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2021 NFL Draft Love/Hate: Front 7

From a Ravens perspective

Rice v Houston Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

With the first wave of free agency officially complete, the focus has shifted to the next phase of the NFL offseason, the 2021 NFL draft that will begin on April 29th.

Between coronavirus opt-outs and the lack of a traditional scouting combine, evaluating the prospects available in this unique draft cycle has been a challenge. NFL front offices always arrange their individual draft boards differently and this class will likely include even less consensus that usual.

Due to various schematic preferences, specific skillset needs and the potential for players to be overrated or underrated by media analysts, there could be dramatic variance on draft day.

We continue our four part series by exploring edge defenders and defensive linemen that would be superb and less than ideal fits for the Baltimore Ravens.


Love -

Zaven Collins, Tulsa

NCAA Football: Southern Methodist at Tulsa Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

The former Golden Hurricane mostly played off the ball in college and isn’t the most polished edge rusher in this year’s class but he is by far the most dynamic with the way he can be utilized in a myriad of ways. The Ravens value positional versatility and covet players with diverse skill sets, both of which Collins possesses at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds.

He is excellent in coverage, moves well in space, and has a natural feel for the passing game that takes some pros years to attain. Collins was the recipient of both the Bednarik Award and Bronko Nagurski Trophy which are given to College Football’s Defensive Player of the Year after recording 54 total tackles including 7.5 for loss, four sacks, four interceptions, two pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery in just eight games.

Ravens Defensive Coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale loves to have position-less/hybrid defenders that he can move all around to bring pressure, disguise coverages, simulate pressure before dropping into coverage, and match up with running backs and tight ends.

Collins can do all the above and while he has the athletic traits to play in any scheme, I believe he’d be a perfect SAM outside linebacker in Martindale’s hybrid 3-4. The Ravens lost Matthew Judon in free agency but were able to re-sign Tyus Bowser. If Collins falls to them in the first round at 27, they’d be able to maintain the same schematic flexibility that Bowser and Judon provided when they were on the field together.

- Joshua Reed

Joe Tryon, Washington

California v Washington Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

In 2019, before opting out of the 2020 season, Tryon accumulated 12.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks for the Huskies. As a pass rusher, he combines a potent inside swim move, consistent ability to dip around the edge and an effective long arm bull rush. Exceptional first step quickness and closing burst give Tryon the tools to rack up sacks and finish at the next level.

Due to his length and lower body strength, he can stack blockers and hold the edge on run plays. Joe is a reliable wrap up tackler who plays with terrific hustle and makes plays in pursuit. He is also capable of dropping into zone coverage.

Tryon is a total package as a versatile and still improving three-down edge defender that would suit Baltimore’s stunt heavy defense and complement their returning outside linebackers beautifully.

- Vasilis Lericos

Hate -

Jayson Oweh, Penn State

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 05 Penn State at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The former Nittany Lion has been a popular name linked to the Ravens in mock drafts from many media outlets and talent evaluators. His elite athleticism, length, and explosiveness are undeniable and were on full display during his Pro Day where he stole the show.

However, his incredible athletic traits did not translate to production at the collegiate level. Oweh had just seven sacks in three years at Penn State and while he improved immensely as a run defender in 2020, he didn’t record a single sack in seven games.

The Ravens have historically valued experience and production over potential and upside when it comes to scouting. While they deviated from that a bit with the selection of Patrick Queen in round one last year, I don’t believe General Manager Eric DeCosta would spend a first-round pick on a pass rusher that didn’t have a sack in their final college season albeit an abbreviated one.

Oweh is considered a bit of a project prospect that could take some time to develop and given the organization’s rich history of developing defensive talent, he could have success in Baltimore one day if drafted.

If DeCosta trades back in the first round or out of it entirely and he’s still on the board when the Ravens pick again, he’d definitely be worth a taking at that point and would address arguably their greatest position of need with a player who the potential to be a generational talent.

- Joshua Reed

Gregory Rousseau, Miami

Miami v Florida International Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Once considered a potential top-10 overall talent, Rousseau has become a risky projection. He is a long and lean defender who was extremely productive (15.5 sacks) in 2019 before opting out. Yet Greg is the proverbial one-year wonder and did the majority of his damage against outmatched interior collegiate blockers.

A former wide receiver, Rousseau measured in at 6’7 288 with long arms and large hands at his pro day. However his testing numbers, specifically the explosive and agility measurements were quite disappointing for a player previously billed as an athletic marvel.

