Tag Archive | "Eric Decosta"

San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (26) is taken down by Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Matt Judon (99) in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Judon “blessed” to play on franchise tag, taking contract talks in stride

Posted on 15 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Exactly a month before the deadline to reach a long-term agreement with the Ravens, outside linebacker Matthew Judon says he feels “blessed” to receive the franchise tag for the 2020 season.

And that apparently won’t change if the sides don’t strike a deal by July 15. Judon would be required to play under the franchise tag for the upcoming season without a long-term agreement by that date.

Having signed his guaranteed $16.808 million tender last month, the 2019 Pro Bowl selection still seeks long-term stability, but he offered little clarity on the status of contract discussions other than to say his representation continues to “go back and forth” with general manager Eric DeCosta and senior vice president of football operations Pat Moriarty. The 27-year-old currently carries the highest salary cap number on the team after registering a career-high 9 1/2 sacks last season.

“They’re kind of talking on my behalf, and hopefully we can work something out,” Judon said in a conference call with local reporters. “I don’t think you all understand how it goes. I really didn’t know how contracts go, but they don’t really — too much — talk to me. People are like, ‘Judon asked him for this amount [of] money.’ I’ll find out when you all find out because they aren’t talking to me that much.

“It is what it is though. I’m blessed, regardless. If I play under the franchise tag or if we come to a long-term deal, I’m going to be happy regardless.”

Though regarded by some as more of a product of Wink Martindale’s blitz-heavy schemes than a high-impact pass rusher, Judon ranked fourth in the NFL with 33 quarterback hits last season. He has never missed a game because of injury in his four-year career and has collected 28 1/2 sacks, seven forced fumbles, seven pass breakups, and 185 tackles in 62 games, 36 of those being starts.

Judon’s long-term status is just one of several major contract questions facing DeCosta and the Ravens in the not-too-distant future as league MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, Pro Bowl left tackle, and Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey are among the special talents who will command lucrative compensation over the next year or two. It’s a reality not lost on Judon, a 2016 fifth-round pick from Grand Valley State who made a total of $3.9 million over the course of his rookie contract.

“I want to stay here for as long as I play, but I understand that it’s a business and that they’ve kind of got a ‘bad-good’ problem to have,” Judon said. “We have a lot of young talent, and unfortunately, we can’t all stay on the rookie deal our whole careers. They have stuff that they have to address, and obviously, I have needs as well. If we can meet and work on that, I’m A-OK with it.”

Judon has emerged as one of the young leaders of the Baltimore locker room in recent years, especially with the departures of defensive veterans such as Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, and Eric Weddle. He’s also been outspoken about racism and social justice reform, topics very much in the news with the protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

According to Judon, the Ravens are discussing the best ways to combat and protest racism with no decisions yet being made, including whether to kneel during the national anthem.

“We are having very deep conversations about this because that’s real life for all of us,” Judon said. “It’s very present with all [of] our platforms. We want to get ahead of it. We want to put an end to racism, whether that will be on the football field or in classrooms or wherever it may be. There’s really no room for it in today’s world.”

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San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (26) is taken down by Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Matt Judon (99) in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Outside linebacker Judon signs franchise tender with Ravens

Posted on 28 May 2020 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 8:30 a.m. Friday)

Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon signed his franchise tender with the Ravens on Thursday, guaranteeing his salary for the 2020 season.

The franchise tag value for the linebacker position is $15.828 million this season, but the NFL Players Association had argued Judon’s tag should be at the $17.778 million number for a defensive end. To resolve that point of contention, a compromise was reached at $16.808 million, according to NFL Network. The Ravens worked out a similar compromise with former outside linebacker Terrell Suggs upon giving him the franchise tag in 2008.

The Ravens have until July 15 to sign the 27-year-old to a long-term contract extension or Judon will play for the tag amount this season and become a free agent again next March. With Judon now officially under contract, Baltimore could still trade him to another team, but that remains unlikely after rumors prior to the draft never amounted to a deal. The signing also means Judon would be subject to fines if he chose not to take part in mandatory team activities.

