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2021 NFL Draft Love/Hate: Secondary

From a Ravens perspective

Gasparilla Bowl UCF beats Marshall 48-25 Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

With the first wave of free agency 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 conclude our four part series by exploring cornerbacks and safeties that would be superb and less than ideal fits for the Baltimore Ravens.

Cornerback:

Love -

Aaron Robinson, UCF

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Central Florida Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens are in need of a quality backup at slot corner and possibly even an eventual successor with Tavon Young coming off his third season-ending injury in his career and the second in consecutive years. The former Knight is arguably the best nickel option in the entire draft and plays the position with the ferocity and physicality that Wink Martindale requires from the position in his complex scheme.

Robinson has experience playing on the outside as well but plays his best and projects best inside at the next level. He has the versatility to excel in both man and zone coverage, is physical at the line of scrimmage in press and aggressively plays the run.

The former four-star recruit originally committed to Alabama but transferred to UCF after his freshman season where he established himself as one of the best slot corners in the FBS over the last two seasons.

During that two-year span, he recorded 90 total tackles including 5.5 for loss, one interception, two forced fumbles, 15 passes defensed, and a fumble recovery in 21 games.

He possesses quick feet, decent ball skills, adequate athleticism and improved greatly as a tackler from 2019 to 2020. Robinson attended the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl and had a strong showing both in the game and the week of practice.

If drafted by the Ravens, he’d provide a great insurance policy for Young and allow two-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey to stay on the outside in the event of another injury.

- Joshua Reed

Tre Brown, Oklahoma

NCAA Football: Big 12 Championship-Oklahoma at Iowa State Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens boast the deepest and best cornerback corps in the NFL. But they could always benefit from more talented corners in the pipeline, especially a slot cornerback who can provide insurance for another Tavon Young injury.

Enter Brown, an undersized 3-year starter with a penchant for big-game sealing plays. He is an NFL caliber athlete with acceleration, quickness, long speed and closing burst. In coverage, Tre displayed fluid hips, the strength to outmuscle receivers, impressive route recognition and a natural feel for the position.

He was highly productive with the Sooners, tallying 33 pass break-ups over his last 34 games, is feisty and physical run defender and was known as a locker room leader. Brown also projects as a special teams standout as both an accomplished gunner and kick return specialist. He has the ideal skillset and intangibles to thrive as a late round slot corner and special teams contributor for Baltimore.

- Vasilis Lericos

Hate-

Tyson Campbell, Georgia

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Sugar Bowl - Texas v Georgia Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Campbell, a former 5-star recruit, is a boom or bust prospect with elite length and straight-line speed counterbalanced by below average awareness and unrefined technique.

His physical gifts should be appealing to teams that have been searching for quality man coverage boundary cornerbacks, the Ravens are not one of those teams. Tyson’s poor ball skills are rather concerning, he allowed a 70-percent completion rate and five touchdowns into his coverage last season and provided only 11 pass breakups and one interception on 93 total targets at Georgia. He truly struggles to locate the football in the air.

In addition to his lack of production, he provides inconsistent effort in run support, lacks anticipation in zone coverage and collected nine penalties during his time with the Bulldogs. With Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith and Anthony Averett already populating the depth chart, Baltimore should not reach for a traits-based developmental corner on Day 2.

- Vasilis Lericos

Shaun Wade, Ohio State

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 19 Big Ten Championship Game - Northwestern v Ohio State Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The former Buckeye could’ve come out in last year’s draft and joined Jeff Okudah—who went third overall to the Detroit Lions—in being taken high on day one or two. He opted to return for his redshirt junior season to be Ohio State’s top outside corner after shining in the slot the previous two years.

That decision backfired in a major way for Wade as he has seen his once high draft stock plummet following a woefully underwhelming 2020 season. Even though the Buckeyes played an abbreviated six-game regular season, the former five-star recruit played so poorly that his limited sample size on the outside might have been enough to make him an early day three selection which would be a far cry from his previous fringe first-round hype.

At 6-foot-1 and 196 pounds with 33.5-inch arms, Wade has the physical profile of an ideal outside corner at the next level but he struggled mightily on the island against future NFL talent in 2020. In the championship game against Alabama, he was a part of the porous effort to cover Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith as he racked up an awe-inspiring 12 receptions, 215 yards, and three touchdowns in the first half alone.