The former Hurricane is an underdeveloped pass rusher with below average twitch who lacks counters. Furthermore, he is not an effective edge setter against the run despite his length due to subpar strength and balance.

An inexperienced project without rare athleticism, who profiles best in an even front, is simply not worthy of a Ravens early round investment.

- Vasilis Lericos


Love -

Daviyon Nixon, Iowa

Rutgers v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Last offseason, the Ravens gave their defensive front seven a much-needed makeover and got more athletic and dynamic in the trenches especially with the acquisitions of veterans Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe the selection of Justin Madubuike in the draft.

The former Hawkeye is arguably the most athletic defensive lineman in this entire draft class and would continue their new trend of adding more superior athletes that can both collapse the pocket up the middle as a pass rusher and be more agile in space.

Nixon broke out as a redshirt junior on 2020 and despite playing in just eight games, he set career highs in total tackles (45), sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (13.5) His incredible athleticism, instincts and awareness were on full display on the first and only career interception of his career that he returned 71 yards for a touchdown.

He possesses aggressively active hands, good length and explodes out of his stance. Nixon projects to be a game wrecking 3-technique at the next level but has the positional versatility and traits to be moved the around the interior.

The Ravens already have two studs at defensive tackle with Madubuike and Wolfe but defensive coordinator Don Wink Martindale likes to rotate along the defensive line to keep his players fresh and the opposing offense guessing. If Nixon is still on the board when they’re on the clock in the second round, I believe he could very much be in play at pick 58.

- Joshua Reed

Payton Turner, Houston

South Florida v Houston Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Turner is an ascending prospect who boasts outstanding length and physicality. In Baltimore, he could serve as a five-technique or jumbo outside ‘backer on base downs with the versatility to wreak havoc in the backfield under coordinator Martindale’s tutelage and scheme predicated on deception.

At 6’6 270, Payton packs active, violent hands, plus agility and a nonstop motor. A 3-year starter, he dropped weight before his senior season to transition to the edge after previously lining up on the interior. This unlocked his natural explosiveness and he produced a gaudy 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in just five games last season.

His superior quick-twitch athleticism and smooth fluidity coupled with prototype measurables would make Turner an asset to Baltimore’s pass rush if he can be secured with a Day 2 selection. With proper strength training, coaching and usage, Payton can provide the Ravens with valuable sack production on the defensive front.

- Vasilis Lericos

Hate -

Tyler Shelvin, LSU

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 12 Florida at LSU Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Ravens still value stopping the run as their first and holiest commandment on defense, however, they are moving away from stockpiling Mack truck sized interior defensive linemen like Shelvin in lieu of more athletic players who possess more interior pass rushing upside.

The former Tiger is the massive two-gap run stuffer that has traditionally been coveted in Baltimore and would be an ideal replacement at nose tackle for veteran Brandon Williams who is only under contract through the 2021 season. However, the Ravens hardly use their base defense outside of goal line and short yardage situations so that means that need for a prototypical 1 or 0 technique isn’t as high as it once was.

Shelvin opted out of the 2020 season but during the LSU’s title run in 2019, he was the best friend of Ravens 2020 first round pick—Patrick Queen—during his breakout season. He consistently gobbled up multiple blockers and kept them from getting to the second level, allowing Queen to fly sideline to sideline mostly unscathed.

While he does move well for a player his size and strong at the point of attack, he doesn’t have a great motor, has struggled to keep his weight under control—weighed as heavy as 370 pounds at one point, is poorly conditioned and only recorded 1.5 sacks in 17 career games in college. The former four-star recruit is tailor made for the Ravens of yesteryear, not the Ravens going forward.

- Joshua Reed

Marvin Wilson, Florida State

Syracuse v Florida State Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Big Marv watched his stock fall precipitously during a lackluster 2020 campaign. A former 5-star recruit, he production slid from five to one sack and a leg injury was added to his previous knee and hand ailments.

Known as a power rusher who relied on an effective rip move during his breakout 2019 season, Wilson seemingly lost the explosiveness that made him a once coveted prospect. He is not an agile or quick lineman, his first step is relatively slow and his frame appears to already be maxed out.

Last season he was completely neutralized by the best blockers on the Seminoles’ schedule and he struggled to disengage from blocks at the Senior Bowl. He has some potential as a two-gapping 1-technique but his run stuffing impact has been inconsistent.

Unfortunately, Wilson profiles as a Day 3 rotational defensive tackle with the name recognition and reputation of a Day 2 disruptor. He is likely to be over drafted and comes with significant bust potential.

- Vasilis Lericos