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2020 Ravens Big Board: Post-free agency first round edition

Let’s start shaping where the Ravens should attack the draft, starting with round one.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Combine has come and gone. Teams surely have their big boards tentatively set. With the first wave of free agency in the rear view, there will be a more defined picture painted of where teams need to direct their remaining offseason capital. Some teams are rebuilding as they find a new direction, while others, such as the Baltimore Ravens, are looking to put the finishing touches on competitive rosters.

The Ravens have answered several questions remaining before the draft. With Matthew Judon receiving Baltimore’s franchise tag designation, one of the major questions appears to be answered.

Tagging Judon bought the Ravens time to:

  1. Examine the free agent market. Will there be a player that the Ravens see as a potential upgrade to Judon? Jadeveon Clowney is certainly a better run defender and has been quite successful.
  2. Trade Matthew Judon for more draft capital. The Ravens will certainly receive more through a tag-’n’-trade than simply letting Judon walk. They could then use those draft picks to maneuver the draft, trade for other veteran players, or both.
  3. Negotiate a long term contract with Matthew Judon. With a new CBA likely to skyrocket the 2021 cap ceiling, the Ravens could sign Judon to a backloaded deal that will be more modest in years to come than it would initially appear.

The Ravens could potentially sign Judon to a multi-year deal, and lower his 2020 cap hit to somewhere around $9 million, which will allow them the flexibility to make more acquisitions this off-season.

Bringing in Calais Campbell and Michael Brockers mitigated the Ravens burning desire to generate more interior pass rush. The two combined for over 100 pressures in 2019. Michael Pierce, Brandon Williams and Chris Wormley struggled to produce 47 between the three of them.

Brockers and Campbell have shored up the Ravens run defense even more so. Campbell was Pro Football Focus’ “Run Defender of the Year” and Brockers has been consistently one of the better run defenders in the NFL.

Marshal Yanda retired, leaving an elephant sized void at right guard. Brandon Carr has been released. The Ravens have young players like Ben Powers and Iman Marshall that they hope can step up, but as we learned last year, growing pains can be much worse than anticipated.

The Ravens relied on youngsters like Kenny Young and Anthony Averrett to hold their own, but were scorned.

For now, it appears Judon will be back, so with him in the 2020 plans, the Ravens look forward to plugging more roster holes before the draft, allowing them to take the most talented players, regardless of position.

This is the best philosophy. Drafting for need rather than ability is an act in futility. “Oh, we have good defensive backs. We can’t draft any. . . let’s take an average inside linebacker instead.” Don’t pass up All-Pro talent for “just another guy.”

With that being said, no, the Ravens will not be selecting a quarterback in the first round. That is a certainty. Tight end, cornerback and running back all seem unlikely, but don’t be surprised to see DeCosta snipe a player who falls way too far.

Both Walter Football and Daniel Jeremiah recently mocked a running back to the Ravens in round one.

Bartender, I’ll have what they’re having.

After hearing Jeremiah discuss his logic on ‘Move the Sticks’ podcast, there’s some logic behind selecting a player like D’Andre Swift. If Eric DeCosta views Swift as the next Alvin Kamara, I get it, but all signs point towards running backs being just as valuable in round five as they are in round one.

Moving on, my big board isn’t going to be a straight players list. I’ve decided to look at options in each round. There are multiple right answers in each round.

In round one, I want a player who is expected to challenge for a starting spot. They will usually be expected to start from day one.

Consistency is key, particularly mentally. Players with strong instincts that are transferrable to the NFL level are a priority. In a first round pick, you’re also looking for a leader, someone who will display the brand of football that your entire organization wants to portray.

In the first round, the following prospects meet that criteria, in my eyes, and at least one of them will be available.

First round: Patrick Queen, A.J. Epenesa, K’Lavon Chaisson, Cesar Ruiz, Justin Jefferson, Denzel Mims, Grant Delpit, Jerry Jeudy, Kenneth Murray, Malik Harrison and Xaiver McKinney.

