With the initial craze of free agency now behind us, it is time to look forward to the 2022 NFL Draft. The Baltimore Ravens currently have 10 picks, including the No. 14 overall pick — their highest since drafting All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley with the No. 6 overall pick in 2016.
The loss of Bradley Bozeman in free agency to the Carolina Panthers means that the Ravens will have a new starting center for a third straight year. Even though they have already expressed confidence in their in-house options and went as far as to dub Patrick Mekari the early favorite to be the starter, they could still add more competition in the draft.
Countless mock drafts have linked and projected top center prospect, Tyler Linderbaum of Iowa, to the Ravens. However, the likelihood of General Manager Eric DeCosta spending a Top-15 pick on a non-premium position is low. While there aren’t many 300+ pound centers in this year’s draft class, the Ravens could target the tallest in Luke Fortner of Kentucky.
While the former Wildcat is still a bit on the lighter side at 307lbs, he is the tallest prospect at the position measuring in at 6-foot-6, and has the frame to get better without sacrificing mobility. Like most of the top center prospects in this class, Fortner played in a zone-heavy offense in college. However, he possesses the physical tools, intelligence, and athleticism to excel in different schemes and develop into a multi-year starter, even if he never becomes a perennial All-Pro or Pro Bowler.
He was a three-year starter in college, starting 36 career games on the interior of Kentucky’s offensive line. He made 23 starts at right guard from 2019 to 2020 before transitioning to center just before the 2021 season. He then went on to make 13 starts and was a First-Team All-SEC selection.
Despite only having one year of starting experience at the position, Fortner showed that he has a natural acumen for playing center at a high level. He showed improved strength from 2020 to 2021 as well as an ability to process information quickly when it comes to making protection calls at the line of scrimmage.
As a blocker, he plays with good balance, quickness, hand placement, pad level, and understanding of how to negotiate leverage. Fortner needs to get better at timing his climb to the second level to execute combo blocks because it could leave him susceptible to allowing off-ball defenders to run through underneath him. His snap-to-step quickness helps him establish leverage in the A-gap and he is an aggressive finisher in the run game.
Pick a guy you think goes on Day 3 - yet plays for 10yrs…— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) March 26, 2022
My vote: Luke Fortner pic.twitter.com/iL2GzABeCm
He attended the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl, where he continued to impress in both group and one-on-one drills during the week of practice. Fortner moves well laterally in his pass pro and plays with adequate functional strength to redirect and uproot defenders.
Luke Fortner showed impressive lateral quickness and hands on film this year at Kentucky. How did he win here? Take a guess. pic.twitter.com/BFkTKOlQJ8— Matt Alkire (@mattalkire) February 3, 2022
He still needs some development but has a solid foundation and could earn his way into a starting lineup midway or by the end of his rookie season. Even though the Ravens are well stocked at guard after heavily investing in it through the draft and free agency since Marshal Yanda retired, Fortner possesses the positional versatility that they covet in all their offensive linemen but especially on the interior.
He is projected to go as high as the bottom of the second and as low as sometime in the fourth round. Spending one of their two third-round picks or one of their bevy of fourth-rounders on Fortner would be a sit-and-wait good value.