While Wade is built to be on the outside, his most likely avenue to success at the next level will be a return to the slot where he can serve as a big nickel corner who can cover receivers, tight ends, and offer run support.

- Joshua Reed

Safety:

Love -

Richie Grant, UCF

Reese’s Senior Bowl Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

A three-time All-Conference honoree, Jim Thorpe Award finalist and highest rated safety prospect on some analysts’ boards, Grant is a special ballhawk. A true impact defensive back, his stat line in college included 10 interceptions, seven forced fumbles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 29 passes defensed.

What separates Grant from the other single-high centerfielders in this draft class are his excellent ball skills. An instinctual takeaway maestro, has the range, play speed and closing burst to cover ground, tracks the ball in the air, uses long arms and timing to win at the catch point.

He certainly plays like a Raven with a team-first mentality, energetic presence and football intelligence gained from tape study. Grant’s ability to also matchup against tight ends, come downhill violently to fill the alley in run support and wrap up in the open field would make him a terrific addition to Baltimore’s dime package.

- Vasilis Lericos

Jevon Holland, Oregon

Oregon v Stanford

The former Duck is one of the most versatile defenders regardless of position in this entire draft and would make an excellent Raven. He can add depth at both safety behind starters Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott as well as at nickel corner behind Young. Most importantly, he can help Martindale’s dime defense return to its former glory.

Holland opted out of the 2020 season but in the two seasons prior, he established himself as one of the most dangerous and premier defensive backs in all of college football with his dynamic playmaking ability, athleticism, range and ball skills.

As a true freshman, despite only making two starts in 13 games, he tied for the 10th most interceptions in the FBS with five and recorded 31 solo tackles. He followed that up with another impressive season as a full-time starter in 2019 with four interceptions, 66 total tackles, and his only career touchdown that came via a pick-six.

Holland can do it all in coverage, from making plays on the ball and being in the right place in zone, to covering running backs, tight end, and wide receivers in man. He also has an extremely high football IQ and communicates well in the defensive backfield.

If drafted by the Ravens, Holland could fill that true center fielder role in single-high coverage that was vacated when Earl Thomas was released before last season. He’ll likely be a day two selection but has been generating some fringe first-round buzz lately.

- Joshua Reed

Hate -

Ar’Darius Washington, TCU

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 14 TCU at West Virginia Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The former Horned Frog paired with consensus top safety prospect and presumptive first-round pick Trevon Moehrig to form arguably the best backend tandem in all of college football the past two seasons. While I don’t hate him as a prospect, at 5-foot-8 and 176 pounds, I just don’t think he’s big enough to hold up at the next level at safety.

Washington possesses ball skills, quick feet, instincts and plays with a lot of aggression. All of those traits are the intangibles of a quality safety but I think that he’d be better suited at slot corner in the NFL.

He was known as a hard hitter in college but sometimes got steamrolled by bigger powerbacks. In the pros, ball carriers only grow even bigger and more powerful. His lack of size could also lead to him struggling to make plays on the ball downfield against big-bodied deep ball and contested catch specialist.

He plays downhill and isn’t afraid to get in the mix in run support, which the best nickels in the league are known for as well. He’s only one inch shorter than three-time All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu of the Kansas City Chiefs who has flourished at the next level but he’s also 14 pounds lighter than the eight-year veteran. Washington’s positional versatility will likely get him drafted as high as the third round but safety shouldn’t be his primary position in the pros.

- Joshua Reed

Divine Deablo, Virginia Tech

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 12 Rhode Island at Virginia Tech

The former Hokies rover back is a fine albeit limited prospect who would not be a worthwhile third or fourth round selection for the Ravens.

At 6’3 226, he has the frame of a weak side linebacker and projects to that position at the next level. While Deablo is a physical and productive run stopper and former team captain, he is a bit stiff with poor lateral change of direction and below average make-up speed for a safety. He can be a slow processor who struggles with play recognition and is fooled by misdirection.

Considering Baltimore’s track record of finding cheap box safeties and core special teamers, combined with their returning personnel of Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott and Chris Board, who present similar strong safety capabilities, Eric DeCosta is better served using his precious draft capital on rarer skillsets.

- Vasilis Lericos