General manager Eric DeCosta confirmed earlier this month that talks were continuing with Judon’s representation and said at the scouting combine in February that a long-term extension was something the organization “would love to get accomplished.” Each of the last five Ravens players to receive the franchise tag eventually signed a long-term extension to remain in Baltimore.

A 2016 fifth-round pick from Grand Valley State, Judon has never missed a game due to injury in his four-year career and registered a career-high 9 1/2 sacks and 33 quarterback hits (fourth most in the league) to make his first Pro Bowl last season. The 6-foot-3, 261-pound linebacker has 28 1/2 sacks, seven forced fumbles, seven pass breakups, and 185 tackles in 62 games, 36 of those being starts.

Pro Football Focus graded Judon 43rd among 102 qualified edge defenders in 2019.

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Five Ravens sleepers to watch for the 2020 season

Posted on 18 May 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens now having a full 90-man roster after last month’s draft and a slew of undrafted free-agent signings, we have a better idea of what the 2020 team will look like.

Roles remain fluid, however, a point even more relevant in an unprecedented offseason limited to virtual meetings this spring. Understanding how that reality may hinder the ability of many rookies and newcomers to play a meaningful role right away, below is a look at five sleepers for the 2020 campaign:

1. OLB Tyus Bowser

An early draft pick who struggles to become a starter often finds his roster status vulnerable entering the final year of his rookie contract — Chris Wormley was the latest example of this — but the lack of an edge defender in Baltimore’s 2020 draft class was good news for Bowser. Surprisingly second on the 2019 team in sacks (five) and quarterback hits (10), the 2017 second-round pick played a career-high 401 snaps and was the top backup to Matthew Judon at strong-side outside linebacker, showing more ability to drop into coverage than other reserves on the roster. If Judon elects to skip some portion of training camp after receiving the franchise tag, Bowser could find more opportunities to solidify his roster spot and earn a larger role.

2. OL Patrick Mekari

Labeling Mekari a sleeper after he started the final six games of 2019 is a bit of a stretch, but much of the discussion in the right guard discussion has been about other veterans and 2020 draft picks Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson. The likes of Matt Skura, Bradley Bozeman, and Ryan Jensen developed into solid starters working with offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris in recent years, but none found success as quickly as Mekari, who was thrown into the fire late in his rookie season. The undrafted free agent from Cal-Berkeley graded 14th among 37 qualified centers by Pro Football Focus last year and could be a viable option to start at any of the three interior spots, which is impressive for a guy no one was talking about at this time last year.

3. S DeShon Elliott

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound defensive back has been limited to just 40 defensive snaps in his first two years because of injuries, but he’s shown promise over the last two summers and the Ravens are in need of a No. 3 safety to back up starters Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark and play in certain sub packages. A 2018 sixth-round pick from Texas, Elliott will be competing with rookie seventh-round selection Geno Stone, but the former’s experience in the system should be an advantage, especially if he’s fully recovered from the season-ending knee injury he sustained in Week 6 last year. With the relationship between Thomas and the Ravens seemingly rocky, Elliott or Stone showing meaningful development this year would be a positive sign for the future.

4. RB Justice Hill 

The second-round selection of Ohio State star J.K. Dobbins wasn’t a ringing endorsement for Hill having a bigger role in 2020, but he flashed in December and impressed in his first preseason, showing the ability to break tackles despite his 200-pound frame. Hill isn’t going to become the feature back, but the 2019 fourth-round pick lined up in the slot and out wide on more snaps than either Mark Ingram or Gus Edwards last season despite playing a fraction of the time, which offers a glimpse of his potential to create matchup problems in the passing game. If the Ravens find themselves needing to play off-schedule more often in 2020, Hill finding a bigger role as a third-down back remains plausible even with Dobbins being added to the mix.

