Ravens impressed with deep defensive draft class
— 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-
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.
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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.