could certainly be the best player available when DeCosta goes on the clock. Shenault is in contention with the aforementioned Higgins and LSU’s Justin Jefferson to be the fourth receiver to come off the board. His attributes include impressive speed, dynamic versatility, strong hands, physicality and elusive run after the catch ability. Greg Roman could deploy him as a moveable chess piece to add yet another layer of creativity and deception to the scheme. The Ravens need more playmakers on offense to avoid another playoff letdown, and Laviska is the definition of a playmaker.
Cesar Ruiz: The Ravens missed out on several plug-and-play interior blockers when they went without a second round pick in the 2019 draft. They seemed to overcome this potential weakness last season until they were manhandled at the point of attack for the second consecutive postseason. Fortunately the college ranks will supply a few more promising centers this year, including LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry and Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadscz. Ruiz, however, is the best fit for the Ravens scheme due to his ability to anchor, lateral agility and raw strength. With signs pointing towards a Marshal Yanda retirement, the Ravens would be wise to bolster their blocking unit.
Marlon Davidson, Edge, Auburn: Davidson is flying under the radar undeservedly. A jumbo edge with four years of starting experience and an All-SEC pedigree. He would solve the edge setting issues immediately, which is the area where the defense was gashed last season. More valuably, he uses exceptional power to disrupt plays in the backfield, as evidenced by his 6.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss last season. His skillset would be a natural fit as an interior pass rusher in coordinator Martindale’s light packages. There are a handful of edge rushers in this class with higher ceilings, including Chaisson, Yetur Gross-Matos and Terrell Lewis. Still, Davidson has a high floor and should be on the Ravens radar, especially in a trade back scenario.