5. ILB Otaro Alaka

Last month’s selections of Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison made Alaka — a 2019 undrafted free agent from Texas A&M — an afterthought, but it was interesting to hear general manager Eric DeCosta go out of his way to mention the 6-foot-3, 239-pound linebacker in a recent conference call with season-ticket holders. After making the initial 53-man roster at the end of last preseason, Alaka appeared on his way to earning an opportunity to play on defense before a hamstring injury landed him on injured reserve in late September. Playing for an organization that’s produced the undrafted likes of Bart Scott, Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe, Zach Orr, and Patrick Onwuasor at inside linebacker, Alaka remains a name to watch this summer.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) celebrates his touchdown run against the New England Patriots with offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley (79) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Sizing up the 2020 Ravens’ 90-man roster during spring workouts

Posted on 13 May 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens won’t trim their roster to 53 players for months, but the draft and rookie free-agent signings offer a better idea of what the organization has to work with preparing for the 2020 season.

This exercise will carry more meaning as we advance into the preseason, but my all-too-early look at the roster is based more on track record, contract status, draft standing, and positional need than anticipating improvement or regression from any individual player. We normally get a better idea of where players stand beginning with the snap distribution during organized team activities, but the absence of on-site organized team activities complicates that evaluation, especially for newcomers.

In other words, don’t read too much into who might be deemed a bubble player or a long shot at this point as much will change as the Ravens move closer to the season. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with certain position groups lacking as much quality depth and other spots enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game.

Though general manager Eric DeCosta, head coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the staff are cognizant of the numbers at each position, trying to arbitrarily pick a certain number of tight ends or inside linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens always look for reserves who excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their offensive or defensive positions when filling out the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate how many players are currently on the roster at that position. As we move deeper into the spring and summer, I’ll provide updated looks as well as 53-man roster projections at different stages of the preseason.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
BUBBLE: Trace McSorley
LONG SHOT: Tyler Huntley
Skinny: The nature of this offense makes it more likely that Baltimore keeps a third quarterback for a third straight year, but the uncertainty of the offseason likely compromises McSorley’s quest to unseat Griffin as the primary backup or the mobile Huntley’s chances of sticking as the No. 3 option.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (6)
IN: Mark Ingram, J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Patrick Ricard
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Bronson Rechsteiner
Skinny: The second-round selection of Dobbins makes this a very crowded room and could even prompt a trade if the right offer comes along later this summer, but there’s too much talent, diversity, and value in the top four tailbacks to believe any would be cut from the 53-man roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS (11)
IN: Marquise Brown, Willie Snead, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay, James Proche, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: De’Anthony Thomas, Jaleel Scott
LONG SHOT: Antoine Wesley, Michael Dereus, Jaylon Moore
Skinny: Special teams will ultimately sort out the back end of this position group, but DeCosta trading a 2021 fifth-round pick to draft Proche elevates the roster standing of a sixth-round pick, which is usually viewed as being firmly on the bubble.

TIGHT ENDS (5)
IN: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle
BUBBLE: Jacob Breeland, Charles Scarff
LONG SHOT: Eli Wolf
Skinny: There’s little doubt the Ravens will want a viable third tight end on the roster after trading former first-round pick Hayden Hurst, but we’ll see whether Scarff’s experience as a 2019 practice-squad member, Breeland’s upside, or even a future veteran signing will prevail in the competition.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
IN: Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Bradley Bozeman, Patrick Mekari, D.J. Fluker, Ben Powers, Ben Bredeson, Tyre Phillips
BUBBLE: Andre Smith
LONG SHOT: Daishawn Dixon, R.J. Prince, Will Holden, Trystan Colon-Castillo, Sean Pollard, Evan Adams
Skinny: Fluker’s experience makes him the early favorite to replace the retired Marshal Yanda at right guard in the midst of an uncertain offseason, but there are several young options to try to sort out a cloudy interior offensive picture and a backup tackle must emerge behind Stanley and Brown.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Derek Wolfe, Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington
BUBBLE: Daylon Mack, Justin Ellis
LONG SHOT: Aaron Crawford
Skinny: The top five are seemingly set, but a backup nose tackle job could be up for grabs between Mack — who saw only nine defensive snaps as a fifth-round rookie last year — and the 29-year-old Ellis, who played sparingly down the stretch after being signed last November.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison, L.J. Fort
BUBBLE: Chris Board, Otaro Alaka, Jake Ryan
LONG SHOT: Kristian Welch
Skinny: The complexion of this group changed dramatically with the early selections of Queen and Harrison in last month’s draft, but the competition for a potential fourth inside linebacker spot could be interesting.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (10)
IN: Matthew Judon, Jaylon Ferguson, Pernell McPhee, Jihad Ward, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Aaron Adeoye, Mike Onuoha, John Daka, Chauncey Rivers, Marcus Willoughby
Skinny: The long-term outlook for this group remains very murky with Judon, McPhee, Ward, and Bowser only under contract through the upcoming season, which opens the door for one of the long shots to force his way into the roster conversation and challenge someone like Bowser for a spot.

