The Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens entered the NFL Draft in a new era of their team’s history but not unfamiliar territory. After winning the Super Bowl, the Ravens have to replace a number of players they lost due to free agency and retirement, but they have one of the best general managers in the business in Ozzie Newsome, who not only knows how to draft, but has faced this issue before during his tenure in Baltimore. Gone to retirement is future Hall of Fame linebacker, Ray Lewis, to be yet another reason to avoid ESPN’s coverage of the NFL as well as their center, Matt Birk. Lost in free agency is another future Hall of Famer in Ed Reed, who went to Houston as well as Paul Kruger (to Cleveland), Dannell Ellerbe (to the Dolphins), and Cary Williams (to the Eagles) to name a few. The good news is that the Ravens have drafted so well that they are always flushed with compensatory picks due their ability to reload after losing players when they are unable to keep them under the salary cap. They received a compensatory in the fourth, sixth, and seventh round this year and should expect to get a number of them next year as well. Those picks add up quickly and provide an opportunity to get specialists and take risks on players with high upside. The Ravens had a number of holes to attack in this draft and came away with ten draft picks in total. It is may be unfair to expect the Ravens to be a Super Bowl contender this year but the picks they made in this year’s draft make it hard to believe they will not still be a contender to make the playoffs.
In the first round, the Ravens opted to attack a hole at the safety position by selecting Matt Elam from Florida. Elam is an incredible athlete and physical specimen for the safety position even if he is slightly shorter than teams would prefer. He is chaos on the field because of how fast he plays and how out of control he can be at times which can result in incredible plays or frustrating ones. Elam had a good run in Gainesville, but the reality is if the plays he almost made but did not or the plays he missed were totaled up, they add up to a great career in their own right. Depending on the viewpoint, Elam is on the cusp of being a breakout player or he is just wildly inconsistent. The Ravens clearly believe it is the latter and hope that pairing him with Michael Huff at the safety position will give them a ton of athleticism and range to make plays. Elam likely projects to be a strong safety because of his ability to play in the box, contribute in some man coverage, and play zone. His inconsistency makes playing him as the last line of defense in pass coverage a little concerning. The value may not have been ideal with this pick but there was a run on safeties and they did not want to miss out and it worked out because of the way the second round fell for them.
Despite picking at the end of the second round, the Ravens had arguably the best pure linebacker in the draft and one of the players they considered in the first round fall right in their lap in Kansas State’s Arthur Brown. Brown is a three down linebacker that has the skill set to contribute as an inside linebacker or a weak side linebacker. The Ravens will have him play inside and he will likely start right out of the gate. With the unexpected loss of Dannell Ellerbe and the retirement of the husk of Ray Lewis, the Ravens had Jameel McClain and the recently signed redemption project Rolando McClain (fresh off of a disorderly conduct arrest) as the projected starters at the position. It remains to be seen if the former Raider will be kept or if they will just let him go now that they have Brown, but it would stunning if Brown is not the starter almost immediately. His combination of instincts, his ability to shed blocks, contribute in coverage and just play consistently makes him a valuable asset in that defense and really works to refortify their front seven. The only complaints one could make about Brown were a lingering shoulder injury that should not be an issue, a stretch of a complaint regarding his size, and his lack of forced fumbles. If those are the biggest complaints about their second round pick, they made the most of it. It would hardly be surprising if teams regret passing him partway into next year like teams did last year after letting Lavonte David fall to the Buccaneers, let alone in three to five years down the road.
In the third round, Ozzie Newsome made a typical Ozzie Newsome move by selecting a talented 300lb+ earth moving giant of a prospect in Missouri Southern State’s Brandon Williams. Williams, one of the small school prospects that managed to crack day two of the draft, is somewhere around 335lbs with impressive strength and good athleticism for a player his size that will compete for a spot at nose tackle. He also has a good motor for someone his size. Every year the Ravens seem to take one of these enormous linemen and with their success rate, they end up with a collection of imposing players that can impose their will in the trenches. If Williams can continue the momentum he started at the Senior Bowl, he could end up cracking the starting line up which would enable the Ravens to keep Haloti Ngata at defensive end giving them a huge size and strength advantage up front enabling their linebackers to roam free and having pass rushers come off the edge. The other impact this has is it puts pressure on former second round pick Terrance Cody to perform or risk being released this year. Cody, having played at different times at nearly 370lbs, was brought in to be the nose tackle for that defense but has struggled to get warrant the pick thus far and playing time he was getting may be gone if he does not pick it up. Nothing would make the Ravens happier than being able to run over 1,000lbs of defensive linemen in there in various situations but having two 330+lbers that can keep each other fresh in the middle of the defense would be great for stopping the run. Terrence Cody will be a story worth following during training camp. At the very least, Williams will be a contributor on special teams but he should see a substantial amount of playing time even if it is just in a rotational role, but the starting job is there if he wants to grab it.