Before you react, at least one of these players will be available at 28. Baltimore also possesses five picks in the first 105 selections. They could certainly trade up a few spots to add a blue chip talent that will provide value early on, as they’re clearly in a Super Bowl window. Without further adieu. . .

Jerry Jeudy—

Spencer. . . why are you putting Jerry Jeudy on this list? He won’t be available at 28!

Yes, I know. However. . .

1) The Ravens shipped Hayden Hurst down to Atlanta and got the 55th overall pick. They also possess the 60th pick. Jimmy Johnson’s old trade chart shows that the 28th overall and 60th overall could slide up to around 14 overall.

2) ‘The Big Three’ of this class, Jeudy, Ruggs and Lamb are all outstanding prospects. The 2020 receiver class is stacked, though. This could easily cause one of those three to drop. My money is on Jeudy. Lamb has started to cement himself as the top dog. Ruggs 4.27 at the combine, huge mitts/great hands and route running ability are easy to fall in love with. That could mean Jeudy is the third receiver off the board, and after the way free agency has played out, it’s hard to see three receivers going off the board before 14.

Ergo, Jeudy could fall, just a tad, into the Ravens striking distance.

Jeudy is the best separator in this class. He’s one of the best separators I’ve ever seen coming into the NFL. His suddenness and ability to use leverage are incredible. Pairing him with Hollywood Brown would be a nightmare, as jitterbug receivers often seem to be the most difficult to matchup with.

He’s also an absolute terror after the catch, who is truly reminiscent of Lamar Jackson with the ball in space. The Ravens RPO offense would be an easy transition from Alabama’s RPO offense, where players who can create after the catch thrive.

Jeudy leaves defenders knees and ankles broken, while they grasp for air. It must be in that south Florida water. . .

Jeudy had a few drops that raise eyebrows, which is why I think he could slip after Ruggs and Lamb.

He also appears to hear footsteps at times. Contested catches aren’t necessarily his best attribute, although he’s made quite a few difficult snags.

Overall, Jeudy feels like a perfect fit in Baltimore. His release package, ability to work in the slot or boundary, ability to work at all three levels and stupid ability after the catch make him an electric player that could propel 2019’s No. 1 scoring offense even further.

He will mesh well with Lamar Jackson and Hollywood Brown, as they’re already good friends. Jeudy has been training with acclaimed WR guru ‘Gold Feet Global’ alongside Brown, and knows Jackson as yet another incredible Broward County star football player.

It’s a pipe-dream, but if Jeudy is falling past the 12th pick, I’m picking up the phone and offering 28 and 60, perhaps even another 3rd or 4th rounder to go get a receiver that consistently turned elite SEC defenders around in coverage.

Patrick Queen, ILB, LSU—

LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said that Patrick Queen came to his office and asking what he needed to do for more playing time.

Get better against the run, Queen did. He flashes some of the best play recognition of any linebacker in the past five years. He beats lineman to their spots, plain and simple. He does so particularly against gap-scheme rushing concepts.

Pulling lineman better be on their high-horse, or Queen will beat them to their spot and blow up the play.

Queen is so decisive against the run, he is a certified film junkie. Unless he has the frequency to the opposition’s head set, he knows what play is coming. It’s nearly impossible to read keys of pulling lineman and blocking schemes as quickly as Queen without substantial mental acumen and preparation throughout the practice week.

Although, he needs to develop a bit more against the pass. LSU didn’t ask Queen to play man coverage against tight ends at all. He was used as a “hole linebacker” meaning that he was asked to spy the QB, follow leaking running backs out of the backfield, or attack screens.

That keeps him playing downhill. Kenneth Murray and Jordyn Brooks are two 2020 high level prospects who had similarly limited responsibilities in coverage, playing only what is in front of them for the most part.

However, at the next level, Queen will be asked to recognize and jump passing concepts more often. Crossing or deep over routes will need to be matched and treated as man coverage.