CORNERBACKS (10)
IN: Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, Jimmy Smith, Anthony Averett
BUBBLE: Iman Marshall
LONG SHOT: Terrell Bonds, Khalil Dorsey, Jeff Hector, Josh Nurse
Skinny: There may not be another team in the league that can match Baltimore’s top four on paper, but the injury history of both Young and Smith still makes it critical to have more quality depth and improves the roster chances of Marshall, who is coming off a disappointing rookie campaign.

SAFETIES (7)
IN: Earl Thomas, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: DeShon Elliott, Geno Stone, Jordan Richards
LONG SHOT: Nigel Warrior
Skinny: You could argue Elliott and Stone being closer to locks than true bubble players, but injuries have limited the former to just 40 defensive snaps in his first two seasons and assuming a seventh-round pick — even one as interesting as Stone — is safely on a deep roster feels a bit too bold.

SPECIALISTS (6)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Nick Moore, Dom Maggio, Nick Vogel
Skinny: There isn’t much to say about this veteran group, but the three youngsters will each be learning from former Pro Bowl selections at their positions, which should improve their chances of catching on with other NFL teams by the end of the preseason.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 2020 schedule release

Posted on 11 May 2020 by Luke Jones

With the NFL unveiling the 2020 regular-season schedule late last week, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. What we know about the alarming incident between Earl Thomas and his wife doesn’t — and shouldn’t — provide any grounds to jeopardize his employment, but the Ravens’ terse statement made clear their disenchantment about being left in the dark. Practically speaking, a public figure’s right to privacy only goes so far.

2. The schedule release highlighted what we already knew about Baltimore being in tremendous shape from a travel standpoint with the longest trip of the season being to Houston in Week 2. Already dominant on the road last season, the Ravens should be able to continue such away success.

3. Even if one argues the Ravens are better from a talent standpoint and have a favorable schedule on paper, ESPN’s Mike Clay presented some data that should make you take pause before boldly predicting another 14-2 or better finish. What they did offensively last season just isn’t easy to duplicate.

4. With five prime-time games, four in a five-week period from November into early December, and the reigning NFL MVP, the Ravens have never carried a brighter national profile than they do right now, which is saying plenty for an organization with two Super Bowl titles in the last 20 years.

5. Asked about the center spot in a call with season-ticket holders, Eric DeCosta mentioning Bradley Bozeman was interesting, especially since left guard was seemingly the only stable interior line spot entering 2020 after Bozeman started every game there last year. Will we see three different starters inside?

6. When an elite player retires at the top of his game, speculation can persist about a comeback, but Marshal Yanda left no doubt by losing 45 pounds in two months after his final game and looking even thinner on “The Pat McAfee Show.” He looked lighter than the ex-Indianapolis punter.

7. No matter how you felt about the second-round selection of J.K. Dobbins, I don’t get the rush some have to trade Gus Edwards or Justice Hill for what would likely be an inconsequential draft pick. If more depth at running back was important, hastily diminishing the group makes little sense.

8. DeCosta acknowledged the Ravens having limited avenues to clear meaningful salary cap space without striking a long-term deal for Matthew Judon or Ronnie Stanley, who carry two of their five largest cap numbers for 2020. These negotiations and decisions won’t get any easier.

9. First-round pick Patrick Queen bought his mother a new Range Rover over the weekend. Seeing a young player fulfill his NFL dream after years of hard work and finally be able to gift a token of appreciation to a parent never gets old.

10. Asked once again — this time by a season-ticket holder and not the media — whether the Ravens were interested in signing Antonio Brown, DeCosta provided a “filibuster” non-answer that would make Dan Duquette smile.