The fourth round of the draft had the Ravens with back to back picks as they had the last pick of the round due to winning the Super Bowl and the first compensatory pick of the round. With the first of those picks, they continued attacking the defensive side of the ball and selected John Simon from Ohio State. In Columbus, Simon was a power end in the Buckeyes 4-3 defense that consistently played hard and had a knack for making plays. After graduating from Ohio State, he showed up to the Senior Bowl having lost a bunch of weight and going out to play linebacker. This seemed like a somewhat odd choice and he did not perform well at the Senior Bowl and ultimately had to drop out because he was battling through an injury. The Ravens opted to bring him in and the immediate comparison many made was Jarrett Johnson. Simon will play on the strong side as an inside linebacker but could also see some time on the outside and rush the passer. While he needs to prove he has the range and instincts for the linebacker position, his experience taking on and beating blocks from being a defensive lineman gives him an edge as a run defender and pass rusher. Simon also figures to be a guy who plays on a lot of special teams as he competes for playing time. Nothing about what Simon brings to the table is flashy, but for a team looking for toughness and grit, Simon gives them a big boost in that area.
With the next pick and the first of their compensatory picks, the Ravens took a tight end from Harvard in Kyle Juszczyk. Jusszcyk will make the transition to fullback which is where he played when he showed up for the Senior Bowl. At Harvard, he played a tight end/H-back role so he had experience lining up in the backfield and being a lead blocker. Juszczyk really impressed at the Senior Bowl in the role of fullback and quickly established himself as the best player at his position and was almost unanimously ranked that way by analysts. Not only did he look good as a blocker, but he can also contribute as a receiver out of the backfield as well. Juszczyk will compete for playing time behind Vonta Leach and it is not inconceivable that he could ultimately take the job in a move to save roster space if he looks good in camp, but he could contribute as a tight end as well while he learns the position behind Leach, so when Leach does eventually leave, they will have a lead blocker for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. Having the flexibility of those extra picks allows them to pull the trigger here and get a quality player that can help them in the short and long term.
In the fifth round, the Ravens made what could be a revealing move when they selected Ricky Wagner, the offensive tackle out of Wisconsin. The former Badger has been largely viewed as a right tackle with a small possibility of moving inside to play guard. This could be notable because the Ravens have a question to answer at the left tackle position. With Bryant McKinnie no longer on the team, they appear to be content with moving Michael Oher back to the left tackle spot despite some struggles at times there. Oher has been a fantastic right tackle but the results were inconsistent on the left side. The Ravens also have the 340lb tower that is Jah Reid waiting in the wings to play right tackle if Oher goes over to the left side. That is unless of course Wagner can come in and take that spot if they are not sure Reid can man the job. Being a backup right tackle is a precarious position in the league and few teams carry one, so it suggests that Wagner is either expected to come in and start or he is expected to be able to contribute as depth for multiple spots; like the latter. This might also suggest that the Ravens are quite happy having Kelechi Osemele stay at left guard, where he played well in their run to the Super Bowl. Osemele was initially selected as a potential tackle, but found a home at guard. Perhaps they have similar expectations for Wagner. Specifically as it relates to his game, Wagner is an extremely tall tackle with a big, strong build. In many ways, he is the prototypical Badger lineman; a massive, road grading offensive lineman that might have some difficulty dealing with quick pass rushers. That fits in with the Ravens are doing with their line. The Ravens have one of the most interesting sets of offensive linemen as so many guys seem out of place from what they did in college but have gelled into a cohesive unit and had tremendous results.
In the sixth round, the Ravens continued adding to their defense and specifically the defensive line when they added Kapron Lewis-Moore, the defensive end out of Notre Dame. Moore suffered an unfortunate knee injury during the National Championship against Alabama and if not for that, he would have gone a few rounds earlier. As it is, the Ravens can take him at a value and stash him on injured reserve for a year, which saves them a roster spot, while he recovers fully and is able to get a good feel for the defensive scheme and come out 100% next year. Moore has a slight advantage for the Ravens since he played as a 3-4 end for the Irish and the transition to the NFL will not require changing schemes. He is also a good size for the 5-tech position as he played around the 300lb mark, which is along the same lines as Pernell McPhee and Arthur Jones, who also play that position in their scheme. Moore was an effective end for Notre Dame and was stout against the run and was a contributor to their dominating defense over the course of the year. Much of the attention went to Louis Nix, his teammate and the Notre Dame nose tackle, but Moore was effective in his own right. If he goes on injured reserve, people may forget about Moore for a year, but he could come back next year and be legitimate competition for one of those defensive end spots.
Three picks later, the Ravens picked Ryan Jensen, an offensive lineman from Colorado State – Pueblo. While he was listed as an offensive tackle, he figures into the Ravens plans as a center. With the retirement of Birk, the next guy in line for the position is Gino Gradkowski. He may step in and be the starter next year but they added some competition that can become depth if he cannot win the starting job. The Ravens again go the small school route and while Newsome will take players from the big programs, he has never shied away from scouring the small school ranks for players. It could be a big adjustment for Jensen but he should be able to at least secure a spot on the roster and give the Ravens a backup that could fill in at a couple different positions even if the main focus is on the center position.
