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ramsey

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Some draft criticism unfair, but sum of parts still not adding up for Ravens

Posted on 16 January 2018 by Luke Jones

Some of the commentary from Ravens fans watching the divisional round of the playoffs was predictable.

All these years later, some still squawk about general manager Ozzie Newsome selecting Morehouse offensive lineman Ramon Harewood a pick before Pittsburgh took Central Michigan wide receiver Antonio Brown with the 195th overall selection of the 2010 draft. At this point, ESPN might as well make a “30 for 30” special on the two individuals just to torment Ravens fans.

Yes, the Steelers were so much smarter than Baltimore that they passed on the eventual best wide receiver in the NFL eight different times in that draft and took such studs as Crezdon Butler and Stevenson Sylvester before finally grabbing Brown in the sixth round.

It’s no secret that the Ravens could have traded with Dallas in 2016 to move up from the sixth spot to take future Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey fourth overall, but Newsome didn’t want to part with his third-round pick that was used on defensive end Bronson Kaufusi, who’s played all of three games in two years. In a vacuum, it’s easy to call that a bad decision, but let’s remember quarterback Joe Flacco was rehabbing a torn ACL at the time and the Ravens didn’t have a trustworthy left tackle on the roster after the big contract awarded to Eugene Monroe two years earlier had turned out to be such a failure. Even if Ramsey becomes a Hall of Famer and Ronnie Stanley is never anything more than a reliable left tackle, it’s tough to be outraged by such a move if you’re someone who’s also blasted the organization for repeatedly neglecting its offense since Super Bowl XLVII.

Jacksonville linebacker Myles Jack intercepting a Ben Roethlisberger pass Sunday prompted some to point out that the Ravens passed on him, electing to trade back two different times to eventually take the disappointing Kamalei Correa in the second round of that same 2016 draft. However, the Ravens were far from the only team to pass on Jack, who was projected by some to be a top 5 pick if not for major concerns about the health of his knee. They also came away with starting outside linebacker Matthew Judon and strong special-teams contributor Chris Moore with those trades while Jack hasn’t been anything more than a solid starter for the Jaguars to this point.

If you really want to be mad about that second round, instead point to the Ravens taking Correa five picks before New Orleans drafted Pro Bowl wide receiver Michael Thomas, who’s caught a whopping 197 passes in his first two years.

And then there’s Minnesota wide receiver Stefon Diggs, the former University of Maryland standout who caught the miracle 61-yard touchdown from Case Keenum to send the Vikings to the NFC championship game. Even before Sunday’s heroics, this one had been reignited by the recent Sports Illustrated article citing Diggs’ mother telling Newsome that he should have been fired for not taking her son.

There’s no question that the Ravens should have had an advantage on intel about a prospect playing 40 miles down the road, but there were fair concerns about Diggs, ranging from his injury history in College Park to questions about his maturity. As a result, this was a player passed over multiple times by every team in the league, so the Ravens weren’t alone and Washington didn’t take the local kid either.

In the same way that I have a difficult time heaping too much praise on the Ravens for “discovering” Alex Collins when they were one of 31 teams who didn’t claim him on waivers at the end of the preseason and initially promoted Jeremy Langford from the practice squad over him, I struggle to criticize the organization too sharply for passing on Diggs — even if you wish they would have taken a chance on him rather than the little-known Tray Walker at the end of that fourth round.

The truth is you can go back in time to any draft and nitpick why Player A was taken over Player B over and over and over. Even after selecting two future Hall of Famers with his first two picks of the 1996 draft, Newsome took underwhelming cornerback DeRon Jenkins six spots before future nine-time Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins went to Philadelphia in the second round.

See how easy that was?

These arguments are easy to make with hindsight and lack context unless you’re talking about a clear-cut example such as two quarterbacks being taken with the first two picks of the draft. Even then, do you ever notice how you struggle to find anyone who would have drafted Ryan Leaf over Peyton Manning in 1998 despite that being a major debate at the time? Most critics aren’t so eager to point out the ones they were wrong about years later.

(For the record, I leaned toward Leaf as a know-it-all 14-year-old.)

As much as teams try to make the draft a science, much of it remains art with too many variables to possibly control. Even at their best, the Ravens never batted 1.000 in the draft, so there will always be picks to critique as many are doing now.