Why am I confident that Queen can do so? Queen made enough splash plays in coverage, looking generally competent for the most part when asked to drop into a hook to curl. He just didn’t have the reps.

Plus, Coach O told him what to do, and he did it. That took maturity, confidence, dedication and discipline to improve against the run as much as Queen did. With his athletic ability and clear cut work ethic, he’s the only true inside linebacker worth taking in round one (Malik Harrison might sneak into that same category by the end of April).

A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa—

Epenesa had an awful combine. He seemingly tried to get his weight down before the combine, weighing in at only 275 pounds. This backfired, as he posted average-poor scores in pretty much all categories, while not being as explosive as scouts would like.

This is good news for the Ravens, as it could cause him to fall into the 20’s, where the Ravens could swap a few spots for a late round pick, or maybe even stand pat and see Epenesa fall to them.

The Ravens acquired Campbell and Brockers, with Judon, Bowser, Ferguson, Ward and Ellis also on the roster. However, ask the 49ers if having too much talent up front is a problem.

Epenesa has top ten talent for me. His game is predicated on size, power and technique. He would greatly benefit from playing alongside Calais Campbell, who has a similar style of play.

Epenesa is stout against the run, while also consistently getting quick wins in pass rushing reps. He can bull rush as well as anyone in this class, and has a two hand swipe that leaves tackles grasping for air.

As a four sport athlete in high school, Epenesa has a smooth gliding balance to his game. While he’s much more agile in the trenches than his combine showed, there’s no doubt he’s a bull in a china shop.

His forward lean and body angle he takes in passing situations allowed him to dominate against power-five competition.

While being stout against the run isn’t heralded the same way it used to be, Epenesa has shown outstanding leverage, recognition and length. Teams generally avoided running at Epenesa because he can gobble up two gaps with ease.

The one real weakness in Epenesa’s game was taking on double teams. The former Hawkeye spoke about how he dealt with more double teams in his final collegiate season.

Epenesa is an intuitive pass rusher who will batter opposing blockers with a devastating long arm bull rush, before figuring them out in the second half. Countless times he’s strung together 3-5 consecutive wins in a row against his blocker, where he has ended possessions, sometimes back to back. This reminds me of J.J. Watt in so many ways, although Watt was a much more explosive athlete coming out of Wisconsin. I will gladly take anyone remotely similar to Watt at 28.

K’Lavon Chaisson, OLB, LSU—

Chaisson is in the mold of the Brian Burns and Leonard Floyd style defender. The former LSU team captain is more stout against the run than Burns, while a more capable pass rusher than Floyd. He’s lean, quick, explosive and fast.

Chaisson is the most explosive edge rusher in the class, which leads to a high number of splash plays, as well as him frequently playing out of control.

Chaisson plays with a frantic quickness too often, which causes him to overrun plays, give up his chest plate and generally exhibit poor reps. There were games, such as the 2019 Peach Bowl against Oklahoma, where the former Tiger played with efficiency and displayed calmness to his approach.

Against ‘Bama and Florida, Chaisson missed quite a few tackles and was frantic at times. If Chaisson can continue developing his hands, using swipes and countering inside, he will be incredibly dynamic at the next level.

Chaisson deploys a nasty spin move that can win inside. I’d like to see him use it more frequently to get inside, getting into chase mode with the QB.

He presents plus ability in coverage, where he would frequently drop into the slot and take flat duty. He can turn and run with tight ends and backs, which projects well into the Ravens defense.

Devastatingly quick on stunts and twists, he can turn inside two gaps in the blink of an eye, dip his shoulder and force pressure up the gut. If he’s unblocked, he will get the sack. Wink Martindale can scheme up unblocked pressures with the best of ‘em.

Still raw, Chaisson will turn 21 in July.

He presumably will continue to gain strength as the game slows down for him, which is promising considering he can hold his own at the point-of-attack, although he fails to disengage and make plays as often as a first round pick should.