In the final round of the draft, the Ravens again went to the small school ranks; this time to Elon by selecting Aaron Mellette. Mellette was one of the most hyped small school products going into the year with people projecting him as high as day two of the draft but he was not quite able to live up to it. Mellette has the triangle numbers for the NFL but is raw. Last year Brian Quick was selected at the top of the second round and he was labeled as someone who would need a red shirt year and did. It remains to be seen if he will be a bigger contributor this year, but Mellette is actually less polished than Quick was. The fact that he was picked in the seventh round, the Ravens are just hoping he shows enough to warrant holding onto whether it be the active roster or trying to get through to the practice squad. The Ravens wide receiver situation is not settled to say the least as Torrey Smith is basically the only proven receiver on the roster at this point and he would be a far better #2 option. From the guy start opposite on down, the Ravens will have what could be one of the better competitions in camp for any position in the league. Jacoby Jones has been a great contributor on special teams and has had a few huge catches including a big one in last year’s Super Bowl, but his spot is anything but a certainty at this point. The Ravens also have Tanden Doss, Tommy Streeter, and David Reed among others competing for playing time on the Ravens roster, so there might not be a better situation for Mellette to have been drafted into to fight for playing time and a roster spot. Joe Flacco is going to have to earn his money next year as he might have a difficult time finding receivers to make plays for him as figuring out which one of their receivers will step up and be a play maker, if any of them can be, will not be easy.
The Ravens used their tenth and final pick on the draft on a cornerback out of Cal in Marc Anthony. Anthony has been an under the radar corner that has caught the eye of a few draftniks late in the process. Anthony was not a guy who blew anyone away with physical ability but just seemed to understand how to play the position well. For the Ravens, they won the Super Bowl in part because they were able to rely on the depth of their corner position. They lost their best corner in Ladarius Webb to a season ending knee injury and guys had to come in and step up, including an undrafted free agent in Justin Tucker. Cary Williams was one of these players that stepped up and made the most of his opportunity and he cashed in with a free agent contract to play for the Eagles. As a result, a roster spot opens up and the Ravens brought in competition to fight for a roster spot in Anthony. It will not be an easy road for Anthony as the Ravens do have a competitive group of corners fighting for a limited number of spots. 33 year old Chris Johnson is probably the Mendoza line for corners on the Ravens and if Anthony cannot beat him, he is not going to make the team.
My Thoughts: If there was any pick that stood out to be criticized, it was the Matt Elam pick. I do not believe the value was there for him and they could have done better. However, the better option fell all the way to them in round two in Arthur Brown, who was in my opinion the best pure linebacker in the draft. If the Ravens had taken Brown in round one and Elam in round two, no one would have blinked. Out of the picks they made, Brown was easily the best and could have a bigger impact than anyone else they picked. He is able to take on blocks but with that defensive line in front of him, he should be able to fly around and make plays.
The pick to get Brandon Williams made a great deal of sense both from a need standpoint, fit, and value. If Terrance Cody is not a bust already, he is teetering on the brink of it and at his size, that is a dangerous proposition. If they can develop his technique and get him to play consistently, Williams’ strength up the middle could be the long term answer there and allow them to keep Ngata at nose. It also enables them to go to a four man front with 700lbs of power in the middle in a more athletic version of Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa, which gives them a lot of options in how they want to line up their defense.
Ozzie Newsome had an incredibly tall order to fill this offseason, so it is difficult to criticize him for taking the players they did. However, if someone was going to question it, it would be about the offensive line and wide receiver position. The way Oher performed when he was at left tackle the last few times that forced them to bring in Bryant McKinnie in his mid 30s and overweight, one wonders if it was wise to move him over there again. They do have a titan in Jah Reid to play the right side, so Oher needs to deliver. They do not appear to have much of a backup plan if Oher struggles again. Birk was playing into his late 30′s, so one naturally wonders if Gradkowski will be up for the job. This was a tough class to get a center in but that could be a trouble area into the year.
Lastly, the Ravens just paid Joe Flacco the biggest contract at the time, to be the franchise quarterback of this team. He was not flushed with weapons last year and appears to have even less this year. If his production goes down, he will be scrutinized and the Ravens did not do much to help him with guys to throw the ball. This appears to be an issue that will be a focal point for next year’s off season, pending divine intervention. With everything the Ravens lost and the salary cap issues they found themselves dealing with, there was no way Newsome was going to be able to do everything, but the Ravens do appear to be equipped to still be a playoff contender where before the draft they appeared like they could suffer a real drop off due to losing so much talent. They will still have to battle to avoid having a hangover from the Super Bowl but they are bringing in enough new players that were either not on the team or not playing that they should be able to keep their edge. The biggest question is who will fill the void left by Ray Lewis, Matt Birk, and others as far as leadership goes.
Tags: 2013 Nfl Draft Aaron Mellette Arthur Brown Baltimore Ravens Brandon Williams Cal Golden Bears Football Colorado State-Pueblo Elon Florida Gators Football John Simon Kansas State Wildcats Football Kapron Lewis-Moore Marc Anthony Matt Elam Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football Ohio State Buckeyes Football Ricky Jensen Ricky Wagner Southern Missouri State Wisconsin Badgers Football