The real problem isn’t passing on these aforementioned players, but it’s that the Ravens haven’t been making enough great picks of their own in recent years to make these second-guessing exercises a moot point. At the macro level, it’s more than fair to argue that the Ravens have too frequently played it safe, relied on quantity over quality, and possibly even conformed with too much groupthink in recent drafts.

Sometimes you have to take a risk to come away with a truly great playmaker or two, which is something the Ravens desperately need on the offensive side of the ball and have for a long time now. You also can’t allow a failed pick like Breshad Perriman deter you from being bold when appropriate.

It’s not a secret that the organization has slanted much more toward defense with 13 of their 17 Day 1 and 2 picks since Super Bowl XLVII being on that side of the ball. That’s enough of a lopsided ratio to make you question whether the Ravens are valuing defensive players too much in favor of truly picking “the best player available” when on the clock.

Their recent drafts haven’t been as disastrous as some want to claim — the Ravens have still found plenty of good value in the latter half of drafts despite recent Day 1 and 2 problems — but they’ve merely been much more ordinary after years of the draft being considered a major advantage for Newsome and the Ravens over other teams.

Even if many of the decisions appeared sound at the time, the sum of the parts has still added up to too much mediocrity, the same place the Ravens are trying to escape.

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tunsil

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Options aplenty, but no perfect prospect for Ravens at No. 6

Posted on 25 April 2016 by Luke Jones

We’re a couple days away from the paralysis by analysis finally coming to an end.

As it stands, the Ravens will make their highest pick in an NFL draft since 2000 when they’ll be on the clock sixth overall. Or, they’ll trade up or down, which certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility with three first-round trades having already been consummated long before teams arrive in Chicago.

But the Ravens are guaranteed to have a shiny new toy by the time the first round concludes late Thursday night.

To no one’s surprise, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the organization have been very quiet while everyone else tries to figure out exactly what the Ravens want to do. The good news is that when you’re coming off a 5-11 season and have multiple needs, you don’t have to be too desperate for the draft board to fall a certain way.

But that doesn’t mean a perfect prospect exists, either, as months of analysis and over-analysis have proven.

Mississippi left tackle Laremy Tunsil was considered the favorite to be the No. 1 pick before Tennessee traded out of the top spot two weeks ago, but a few are now speculating that even Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley could pass him in the draft rankings despite neither having played a game since January. Even with Tunsil’s impressive physical gifts, Ravens fans salivating over the thought of him replacing the oft-injured Eugene Monroe could be looking past the lineman missing time with a knee injury, a torn bicep, a dislocated ankle, and a broken leg during his collegiate career.

With the injuries, some off-field concerns, and the underwhelming track record of top 10 offensive tackles making the difficult transition from college to the pros in recent years, Tunsil doesn’t quite feel like the “safe” pick many project him to be — even if he realizes his immense upside and winds up being much closer to Jonathan Ogden than Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher in his career.

Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey has the size and speed to play anywhere in the defensive backfield, but his underwhelming hands led to few game-changing plays in college and some believe his unspectacular change-of-direction skill suggests he’s better suited as a safety in the NFL, which isn’t generally what you’re looking for with the sixth overall pick.

Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa was regularly listed as the No. 1 pick in mock drafts before his stock took a dive in the pre-draft process with him lacking great straight-line speed and freakish athleticism. He’s a high-motor player and fits Baltimore’s pass-rushing need, but he doesn’t show great speed off the edge and is a little more of a question mark as a 3-4 outside linebacker than as a 4-3 defensive end.

UCLA linebacker Myles Jack is a phenomenal fit on paper and would be the cover linebacker the Ravens need to pair with C.J. Mosley, but there’s just too much noise concerning his knee to not feel nervous about picking him so early. Baltimore cannot afford to have another Breshad Perriman situation play out if the medical team has any legitimate concerns about Jack’s knee.

And that brings us to Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner, who probably feels the most like a “Ravens” pick despite there being little noise about the sides having much communication in the pre-draft process. Buckner might have the lowest bust rate of any of the aforementioned names, but the 5-technique defensive end spot isn’t a major need and he may not have as much upside as the others, which is a very fair concern when you’re making your first top 10 selection in over a decade.