While his motor is always hot, he needs to drop the hammer more. Florida quarterback Kyle Trask successfully blocked Chaisson twice on trick plays. Chaisson will run full speed no matter the down or distance to chase a tackle down from behind, no matter how far out of the play he is.

Early in his career, Chaisson will struggle to beat athletic offensive tackles until his hand usage and strength improve, but if a tackle punches too early, he will win a scary amount of reps. His upside is among the highest in the entire draft class.

One of his defining traits is his leadership, as he was given the prestigious No. 18 at LSU at only 20-years-old.

Ultimately, K’Lavon Chaisson has endless potential. He will make splash plays as he continues to develop. The former LSU standout will be ready to play from day one, don’t get it twisted, while he learns to use his hands consistently and become a more efficient football player.

Cesar Ruiz, G/C, Michigan—

Ruiz is neck and neck with New Orleans center Erik McCoy for the best prospect to come out in the last two years.

He’s as steady as they come, has played both guard and center and is scheme versatile.

Every scouting report on Ruiz notes his “vice grip” because once his paws find the defender, he’s not letting go.

The three year starter is a smooth mover, who rarely gets out ahead of himself. He enjoys letting the defender show their cards before gobbling them up. Sound familiar? *Cough cough Marshal Yanda cough cough*

There’s not a ton more to say on Ruiz, he’s a pretty “can’t miss” prospect, whose absolute floor is a solid NFL starter over the next four to seven years.

Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU—

Jefferson checks every box.

Separates against man? Check.
Finds holes in zone? Check.
Plays from the slot? Check.
Plays out wide? Check.
Good after the catch? Check.
Contested catch ability? Check.
Production? Check.
Tough blocker? Check.

It’s hard not to love Jefferson’s game.

That rocker step in the second clip is Jefferson’s signature move. He has a James Harden like euro-step that freezes defenders, leaving them guessing as Jefferson explodes out of his break. He uses the same motion after the catch to break ankles.

Jefferson also is a fighter in the run game. He’s no punk, and is the type of receiver that lineman love. He gets into some scrappy one on one blocks against DBs. He usually comes out on top.

In my time writing about Jefferson, I think I just convinced myself that he’s a perfect fit in the Ravens offense, perhaps even more than Jerry Jeudy.

His biggest question is whether or not he can be as effective on the boundary as he was in the slot. In 2019, Jefferson played exclusively in the slot, while in 2018, he was exclusively used on the boundary.

LSU’s offense underwent a major transformation under Joe Brady in 2019. Jefferson’s 2018 tape is good not great. Worst case, Jefferson is a damn good WR2 in Baltimore.

Grant Delpit, FS, LSU—

A safety? Huh? The Ravens have Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark. Why would they draft a safety?

Answer: Earl Thomas has broken his leg twice. He’s on the wrong side of 30. Without Thomas patrolling the deep middle, the Ravens entire defensive scheme is flawed. Clark doesn’t excel in deep middle assignments, rather a box-safety and dime-linebacker role see him flourish. Don’t forget DeShon Elliott, who has flashed in his limited snaps, but just can’t stay healthy.

Enter Delpit. Delpit was widely considered one of the prize jewels of the 2020 class prior to the 2019 season. He had a rough season tackling-wise in 2019 down on the Bayou, but he also played through a shoulder injury. Delpit missed quite a few tackles in 2019, but not for lack of effort.

However, his tackling prowess isn’t why he’s worth a first round selection. Delpit’s sideline to sideline range on the back end, coupled with unreal route recognition and anticipation make him one of the most fun players to scout in 2020.

Delpit has reeled in eight interceptions while deflecting 24 passes during his time at LSU. He is a leader, high pedigree, high character and will be a dominant deep safety. Knocking him for his work in the run game is like knocking a receiver for their blocking. It’s not why he’s getting paid.

Also, while Delpit misses tackles, many of them were still successful in redirecting the ball carrier back into traffic, which is, after all, a safeties job.

