Ravens im­pressed with deep de­fen­sive draft class

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS - By SEAN GRO­GAN

sgro­gan@ce­cil­whig.com

— For the first time since the or­ga­ni­za­tion se­lected star out­side line­backer Ter­rell Suggs in 2003, the Bal­ti­more Ravens will pick in the Top 10 of the up­com­ing NFL Draft.

Bal­ti­more has the sixth se­lec­tion in Thurs­day’s draft, but only tech­ni­cally thanks to a pair of block­buster trades.

The Los An­ge­les Rams traded a plethora of picks over the next two years to the Ten­nessee Ti­tans for the No. 1 over­all pick. The Philadel­phia Ea­gles fol­lowed suit to gain con­trol of the No. 2 pick that had be­longed to the Cleve­land Browns.

It’s a near cer­tainty that Cal­i­for­nia quar­ter­back Jared Goff and North Dakota State quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz will be the top two picks Thurs­day night. The Ravens are not in the mar­ket for a quar­ter­back, so in their eyes, their sixth pick is more like the fourth over­all.

Play­ers who had pre­vi­ously seemed out of reach for Bal­ti­more, like Mis­sis-

OWINGS MILLS

sippi left tackle Laremy Tun­sil, could be still be on the board. Se­lect­ing Tun­sil would make sense for the Ravens be­cause of cur­rent tackle Eu­gene Mon­roe’s in- abil­ity to re­main healthy for a full sea­son.

But Bal­ti­more has de­fen­sive needs equally as glar­ing, and luck­ily, that’s where the bulk of tal­ent in this year’s draft class can be found.

“We’re at a po­si­tion at [pick No.] 6 where we think we’re go­ing to get a very, very good player. De­fen­sively, you’ve got pass rush­ers, you’ve got cor­ners; those are play­mak­ers, guys that can sack the quar­ter­back, guys that can in­ter­cept passes. There are four or five guys that we feel com­fort­able tak­ing at six on the de­fen­sive side, and as we get into the sec­ond round, we’re look­ing at pick 36, again, we see a lot of those kind of guys: play­mak­ers, safeties, ball-hawk­ing safeties, cor­ners who can in­ter­cept passes and score touch­downs, pass rush­ers as ei­ther five-tech­niques or as out­side lineback­ers who can sack the quar­ter­back,” as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager Eric DeCosta said at the Ravens’ pre-draft press con­fer­ence in early April. “I like the play­ers I see at the top, be­cause we haven’t had the chance to pick these kinds of play­ers in a while. I think it’s strong. Just in gen­eral, over­all big-pic­ture, I think it’s a strong de­fen­sive draft. We see more de­fen­sive play­ers in this draft than in the past few years – about 35 ex­tra de­fen­sive play­ers that would be con­sid­ered draftable play­ers.”

Ex­pect the Ravens to ad­dress the needs at cor­ner­back and pass rusher early. That does not nec­es­sar­ily mean the first round, how­ever.

Bal­ti­more re-signed cor­ner­back Sha­reece Wright to a three-year con­tract ex­ten­sion this off­sea­son, but few view him as the long-term so­lu­tion to start op­po­site of Jimmy Smith. Florida State’s Jalen Ram­sey could be.

Weeks ago, there ap­peared to be no chance of Ram­sey be­ing on the board by the time the Ravens se­lected at six. It’s not nec­es­sar­ily prob­a­ble for three teams to pass on him, but the chances have cer­tainly risen.

Ram­sey is a freak athlete. He recorded the best broad jump and ver­ti­cal leap at the NFL com­bine. His abil­ity to play ei­ther cor­ner or safety also adds to his stock.

But with just three ca­reer in­ter­cep­tions, and none last sea­son, Ram­sey has not proven him­self to be much of a ball­hawk. Bal­ti­more in- ter­cepted a league-low six passes in 2015 and gen­er­at­ing more turnovers is an ob­vi­ous point of em­pha­sis.

Im­prov­ing its pass rush is a way for Bal­ti­more to do so. The Ravens did not pick up the op­tion on vet­eran de­fen­sive end Chris Canty’s con­tract, but will like have at least one elite prospect at the po­si­tion avail­able for them Thurs­day night. The team has been linked to both Ore­gon’s DeFor­est Buck­ner and Joey Bosa, out of Ohio State, in sev­eral mock drafts.

“He’s a 3-4 de­fen­sive end. He’s a big, ath­letic guy who can rush the passer on the in­side,” DeCosta said of Buck­ner. “We think he can de­velop as a two-gap­per. He’s a young player with tremen­dous wing­span and growth po­ten­tial – phys­i­cal, plays hard.”

