AFC North Whiparound: NFL Draft needs, newcomers to watch and Lamar Jackson predictions - Jeff Zrebiec
Let’s go big-picture with the draft. Is the team you cover trying to fill one pressing need? Or do you expect more of a flexible, fully-clichéd best-player-available approach?
The Ravens will always say that they are a best-player-available drafting team and there are plenty of examples of that, including last year, when they selected sliding safety Kyle Hamilton. However, in the upcoming draft, they’ll probably have to focus more on filling holes since they didn’t do much of that in free agency. As of now, they only have five picks, so they’re really not in position to draft luxury items. They have to add a cornerback capable of contributing right from the jump. That’s the biggest need. They also could use another piece on both the offensive and defensive lines. They’ve already said they’re going to draft a receiver. Another edge rusher would help, too. So yeah, I’d expect this to be a “filling needs” draft.
In an age where three-wide-receiver formations dominate, the modern NFL base defense now features five defensive backs. The Ravens lined up in nickel personnel on 60% of their snaps last season, according to TruMedia, and dime personnel (six defensive backs) on 16.6% of their snaps. After trading for inside linebacker Roquan Smith before Week 9, the Ravens leaned even more on their nickel looks, deploying five defensive backs 70.8% of the time.
Entering the draft, the Ravens have two potential standout nickelbacks in Hamilton and Marlon Humphrey, but it’s unclear how much either will play there in 2023. Humphrey, primarily an inside cornerback in 2019 and 2020, has lined up more on the outside each of the past two years. A return to the slot would leave the Ravens with another hole to fill out wide.
The schematic fit
Branch’s game is polished, physical, instinctive. He did everything well last season. He just happens to play a position that most teams don’t pay a premium for.
Over each of Branch’s three years at Alabama, he played at least 65.9% of his defensive snaps in the slot. Last season, he lined up there on 74.1% of his snaps and in the box on another 17.7%.
That put Branch in the middle of everything for the Crimson Tide’s defense, which finished No. 5 nationally in ESPN’s efficiency rankings. He filled gaps at the line of scrimmage as a run defender. He blitzed from the slot and from 10 yards off the ball. He covered tight ends in man-to-man looks and wide receivers split out wide as a zone defender. At 6 feet, 190 pounds, Branch didn’t look much like the 6-foot-4, 221-pound Hamilton. But he certainly played like him.
Could Emmanuel Forbes Be Ravens’ Next Playmaking Corner? - Clifton Brown
If the Ravens don’t trade back, I see them taking one of three cornerbacks – Joey Porter Jr. of Penn State, Deonte Banks of Maryland or Emmanuel Forbes of Mississippi State. That would fill their biggest need, and at least one of them should still be available.
Three’s legitimate concern about Forbes only weighing 166 pounds, but he intercepted 14 passes in college. Cornerbacks with great takeaway skills are game changers. Forbes will surely get stronger after he enters the league, and he was durable in college, never missing a game in the SEC.
For the Ravens to take a wide receiver at No. 22, I think it would have to be either Zay Flowers of Boston College or Jordan Addison of USC. But I believe Flowers and Addison will be off the board before pick 22. I don’t see Jaxon Smith-Njigba of Ohio State falling that far either.
On “The Lounge” podcast, Ravens Director of College Scouting David Blackburn called Flowers “pure electricity.” Flowers joining Odell Beckham Jr., Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay and Nelson Agholor would give Baltimore one of the league’s fastest wideout groups.
What Are Keaton Mitchell’s 4 Best NFL Team Fits? - Jack McKessy
Beyond the accolades and the statistics is an impressive running back on tape. Mitchell is an explosive player with excellent speed—he proved it at the NFL Combine with a 4.37 40 and 38-inch vertical leap. Once Mitchell finds a hole with his good field vision, he can hit it hard and turn it into a big play.
Both of the Ravens’ top two running backs, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, are set to become free agents after the 2023 season. They also both tore their ACLs in 2021, and Dobbins (at least) had noticeably lost a step since his return from that injury in 2022. It could be that Dobbins wasn’t 100 percent when he returned, but if Baltimore wants to get a bit younger at the position and bring in an explosive, speedy guy later in the draft to make up for Dobbins’ step back, Mitchell is an excellent fit. The ECU product also brings more to the position as a pass-catcher than Dobbins, Edwards, and Justice Hill.
Ranking NFL Draft’s all-time best and worst classes: Top players, overall depth and more - Larry Holder
Top 10 WAV
LB Ray Lewis: 160
WR Marvin Harrison: 124
WR Terrell Owens: 121
LB Zach Thomas: 115
DB Brian Dawkins: 104
OT Jonathan Ogden: 93
OT Willie Anderson: 93
DT La’Roi Glover: 90
DE Simeon Rice: 86
LB Donnie Edwards: 83
What makes the 1996 class especially interesting is how it’s not boosted by a high-level quarterback. The class added a sixth HOFer with Thomas set to be inducted this summer. The five other HOFers: Lewis, Harrison, Owens, Dawkins and Ogden.