Adding Delpit is a classic move that Ravens fans knock on draft day, then three years later are extremely pleased with *cough cough, Marlon Humphrey, cough cough*.

Xavier McKinney, SCB/SS/dime backer, ‘Bama—

Another safety? Spencer. . .

Let’s think back to the 2019 season, though.

McKinney is extremely reminiscent of Jamal Adams with his combination of pass-rushing ability, underneath coverage prowess and rock solid tackling ability.

Ravens fans were enamored with the idea of trading for Adams when DeCosta reportedly inquired with the Jets in an attempt to acquire Adams, so why count out a similar player?

He’s a position-less defender, which the Ravens love. He can line up in the slot, deep middle, as a box safety, or a dime-backer. He brings fire as a creeper on delayed blitzes and often burns tackles en route to bone crushing hits in the backfield.

He isn’t a true deep middle free safety, but is more than comfortable in two-high. He’s probably best as a slot, a la Tyrann Mathieu, but as the honey badger once said, “my position is defense.”

McKinney is almost a new age linebacker type, and pairing him with Chuck Clark would allow endless possibilities for Wink Martindale, who loves to blitz DBs, especially on third down.

‘X’ also makes impact plays. In 2019 he forced four fumbles, netted three picks and deflected five passes.

If the Ravens select a safety in the early rounds, don’t be surprised. Other dudes like Ashtyn Davis, Antoine Winfield, Jeremy Chinn and Geno Stone would all be welcome additions.

Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor—

Mims has skyrocketed in the pre-draft process, climbing up into the end of the first round of many mock drafts. The former Baylor Bear dominated the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine, having perhaps the best combine of anyone not named Henry Ruggs.

He’s an accuracy eraser who has getaway speed, works well over the middle and uses his hands to push off and create separation in tight quarters.

Mims is a tad raw, and drops a ton of passes (17 over past two seasons) which cause him to feel boom or busty, but his upside is tremendous. He has improved steadily year over year, shows the ability to break off routes at a high level, and has the best body control of any receiver in this class.

He just finds a way to get open, while being able to adjust to poorly thrown passes incredibly well and play above the rim. He brings juice as a blocker and after the catch, being able to open up and outrun defenders in space.

Mims is too damn strong to press, and can separate by sinking his hips and driving out of his breaks. Those are huge boxes to check in terms of transferring to the NFL. Mims has just as much potential as any receiver in this class.

Kenneth Murray, ILB/OLB, Oklahoma—

Before free agency, I would’ve put Murray in the second round. I can’t put my finger on it, but despite my mind telling me that Murray needs a lot of work reading his keys and reacting between the tackles, I’m making a mistake not giving him a first round grade.

He possesses dominant traits, outstanding leadership and his weaknesses should be coachable.

Ravens fans have fallen in love with Murray’s big hits and outstanding sideline to sideline range, which are both dominant traits that will translate to the next level.

While Murray’s highlights are spectacular jaw dropping plays, he needs to continue improving between the ears to be a consistent, every down linebacker. Down the stretch and into the CFP of 2019, Murray tightened up and showed more consistency, but there are some worrisome themes between the tackles.

These instances didn’t just occur against Baylor, but frequently throughout Murray’s time at OU.

Murray struggles reading his keys and filling gaps between the tackles consistently. He also allows interior offensive lineman to bully him between the B-gaps far too often

However, these are areas that can improve with coaching and film study. Murray also flashed instances of decisively diagnosing blocking concepts and holes and blowing plays up quicker than any other inside linebacker in college football.

Now that the Ravens have a potentially dominant defensive front with Brandon Williams returning to nose guard, Calais Campbell, Michael Brockers, Matthew Judon (unless he’s traded) Tyus Bowser, Jaylon Ferguson and Jihad Ward, Murray should have a consistently clear path to the football.

When Murray is free to see football, get football, he’s second to none.

