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Draft Prospects: Love/Hate from a Ravens perspective

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 21 LSU at Ole Miss Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Next week, the Baltimore Ravens will enter the 2020 NFL draft with the the 18th most draft capital in the NFL and second best odds to win Super Bowl LV. Every draft is critical regardless of the current trajectory of the club and certainly for a team that is aiming for a postseason breakthrough before their young All-Pros’ future contracts make roster construction more challenging.

A successful draft is more than simply filling needs and trusting evaluations for a limited “best player available” approach. The keys are incorporating positional impact and volume to maximize value at every opportunity and landing players who will elevate the returning personnel within the existing schemes.

Considering projected draft ranges, which prospects would represent the best and worst case scenarios for the Ravens?

Receiver

Love: Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado & Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State

Hate: Tee Higgins, Clemson & K.J. Hamler, Penn State

The big four receivers, CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs III, Jerry Jeudy and Justin Jefferson, are expected to be selected before the Ravens go on the clock. Nonetheless, 2020 is an exceptionally deep receiver class.

For Shenault, a first round talent who is expected to slide to Day 2 due to injury concerns, the risk is worth the reward. This playmaker pairs great size and speed with tremendous physicality and hands. Aiyuk is another Day 2 receiver with plenty of speed and a large catch radius. While not as physical as Shenault, Aiyuk is a willing blocker with exciting kick return ability. Both would complement Lamar Jackson’s intermediate route effectiveness and bring outstanding run-after-the-catch capability to the Ravens arsenal.

A long, contested catch specialist, Higgins could produce Pro Bowl numbers in a precision passing attack, but his lack of separation and finesse style is not ideal for Greg Roman’s offense. Hamler is a pint-sized, slot-only speed merchant who struggles with drops, he would not be an ideal pairing for Marquise Brown.

Offensive Line

Love: Cesar Ruiz, Michigan & Robert Hunt, Louisiana-Lafayette

Hate: Matt Hennessy, Temple & Nick Harris, Washington

A handful of offensive tackles should be selected in the first round, perhaps allowing the Ravens to attack their main need on the interior with value picks.

The consensus top interior blocker in the class, Ruiz, packs the full toolbox and retains upside to grow into an All-Pro center or guard. He has the skills to dominate in all aspects of Baltimore’s complex blocking scheme and would immediately boost a unit that will miss Marshal Yanda. Several mid-round blockers including Clemson’s John Simpson and Michigan’s Ben Bredeson fit the right guard job description as heavy handed, powerful and tenacious maulers. However, Hunt is preferable because he combines these traits with superior quickness, lateral agility and most importantly, an ability to serve as a backup tackle.

Both Hennessy and Harris are undersized mid-round centers who have issues anchoring and are limited to zone blocking schemes. Neither would improve a Ravens offensive line that was pushed around in the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.

Defensive Line

Love: Jordan Elliott, Missouri & James Lynch, Baylor

Hate: Ross Blacklock, Texas Christian & Raekwon Davis, Alabama

Baltimore has made strides to bolster their defensive line this offseason. Still, this position group remains a long-term need because the starters are aging.

With length, strength and refined hand technique, Elliott is an underrated down lineman. He has experience aligning as a 5-technique in odd fronts and can reduces inside on third down. Lynch was a highly productive, high-motor sack artist who could be a Day 3 steal, even if he only contributes as a situational pass rusher.

The massive Davis was once considered a top-20 talent before going back to school. Raekwon is stout against the run, but a concerning lack of pass rush makes his Day 2 projection unappealing. Blacklock is toolsy and scheme versatile, but his lackluster production does not warrant a first round investment.

Edge Rusher

Love : Terrell Lewis, Alabama & Darrell Taylor, Tennessee

Hate: Curtis Weaver, Boise State & Bradlee Anae, Utah

These opinions could be viewed as a departure from the Ravens traditional scouting preferences.

The front office has often targeted edge defenders with proven production. Weaver certainly produced with 34 collegiate sacks, as did Anae with 29.5. Yet each of these edge rushers have major limitations. Weaver is a pudgy one-dimensional player who has below average burst. Anae is a below average athlete who excelled in the Pac-12 due to his effort and technique. Their production may not translate to the next level.

Conversely, Lewis and Taylor are a pair of high upside outside linebackers with prototypical length and size to set the edge and bull lineman. Both are athletic players who can bend and finish, though they will require development to reach their ceilings. Injury concerns could allow both prospect to fall into range for the Ravens, making a gamble worthwhile for a front office that should be preparing for an outside linebacker exodus next offseason.

Linebacker

Love: Malik Harrison, Ohio State & Jordyn Brooks, Texas Tech

Hate: Patrick Queen, Louisiana State, Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma

This section is influenced by positional value and also by the specific skillset the Ravens covet in their linebacker corps.

Due to their hugely successful usage of substitution packages, an early-down downhill thumper is the true need. Both Day 2 prospects Harrison and Brooks are traditional “Mike” linebackers who can knock-back power runners in the hole. Harrison is particularly adept at freeing himself from blocks and brings zone coverage potential.

Queen and Murray are fine prospects, but they each have a couple flaws. The smooth LSU product is undersized at 229 pounds, which occasionally shows up on tape, and he has just one year of starting experience. Murray made splash plays coming forward consistently, yet his instincts and block shedding are underwhelming. Both are better fits as 4-3 outside linebackers. If necessary, the Ravens can find steady inside ‘backers, such as Wyoming’s Logan Wilson and Miami’s Shaquille Quarterman, much later than the first round.

Defensive Back

Love: Grant Delpit, Louisiana State & Antoine Winfield, Minnesota

Hate: Xavier McKinney, Alabama & Kyle Dugger, Lenoir-Rhyne

The top two safeties of the cycle, McKinney and Delpit, are vastly different prospects.

McKinney is a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none type of player with average physical gifts coupled with tremendous versatility and intelligence. Chuck Clark already fills this role for Baltimore. Delpit, on the other hand, has rare centerfielder range and ball skills but a troubling history of missed tackles. Assuming Delpit’s tackling technique can be improved through coaching, his skillset would support the Ravens dime personnel package and enable the team to move away from Earl Thomas’ contract when he eventually declines.

Dugger is an ascending prospect with incredible athleticism, but he may be better suited as a “Will” linebacker. Furthermore, his underdeveloped football intelligence would leave him lost in Don Martindale’s complex scheme. Inversely, Winfield has elite instincts and natural coverage ability. Kenny Robinson of West Virginia and the XFL’s St. Louis BattleHawks is another ballhawking safety sleeper.