11. With Joe Flacco undergoing neck surgery and reportedly not expected to be cleared to play until late August, you wonder if the 35-year-old has played his final snap. However, Jets general manager and ex-Ravens scout Joe Douglas “discovered” Flacco and does need a backup to Sam Darnold.

12. A personal thanks to director of player personnel Joe Hortiz for taking extensive time to conduct a virtual film session on the Ravens’ 2020 draft class and answering questions from local reporters. Such a forum offers transparency and better educates media to hopefully improve our coverage for fans.

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Ravens officially add Oregon tight end Breeland to list of UDFA signings

Posted on 06 May 2020 by Luke Jones

General manager Eric DeCosta didn’t select a tight end in last month’s draft, but that doesn’t mean the Ravens haven’t pondered replacing former first-round pick Hayden Hurst.

In the process of signing four more rookie free agents on Wednesday, Baltimore officially added one of its most intriguing undrafted options in Oregon tight end Jake Breeland. The 6-foot-5, 252-pound senior made 26 catches for 405 yards and led all Pac-12 tight ends with six touchdown receptions in just six games before sustaining a season-ending injury last year.

“We thought he was a strong prospect,” DeCosta said in a conference call with Ravens season-ticket holders. “We thought he was one of the best tight ends in the draft this year prior to his ACL injury that he suffered in October. We’re very, very excited to get him. I think that was a great job recruiting throughout to get him.”

Regarded as a better receiver than blocker over 30 career games with the Ducks, Breeland finished with 74 receptions for 1,225 yards and 13 touchdowns in his collegiate career with 24 of those catches going for 20 or more yards.

After trading Hurst to Atlanta in March, the Ravens will need a third tight end to complement 2019 Pro Bowl selection Mark Andrews and standout blocker Nick Boyle. In the midst of praising Breeland, DeCosta also mentioned fellow undrafted rookie Eli Wolf, who caught 13 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown at Georgia last season after transferring from Tennessee.

“He’s probably not as household of a name as Jake, but he’s another guy that we felt was a draftable prospect,” DeCosta said. “We’ve got two guys that we think have a realistic chance to possibly make our team. As you all know, tight end is a very important position on our offense, so we feel very, very good about that.”

The Ravens also announced the undrafted signings of James Madison outside linebacker John Daka, Wake Forest punter Dom Maggio, and Iowa linebacker Kristian Welch. Eighteen rookie free agents are now officially under contract.

Baltimore also signed three more draft picks to four-year contracts on Wednesday: third-round defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, fourth-round guard Ben Bredeson, and sixth-round wide receiver James Proche.

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Jackson’s one-time rival, pro wrestler’s son headline Ravens’ UDFA signings

Posted on 01 May 2020 by Luke Jones

A quarterback who once got the best of 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson headlined the initial list of undrafted free-agent signings announced by the Ravens.

Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley was a three-year starter and co-Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year last season, but his high school defeated Jackson and Boynton Beach to win a Florida district title in 2014, something the Ravens star hadn’t forgotten when reports surfaced about Huntley joining Baltimore. At 6-foot-1 and 196 pounds, Huntley is undersized for the position and doesn’t have the strongest throwing arm, but his athleticism and accuracy — he owns the Utah record for career completion percentage at 67.2 percent — make him a rookie to watch during the preseason.

Huntley passed for 3,092 yards, 19 touchdowns, and just four interceptions while rushing for 290 yards and five touchdowns last season.

The other notable signing was Kennesaw State fullback Bronson Rechsteiner, the son of professional wrestler Rick Steiner and nephew of former WCW heavyweight champion Scott Steiner. The 5-foot-10, 223-pound fullback averaged 8.1 yards per carry last season and rushing for 1,496 yards and nine touchdowns in 48 collegiate games.

Rechsteiner has expressed interest in eventually following in the footsteps of the Steiner Brothers, who are regarded as one of the better tag teams in professional wrestling history. He posted on his Twitter account that he was working out with WWE Hall of Famers Diamond Dallas Page and Jake “The Snake” Roberts on Friday.