Murray had an extremely limited role in coverage at Oklahoma, never worrying about what was behind him. He played ‘hole LB’ and was used mainly as a QB spy, screen hunter, and closed on backs who leaked out of the backfield. He only made six plays (all pass deflections) on the ball in three years at Oklahoma, without turning the ball over.

While he might not provide much in coverage behind him, he is an exceptional pass rusher, who had some outstanding speed rushes lined up as an edge on third down.

Murray lived in the backfield, collecting 29.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks over the past two seasons.

His ideal role is as a ‘Sam’ backer, who plays exclusively downhill. He’s a bit different from Patrick Queen or Malik Harrison, who had more coverage responsibility and/or experience working with their backs turned to the ball.

Murray also played more than admirably against LSU in the CFP, although his defense was entirely dismantled. Neither Murray, nor teammate Neville Gallimore were responsible for LSU’s rout of Oklahoma.

Perhaps Murray’s greatest asset is his character and leadership. Murray has exhibited nothing but the highest possible character throughout his life, from helping to raise three adopted siblings who have special needs, using CPR to help revive a woman following a car crash or blowing away NFL coaches with his combine interview.

Overall, Murray possesses dominant traits, coachable weaknesses and his character is through the roof. He will have growing pains as he continues to work at identifying blocking concepts, and may struggle early on when asked to expand his coverage responsibilities, but he’s a terrific athlete and human being, the type of dude that teams would like to have in their locker room, represent their ball club and benefit their community.

Malik Harrison, ILB/OLB, OSU—

I can’t put Queen and Murray on this list in good conscience, while leaving out Harrison.

Queen and Murray are a little faster, while Harrison possesses a combination of coverage experience and ability to play through blocks and make tackles that Queen and Murray failed to do consistently.

There’s a narrative that because Harrison is a 6-foot-3 250 pound linebacker, he can’t move in coverage or flip his hips. That narrative is hyperbole, if not completely false.

Harrison is a thumper, unquestioned, but in Ohio State’s defense, Harrison was asked to identify crossers and run with them in match coverage, play man against tight ends and drop much deeper into zones than. . . really any of his peers.

Harrison, as I mentioned, also certainly excels playing downhill and through blockers.

Each of the linemen that Harrison blessed in those clips will be selected in the 2020 NFL draft.

Harrison has his flaws: he overruns plays, had more than his fair share of poor plays in coverage and missed a few tackles, but he’s ready to play in the NFL. Like, tomorrow.

The former Buckeye didn’t run quite as fast as Murray or Queen, but had himself an awesome combine, especially for his size.

Overall, Harrison is ready to start for an NFL defense in 2020. OSU asked a lot of him as a four down linebacker, and Harrison responded with an outstanding season. He might not have quite the athletic ceiling of Murray or Queen, but he’s still an incredible athlete.

This finalizes my first round board of realistic options for the Ravens. I would consider any of these prospects a quality pick, who can contribute early on while the Ravens are in their Super Bowl window, as well as develop throughout their rookie contract. Each player has displayed outstanding talent, character and leadership.

Over the coming weeks I will be getting into the second and third round, featuring some of the following players.

Second round- Julian Okwara, Yetur Gross-Matos, Brandon Aiyuk, K.J. Hamler, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Lloyd Cushenberry III, Willie Gay, Troy Dye, Tee Higgins, Jonah Jackson, Josh Uche, Antoine Winfield, Ashtyn Davis, Curtis Weaver, Van Jefferson, Robert Hunt, Terrell Lewis, Neville Gallimore, Jalen Reagor, Michael Pittman Jr.

Third round- Jordyn Brooks, Alex Highsmith, Akeem Davis-Gaither, Amik Robertson, Darnay Holmes, James Lynch, KJ Hamler, Davon Hamilton, Bradlee Anae, Antonio Gibson, Devin Duvernay, Tyler Johnson, Solomon Kindley, Damien Lewis, Reggie Robinson, Chris Orr, Anfernee Jennings, Bryan Edwards, Kyle Dugger.