Tue, 17 May 2022

Mailbag: Early Picks for Ravens' Top Draft Choice

Baltimore Ravens
29 Jan 2022, 04:25 GMT+10

by Garrett Downing & Ryan Mink

Mink: This is one question we didn't directly answer in our "Offseason Blueprint" podcast last week. It's still really early in the pre-draft process but I know mock draft season has started, so these are my thoughts, which (knowing my penchant for tinkering) will change dozens of times before the draft.

If it were me and if he were available, I would take Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker with the first pick at No. 14. Flip on Walker's highlights and you see an extremely physical and versatile player that could add some real juice to the Ravens' defensive front, where the Ravens have to get younger.

He didn't have massive production over his three years at Georgia (9.5 sacks, including 6.0 last season), but Odafe Oweh didn't either and that looks like a pretty great pick so far. Walker is similarly an athletic freak with high upside. Some pundits feel he could end up being the best defensive player to come out of this draft class.

Downing: I'll start here by saying that it's incredibly tough to make a specific pick prediction before we event get to the end of the NFL season. Let's at least see the scouting combine before putting names on paper! But I get it, everyone loves a good mock draft (myself included). So with that in mind, a player who seems to fit both need and scheme is offensive tackle Trevor Penning from Northern Iowa. At 6-foot-7, 321 pounds, Penning has great size to step in as a day one starter at the NFL level. He's a punishing run blocker, which makes him a natural fit in the Ravens' offense. NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah wrote, "Some guys just look and play like Ravens. That's Penning. He's big and nasty and could step in immediately at right tackle."

The Ravens need to add tackle depth this offseason. Even if left tackle Ronnie Stanley returns to full strength, which is the hope, the Ravens need to have depth so they don't find themselves in a similar situation to the 2021 season. Patrick Mekari proved his ability to play right tackle last year, but he could also slide inside to center if Bradley Bozeman leaves in free agency. Adding Penning would give the Ravens a pro ready right tackle who could held the offensive line get back to the dominant form we saw in 2019 when Lamar Jackson was the league's unanimous MVP.

Downing: This seems like a bit of dejà vu. The Antonio Brown-to-Baltimore speculation reached a fever pitch before the 2020 season, when he spent time in the offseason training with Jackson and his cousin, Marquise Brown. But the Ravens ultimately passed on him at that time and he signed with Tampa Bay. Now Brown has re-ignited the speculation, posting a photo of him in a Ravens uniform on social media and saying on the I Am Athlete podcast that he wants to play with "Action Jackson." Multiple Ravens players, including Jackson, have posted on social media about the possibility of bringing Brown to Baltimore.

Now with all of that said, I don't see the Ravens rushing to sign Brown at this time. They have a quality young receiving corps with Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay and of course tight end Mark Andrews. This is the team's best receiving corps going into an offseason that we've seen in a long time. Adding a talented player like Antonio Brown isn't as big of a need as it was two years ago, and the Ravens decided against it at that time. Another consideration is that Brown isn't healthy and has said since getting released by Tampa Bay that he needs to undergo ankle surgery this offseason. That will require a lengthy recovery process. And of course there's the consideration of how Brown's time ended in Tampa Bay, Oakland, New England and Pittsburgh. He has acrimonious departures at each stop, and the Ravens would have to decide if they want to take the risk of adding another to that list.

Mink: I'm not going to pretend like I know all the factors that went into Harbaugh and Martindale's decision to part ways. I will say that I think the Ravens wish they got more sacks this past season and over the years. Sacks aren't everything when it comes to pressure, but they're certainly something, and Baltimore hasn't ranked in the top 10 in sacks any of the past several years. The Ravens were 24th in the league this year. That's particularly surprising considering the Ravens have been at the top of the league or near it in blitz rate.

The Ravens turn over every stone in the offseason looking for ways to improve all units, and I think the defense will get a hard look with a new coordinator taking over the reins. I do think the Ravens will analyze why pass rushers are having more sack production elsewhere as opposed to Baltimore. For example, Yannick Ngakoue had five sacks in six games with the Vikings in 2020, then three in nine games with the Ravens after the trade. When he left for Oakland in free agency, he posted 10 sacks in 2021. Matthew Judon more than doubled his sack total from 2020 to 2021 after he went to New England. Za'Darius Smith exploded after signing with Green Bay.

The Ravens have done a good job of restocking the talent pool, and they have a mega talent in Odafe Oweh and others that they want to maximize. Baltimore also has good coaches developing these guys. Is it time for a scheme switch, or are there other ideas that can help them get affect quarterbacks more? They'll certainly take a deep look into it considering how many excellent quarterbacks they're going to have to beat if they want to reach their ultimate championship goals.

Downing: Getting pressure with a four-man front is something every defense wants. However, that's easier said than done, and very few teams can just sit back in coverage while counting on their defensive front to get to the quarterback. Part of the challenge is that the Ravens don't have a premier interior pass rusher. Calais Campbell has been a great pass rusher in his career, but the 14-year veteran notched just 5.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Justin Madubuike has potential, but put up only two sacks last year. If the Ravens could add an interior pass rusher in the draft or free agency, that would greatly help the defense get to the quarterback with only a four-man rush.

The Ravens also obviously made the decision last week to part ways with Martindale. Bringing in a new coordinator will undoubtably lead to tweaks with the scheme, which could help the Ravens get pressure in some new ways.

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