On Thursday and Friday, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta also announced the signings of Missouri center Trystan Colon-Castillo, Redlands cornerback Jeff Hector, and Alabama Birmingham kicker Nick Vogel. Considering Baltimore’s history of developing successful specialists, Vogel is in a good environment to learn from three-time Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker and put himself in position for a potential NFL job elsewhere.

Announcements of undrafted signings have been more deliberate than usual so far with the realities of the coronavirus pandemic making what can already be a chaotic post-draft signing process more difficult with front office members, coaches, and scouts not allowed at the team facility in Owings Mills. However, director of player personnel Joe Hortiz praised the pre-draft preparation of player personnel coordinator Mark Azevedo, who runs point on the undrafted rookie signing process for the organization.

Many more signings are expected to be announced in the coming days.

“It’s been constant dialogue in the buildup for what’s about to happen,” Hortiz said toward the conclusion of the draft on Saturday. “We’re organized. We’re ready to go, and the main thing in free agency is everything is done via communication — phone calls to the agent, phone calls to the players. Our guys have been doing that throughout the process leading up to this.

“Once this draft ends, we’re going to get rolling on it and knock it out hopefully quick. The technology we have with Zoom and Webex, we’re able to communicate to each other through that, so I expect it to go off without much of a hitch.”

The Ravens normally hold their annual rookie minicamp the weekend following the draft, but teams are limited to virtual workouts and meetings this spring.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 2020 draft

Posted on 29 April 2020 by Luke Jones

With the 2020 NFL draft in the books and the Ravens shifting attention toward an unprecedented virtual offseason workout program, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore’s draft haul has been widely praised as it is, but Eric DeCosta also used 2020 fifth-round picks to acquire Pro Bowl selections Marcus Peters and Calais Campbell. We know many draft choices don’t pan out, of course, but the Ravens sure took advantage of value.

2. Marlon Humphrey’s fifth-year option being exercised was elementary as he’s projected to make $10.244 million in 2021, but he’s already been a team MVP and a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection prior to turning 24. He’s one more big year away from commanding top-of-the-market money at cornerback.

3. The career of D.J. Fluker has been pedestrian compared to first-round expectations, but his signing is a reminder of keeping expectations in check for rookies, especially without normal offseason workouts. Ideally, a young guy with a higher ceiling seizes the right guard job, but Fluker raises the position’s floor.

4. Whenever anticipating a position battle, I remember how much angst there was about the Ravens making no meaningful addition to replace right tackle Michael Oher in 2014. Rick Wagner, who had barely played as a fifth-round rookie, stepped in as an immediate upgrade for the next three seasons.

5. Speaking of competition, Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser had to be pleased to see no edge defenders taken in this draft class. Ferguson will compete to start and was in no roster danger, of course, but players like Bowser in the final year of their contract are always vulnerable.

6. J.K. Dobbins will try to break this post-Super Bowl XLVII run of second-round picks: Bowser (2017), Kamalei Correa (2016), Maxx Williams (2015), Timmy Jernigan (2014), and Arthur Brown (2013). Talk about “meh,” but I suppose the Ravens did OK trading their 2018 and 2019 second-rounders.

7. How the ground game shakes out with four running backs and the greatest single-season rushing quarterback in NFL history will be interesting — there’s only one football — but there’s no shortage of motivation. Mark Ingram was essentially put on notice and Gus Edwards and Justice Hill dropped down the pecking order.

8. Devin Duvernay will be an interesting wild card with good hands and an uncanny ability to gain yards after the catch. Considering how many screens he ran at Texas, I wouldn’t be surprised to occasionally see him lining up in the backfield and also motioning into jet sweeps.

9. After drafting exactly one wide receiver (Breshad Perriman) in the first three rounds from 2012-2018, the Ravens have selected three (Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, and Duvernay) in the last two drafts. Somewhere, Joe Flacco shrugs his shoulders.

10. Not only is Mike Tomlin getting inside information from Maryland wide receiver Dino Tomlin, but former Terps interim head coach Matt Canada became Pittsburgh’s quarterbacks coach in January. Anthony McFarland and Antoine Brooks landing with the Steelers was hardly a shock.

