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Ravens News 4/12: OL Superlatives and more

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 14 SMU at Tulsa Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Ravens have addressed their defense in free agency — there is still much work to do - Jeff Zrebiec

DeCosta was never going to be able to fill all the team’s holes in free agency, at least not with front-line options. There were just too many needs and the Ravens didn’t have enough salary-cap space to satisfy all of them. The draft was always going to have to play a major factor. DeCosta did well to cross off safety and right tackle and to put the team’s decision-makers in a position where they don’t need to reach in the draft on an interior defensive lineman or inside linebacker.

There is angst, however, that the two areas that haven’t been addressed are both vital. The Ravens have always been able to piece together a solid defensive line and find inside linebackers on the cheap who can play solid football. Adding impact pass rushers and reliable corners is a more daunting — and expensive — challenge.

With two third-round picks and five fourth-rounders, there’s no reason that the Ravens can’t find a quality inside linebacker to join Bynes and Patrick Queen, and an interior pass rusher to develop alongside Campbell, Pierce, Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington and possibly Derek Wolfe.

But those additions will feel a bit hollow if they don’t come with an impact pass rusher and starting-caliber cornerback or two. The Ravens have done some good things so far in addressing their defense in free agency. Yet, there’s still some significant work left to do.

Why This Could Be the Year to Trade Up - Ryan Mink

Baltimore could trade to move up in the first round and better the chances of getting a game-changing talent at a position of need. Judging by how the prospects seem to be stacking up in mock drafts, this may be the year to do it.

The Ravens have often been a team that prefers to trade back and collect more picks, giving them more “lottery tickets” in a hit-or-miss proposition. The more shots you take, the higher the likelihood of hitting on one, or a few.

The Ravens have had a lot of hits with that approach. Armed with nine picks in the first four rounds, including five in the fourth, Baltimore already has plenty of ammunition. It can either take all of those shots or part with some to move up from No. 14.

While Baltimore brought back veterans Calais Campbell and Josh Bynes over the weekend to shore up a couple spots on its defense, there remains two glaring needs: cornerback and outside linebacker. The top talents at each spot might be just barely out of Baltimore’s reach.

The top two cornerbacks, Cincinnati’s Sauce Gardner and LSU’s Derek Stingley, are projected to be off the board by pick No. 12. Stingley to the Minnesota Vikings at 12 is a very popular projection.

DeCosta said he expects a run on EDGE rushers in the top 10, which would include Michigan’s Aiden Hutchinson, Georgia’s Travon Walker, Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux and perhaps Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson II.

Ravens Likely Moving Away from Center in First Round Of Draft - Todd Karpovich

“You might have four or five guys in a Draft class that you think are actually draftable prospects. So, one of the, I’d say, strategies that we see more and more teams do now is they take tackles and guards and convert those guys to center – bigger guys.

“Often times, the smallest guy on your offensive line gets pushed into center,” DeCosta said. “Our philosophy, honestly, is we want big guys. We want big guys at every position, across the offense, across the defense [and] in general.

2022 NFL Draft: Offensive line prospect superlatives - Michael Renner

Offensive Tackles

BEST MIRROR: ZACH TOM, WAKE FOREST

Not who you were expecting? Tom may not be high on a lot of boards, but he isn’t being floated as a potential guard or center convert because of his athleticism. Not in the slightest. The man can dance with the best of them. He allowed only 13 pressures on 633 pass-blocking snaps all last season, including zero against first-round prospect Jermaine Johnson II and Florida State. His play strength is worrisome once matched with NFL-caliber power, but not his athleticism.

BEST GAP SCHEME BLOCKER: TYLER SMITH, TULSA

Smith gets lost in a tackle class full of athletic marvels, but this designation is well-deserved. He earned a 91.7 run-blocking grade on 217 gap scheme snaps. Smith only just turned 21 this month and still managed to lead all of college football with 21 big-time blocks in 2021. His ability to move people against their will is rare for a player his age.

2022 NFL Two-Round Mock Draft: QB Desmond Ridder goes to the Atlanta Falcons, WR Chris Olave heads to New Orleans - Anthony Treash

14. BALTIMORE RAVENS: OL IKEM EKWONU, N.C. STATE WOLFPACK

Baltimore might not “need” an offensive tackle, but the thought of taking Ikem Ekwonu and kicking him inside to guard is too good to ignore.

From a run-blocking standpoint, Ekwonu seems destined to be an impactful NFL lineman right away and would add to a potent Baltimore rushing attack. He was one of the nastiest run-blockers of the PFF College era and boasted a 93.8 run-blocking grade for the 2021 season — the highest mark in the Power Five.

Ekwonu’s pass sets are still a concern, and it’s likely going to take some time for him to be a quality pass-protector in the NFL ranks, though he made strides in that department this past season by raising his pass-blocking grade year-over-year from 55.3 to 78.3.

45. BALTIMORE RAVENS: EDGE DAVID OJABO, MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

Despite the Achilles injury he suffered during his pro day, Ojabo still shouldn’t fall further than the middle of Round 2. That’s the kind of upside he possesses.

Reuniting with Mike Macdonald (his defensive coordinator from Michigan) and former high school teammate Odafe Oweh would be ideal for the former Wolverine and a good fit for both parties.

Ojabo is an extraordinary athlete who definitely flashed top-tier talent, as he produced multiple elite pass-rush grades above 90.0. At the same time, his production was somewhat inconsistent and his run defense is a big issue. There’s risk involved, but the Ravens can afford the risk at 45th overall.