Buck­ner’s speed and strength led to 10.5 sacks at Ore­gen last sea­son, but he is also lauded for his abil­ity to de­fend the run.

Bosa sacked the quar­ter­back 26 times and made 50

tack­les for loss in three sea­sons with the Buck­eyes. He is re­garded as the best pass rusher in this year’s class and by some ex­perts as the top over­all prospect.

Di­rec­tor of col­lege scout­ing Joe Hor­tiz was im­pressed with Bosa’s abil­ity to play mul­ti­ple po­si­tions.

“His Com­bine work­out and then his Pro Day work­out, he showed the abil­ity to bend. He ac­tu­ally, at the Pro Day work­out, did a full D-line drill; did the whole thing in D-line drills and it was a longer work­out, and they got af­ter it. He took a blow, got some wa­ter and then jumped in the mid­dle of the line­backer drills once they got into drops. So, he def­i­nitely looked ca­pa­ble of do­ing that. He’s cer­tainly a good enough athlete,” Hor­tiz said. “He’s long, he’s rangy, he’s got enough speed. So, I think that he projects to ei­ther spot, 4-3 and/or 3-4 out­side backer.”

De­fen­sive end Shaq Law­son of Clem­son will also have the Ravens’ eye, but Hor­tiz feels there vi­able op­tions at the spot later if Bal­ti­more looks else­where with the sixth pick.

“I think there’s some depth at that po­si­tion,” he said. “There’s pass rush­ers as five-tech­niques, and there’s pass rush­ers as out- side ‘ back­ers. Be­tween the two po­si­tions, I think you can find value in the later rounds, if you don’t strike early.”

UCLA line­backer Myles Jack re­mains one of the big­gest ques­tion marks of the class, but there is plenty of rea­son for the Ravens to con­sider him. Jack played in­side and out­side line­backer, safety, and even run­ning back in col­lege. His ath­leti­cism makes his the best line­backer in pass cov­er­age avail­able.

“We look at him pri­mar­ily as an in­side line­backer. [He has] tremen­dous speed, ath­letic abil­ity, great hips, knee-ben­der, he’s a good tack­ler, he can rush the passer, he can blitz, he can play in space, he can cover – he can do all those things,” DeCosta said of Jack. “He’s a great athlete. He only played in a few games this year be­cause of the in­jury, but he’s a guy that can do a lot of dif­fer­ent things. I think ath­let­i­cally, he can cover prob­a­bly as well as most guys you’ll ever see at the line­backer po­si­tion. He’s gifted that way. He’s a lit­tle bit un­der­sized, [but] he’s a good run de­fender. He’s an ex­cel­lent bl­itzer. He’s a guy that can do a lot of dif­fer­ent things; he’s a tal­ented player.”

Jack is un­doubt­edly a Top 5 tal­ent, but a knee in­jury suf­fered in Septem­ber is drop­ping his stock. Re­ports on the health of his knee have not been fa­vor­able.

Still, Bal­ti­more needs an in­side line­backer since re­leas­ing vet­eran Daryl Smith in March. C.J. Mosley will take over Smith’s role as the de­fen­sive sig­nal caller.

The thought of Mosley, a third-year player who has al­ready made a Pro Bowl ap­pear­ance, and Jack an­chor­ing the mid­dle of the Ravens’ de­fense for years to come could make the gam­ble tempt­ing for gen­eral man­ager Ozzie New­some. Mosley likes the idea.

“I know Myles Jack would be an in­cred­i­ble piece to our de­fense, [with] the ver­sa­til­ity he has. Not too many lineback­ers play run­ning back in col­lege, so he’s just a freak of na­ture. That will def­i­nitely be an added piece to our puz­zle,” he said, be­fore prais­ing Bosa, too. “Bosa, he’ll be a good added piece just be­ing one of those play­ers that can rush off the edge [and] set the tone on the de­fen­sive line com­ing off the edge. I have enough faith [in the scouts] up­stairs, so I don’t have to re­ally worry about that.”

Re­cent mem­ory could scare Bal­ti­more away from draft­ing Jack. The Ravens se­lected wide re­ceiver Bre­shad Per­ri­man in the first round a year ago, but a lingering knee in­jury kept him from ever touch­ing the field as a rookie.

Fol­low Sean Gro­gan on Twit­ter: @Sean_Ce­cilWhig

PHOTO COURTESY OF OHIO STATE DEPT. OF ATHLETICS

Ohio State de­fen­sive line­man Joey Bosa (97) re­turns an in­ter­cep­tion against Michi­gan in Ann Ar­bor on Nov. 28, 2015. Bosa is a likely tar­get of the Bal­ti­more Ravens in Thurs­day’s NFL Draft.

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