11. The gap is sizable between the Ravens and the rest of the AFC North on paper right now, but Cincinnati and Cleveland had strong drafts and Pittsburgh appeared to do OK despite trading its first-round pick for defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick last fall. Much talent was added to the division.

12. I’m not going to pretend to have any great insights into the Ravens’ reported (and unofficial) class of rookie free-agent signings, but I just hope the addition of Kennesaw State fullback Bronson Rechsteiner means his uncle shows up in Owings Mills at some point.

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2020 draft reinforces Ravens’ long-term view and identity

Posted on 27 April 2020 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of Ohio State Athletics)

One of the more significant moments of draft weekend had nothing to do with the Ravens, but it was a reminder of what lies ahead.

On Friday, Pro Bowl selection Laremy Tunsil and the Houston Texans agreed to a three-year, $66 million contract including $50 million guaranteed, making the 2016 first-round pick the highest-paid left tackle in NFL history by an overwhelming margin. Selected seven spots earlier in that same draft by Baltimore and also a 2019 Pro Bowl pick, Ronnie Stanley was surely paying attention as he prepares for the final season of his rookie contract and has had the better career to this point. Yes, the Ravens will need to pay their left tackle how teams used to pay franchise quarterbacks not terribly long ago in order to keep him.

Coming off a 14-2 season with the reigning NFL MVP and 11 other returning Pro Bowl selections, the Ravens are about to get incredibly expensive over the next 24 months, which will leave general manager Eric DeCosta with some very difficult decisions. Of course, that’s better than the alternative of not having a franchise quarterback and other elite talent, but understanding that reality and how it relates to the draft is how the best teams are able to remain good.

That’s how the second-round selection of Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins reinforced the long-term view and identity of the organization, even when there were very fair arguments to select Baylor wide receiver Denzel Mims or Boise State offensive lineman Ezra Cleveland with the 55th overall pick. After all, either of those players would have addressed a greater immediate need for a team that already had a record-setting rushing attack with two 1,000-yard rushers and plenty of depth.

But DeCosta learned his lesson from so many drafts alongside former general manager Ozzie Newsome, his mentor and current executive vice president who drafted at least three Pro Football Hall of Famers and was the architect of two Super Bowl championships in Baltimore.

“These great players would just fall down the board, and we would take them,” said DeCosta, who expected Dobbins to be drafted as early as the late first round. “You prepare yourself for it, and when it happens, you have to be prepared to take the guy. We didn’t really expect it. I don’t think anybody really did. We didn’t anticipate it, but we just had to take him. He’s just a talented guy, and it just made too much sense for us not to take him.”

The truth is that Dobbins probably doesn’t dramatically improve the chances of the 2020 Ravens beyond the possibility of a rash of injuries, an argument that supports taking more players at any position on the field. There’s no questioning Dobbins’ talent and fit running out of the pistol formation, but 2019 Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram gained 5.0 yards per carry and top backup Gus Edwards ran for 5.3 yards per attempt as Baltimore averaged a whopping 5.53 yards per carry — the NFL’s third-highest single-season mark since 1960 — and broke the 16-game season rushing record at 3,296 yards in 2019. In other words, short of Dobbins being the next Jim Brown — the 1963 Cleveland Browns hold the single-season rushing average record (5.74) interestingly enough — there just isn’t much room for the Ravens to be markedly better running the football if we’re being realistic.

That’s especially true if the goal is to decrease carries for quarterback Lamar Jackson, who is truly the special component of this ground game that makes both running backs and the offensive line that much better after setting the single-season quarterback rushing record and gaining 6.85 yards per carry last year. The retirement of eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda doesn’t help the equation either.

But that’s when we come back to the long-term view and identity of this football team, which is to continue to run more often and better than anyone in the league despite Jackson also leading the NFL in touchdown passes last season.

Much like when Ray Rice was selected with the same pick in the 2008 draft and played behind Pro Bowl running backs Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain as a rookie, Dobbins will definitely contribute in his first year. But his real value will come in 2021 as Ingram will be another year older and scheduled to make $5 million and Edwards will be a restricted free agent. At that point, the Ravens will have potentially already paid Stanley and will likely be navigating contract discussions with Jackson and All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey, which could prompt DeCosta to be thriftier at a position like running back with a prime talent like Dobbins ready to assume the primary workload with three years remaining on his rookie contract.

