Over the years, the Baltimore Ravens have found a number of “diamond in the rough” players through the draft. In particular, they’ve had some success selecting players in the back-half of the draft, where they flex their scouting department muscles.
Since 2013, the team has drafted several fifth or sixth-round prospects that wound up turning into long-term starters and in some cases, Pro Bowl-caliber performers. This list includes C Ryan Jensen (2013), TE Darren Waller (2015), OLB Matthew Judon (2016), S Chuck Clark (2017), and C Bradley Bozeman (2018).
Coincidentally, none of these players are with the team anymore currently. Still, with the exception of Waller — who blossomed into a high-end player only after departing the organization —t hey all had largely successful Ravens’ tenures and exceeded expectations.
More recently, 2020 sixth and seventh-round selections DT Broderick Washington and S Geno Stone have become valuable rotation pieces. However, over the past few draft classes since, the Ravens have cut bait with multiple late-round picks early — before they even made the 53-man roster their rookie season.
The most recent example came earlier this week, when they team released cornerback Kyu Kelly as they finalized their initial 53-man roster. Kelly, a fifth-round pick in the 2023 draft class out of Stanford, was viewed as a developmental prospect. His up-and-down performance in the preseason backed up this notion.
In 2022, the Ravens released running back Tyler Badie during their roster cuts, who they drafted in the sixth round a few months prior. The year prior, it was 2021 fifth-round pick Shaun Wade, who was traded to the New England Patriots just days before the 53-man roster was set.
Their other fifth-round selection from 2021, fullback Ben Mason, was also cut and did not make the active roster. He then signed with the Patriots’ practice squad but ultimately found his way back to Baltimore, where he’s now on the practice squad for the second consecutive season.
In total, that’s a total of four fifth or sixth-round picks that did not make the 53-man roster over the past three draft cycles. The question begs: is this recent trend a true concern or not significant?
Some some may argue the former. A pattern of drafting players and releasing them immediately, regardless of where they were picked, is not particularly fruitful for an organization. There’s also the argument that given their success with some late-round picks in the past, the Ravens should continue to hold on to them beyond a few months in hopes they too can develop into impact players.
However, ultimately there’s a reason fifth, sixth, and seventh round draft picks are generally considered “fliers” or “dart throws.” This is because the rate of which they do become impact contributors is not very high.
In the back-half of drafts, it’s very rare to select a player you would expect to contribute from the onset. If so, that’s probably worse than good. For a late-round selection to step into an immediate high-impact role, that likely speaks to a lack of depth or established talent at that respective position.
Fortunately for the Ravens, this is not been the case. Recently released prospects like Shaun Wade, Tyler Badie, and Kyu Kelly were entering crowded depth charts where playing time, beyond special teams, would be minimal-to-none. The Ravens surely would have liked to keep them around but in a roster crunch, it often comes down to only a couple spots — where established talent and experience is prioritized.
Head Coach John Harbaugh said as such following the release of Kelly this past Wednesday, attributing it to the team needing veterans at the cornerback position.
Asked about losing fifth-round CB Kyu Kelly, John Harbaugh said, “It’s hard to bat a 1.000.” Harbaugh said the Ravens wanted to keep Kelly, but felt that because of their CB injuries, they needed to keep few vets around at expense of developmental corner.— Jeff Zrebiec (@jeffzrebiec) August 30, 2023
This is the nature of being in a win-now window, with Super Bowl aspirations and a contender-ready roster — which the Ravens are. For a team in a position to compete for playoff success, a fifth-round or sixth-round draft pick should not be an immediate difference-maker nor relied upon as such.
For what it’s worth, also, we regularly see undrafted rookies make the Ravens roster, which essentially cancels out with a late-round pick who may have been released. This year, two UDFAs made the 53-man: RB Keaton Mitchell and OLB Malik Hamm.
So while it’s not great practice to get into a habit of cutting bait with draft investments, there is reasoning behind these recent instances and it’s far from a drastic development.