Yes, the draft may allow a team to fill an immediate need or two — first- and third-round inside linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison both could be Week 1 starters this fall — but it’s much more about better positioning itself for the future. Right now, the Ravens are benefiting from an MVP quarterback on a rookie contract and a run-first attack that set all kinds of records a year ago and remains the cheapest offense in the NFL.

But that flexibility isn’t going to last forever, and the Ravens want to maintain both their identity and standing as contenders beyond just the next year or two. That’s why picks such as Dobbins, defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, and wide receiver Devin Duvernay who may not be immediate starters are still so critical to get right for 2021 and beyond.

The Ravens were already a Super Bowl contender entering draft weekend and came out of it confident that they had improved their chances both now and down the line.

“We like the chemistry of the team. It changes every single year,” DeCosta said. “The draft is one mean that we have to improve the chemistry along with free agency and different things.

“It’s an ongoing process that never ends.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on drafting LSU linebacker Patrick Queen

Posted on 24 April 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens selecting LSU inside linebacker Patrick Queen with the 28th overall pick of the 2020 draft, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A 20-year-old undersized inside linebacker from a college football powerhouse selected late in the first round sparks memories of a certain Hall of Famer. Even Lamar Jackson was calling Queen “Ray Lewis Jr.” on Instagram Live after the pick was made. No pressure.

2. Queen is “so tired of hearing” his 6-foot, 231-pound frame is undersized and believes he’s “more mobile” than Lewis was while making clear the Baltimore legend was “probably the best to play.” I like that confidence in someone who had to wait his turn behind former Tigers teammate Devin White.

3. Wink Martindale did an admirable job rotating inside linebackers last year, but having a three-down starter with a high ceiling and cover ability will make life much easier. Queen’s speed also makes him an enticing blitz option in the same way the Ravens used Patrick Onwuasor.

4. Fair concerns about Queen’s size should be eased by the additions of Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe up front. Lewis was at his absolute best playing behind the likes of Sam Adams, Tony Siragusa, Haloti Ngata, and Trevor Pryce, so a big defensive line should help Queen roam more freely.

5. Remarkably, it took 25 years for the Ravens to finally draft a player from LSU, an elite SEC program that’s won three national championships since 2003. In contrast, Baltimore has selected multiple players from Central Florida, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, and Weber State. Go figure.

6. Asked how Ozzie Newsome reacted to an LSU draft pick, Eric DeCosta said, “He kept saying something, but we muted him. He kept waving his hands, and the video went out. That’s the thing with technology sometimes — it can be manipulated. I think it was the Russians.” Funny stuff.

7. You wonder about a college player who only started one year, but Queen really stood out against Georgia, Oklahoma, and Clemson and was named defensive MVP of the national championship game. Excelling against top competition seems to be a good trade-off for the lack of starting experience.

8. Queen is the fifth linebacker to be drafted by the Ravens in the first round, joining Lewis, Peter Boulware, Terrell Suggs, and C.J. Mosley. The first four each made at least four Pro Bowls and combined for 28 in Baltimore. Again, no pressure.

9. Credit DeCosta’s patience as options such as edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson, linebacker Kenneth Murray, and center Cesar Ruiz started coming off the board in the early 20s. Standing pat in the first round for the first time since 2017, the Ravens protected their remaining six picks in the top 150.

10. General managers always say the player they picked topped their board, but that appeared to be the truth with Queen, who fit one of Baltimore’s biggest needs. DeCosta said he received a congratulatory text from Dallas defensive coordinator and former Ravens assistant Mike Nolan for his pick.

11. DeCosta is dedicating this draft to former Ravens scout Ron Marciniak, who died at 85 last month and was the creator of the famous “red star” meeting in which each scout picks a draft prospect who stands above the rest on and off the field. It was a classy gesture.

12. Credit the NFL, ESPN, and NFL Network for pulling off a quality broadcast despite such challenging circumstances, but there was so much going on in this scene at Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel’s house that I haven’t a clue what to even say.

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