In short, you can poke holes in any of these prospects if you want to, which is exactly what happens over the exhausting pre-draft process.

Of course, these are the names discussed most often by the outside world as the consensus top five non-quarterbacks in this year’s draft. We can’t be sure where the Ravens stand with the likes of Stanley, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, and Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson as any could be rated higher on Baltimore’s board than we anticipate.

After years of watching the Ravens pick toward the end of the first round — which is where you want to be — we should be reminded that there’s no such thing as a perfect prospect, no matter how high a team is choosing. If the Ravens did their homework, they’re all but guaranteed to come away with a really good starting player for years to come, barring injury. If they are really smart and lucky, they’ll turn in a card with the name of a multi-time Pro Bowl player written on it. And if Newsome and the Ravens hit the lottery jackpot as they did twice in their first ever draft 20 years ago, they’ll come away with a player who will be enshrined in Canton one day.

There isn’t a single pick they can make on Thursday that will make everyone happy. Every possible selection can make you take pause to some degree, but there may also be more than one correct answer from which to choose, which should ease concerns for Ravens fans.

As assistant general manager Eric DeCosta likes to say, the draft is more art than it is science.

With Thursday night almost upon us, the fun part is about to begin.

And the Ravens will officially take their shot at finding a game-changing player.

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Three elite defensive prospects visit Ravens on Wednesday

Posted on 07 April 2016 by Luke Jones

A day after general manager Ozzie Newsome said the Ravens still had more of their 30 allotted visits with college prospects to complete, three of the top defensive players in the 2016 draft were in town.

Ohio State edge rusher Joey Bosa, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves visited the Ravens on Wednesday, according to NFL Network. The organization also worked out Ohio State wide receivers Braxton Miller and Mike Thomas in Columbus.

Once regarded as a strong candidate to be the top overall pick, Bosa has seen his stock slip a bit after an underwhelming scouting combine performance in February, but he is still expected to be one of the first players selected. He would fit a clear need as an edge rusher and outside linebacker to complement and eventually replace Terrell Suggs or Elvis Dumervil.

The Ravens expressed confidence Tuesday that he would be a good fit in their 3-4 defensive system that features multiple looks. In three seasons with the Buckeyes, the 6-foot-5, 269-pound Bosa accumulated 26 sacks.

“You guys can actually see him on film dropping off [into pass coverage] on occasion — the zone drop, far zones and all of that — and he looks certainly capable of doing that,” director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. “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  [defensive] 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. He’s long, he’s rangy, he’s got enough speed. I think that he projects to either spot, 4-3 [defensive end] or 3-4 outside backer.”

Jack is regarded by some as the best athlete in the draft despite missing most of last season with a torn meniscus suffered in September. The 6-foot-1, 245-pound linebacker also played some running back in his three years at UCLA, a reflection of his unique skill set.

The Ravens struggled in pass coverage at the inside linebacker position, which would make Jack an ideal fit next to C.J. Mosley with veteran Daryl Smith now in Tampa Bay.

“He’s a great athlete,” assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said. “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.”

Though not linked to the Ravens as frequently as Bosa and Jack in many mock drafts, Hargreaves is regarded as the best defensive back in the draft behind Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, who is expected to be one of the first two or three players selected. In a perfect world, the organization would like to add an impact cornerback to compete with Shareece Wright for the starting job opposite Jimmy Smith, and Hargreaves would fit that description.

He lacks ideal height at only 5-foot-10, but the Ravens are drawn to other intangibles beyond his 10 interceptions and 27 pass breakups in his three seasons with the Gators.

“He’s got really good ball skills. He can play the ball in contested situations,” Hortiz said. “He’s a really good athlete and he’s a coach’s son. His father coached at Miami, South Florida — I think he’s at Arkansas now. The kid has grown up around ball, he’s been on the field down at the [University of Miami] since he was a toddler, probably doing backpedaling transitions. He’s very schooled, and you can see it in his play. Athletic kid, he understands fundamentals of the position, he’s got instincts.

“Yes, he’s a little undersized — everyone wants a six-foot, 6-foot-1 corner — but, he’s certainly fast enough and his instincts and ball skills make up for his lack of size.”

The Ravens pick sixth overall in this month’s draft, which would be their highest selection since 2000.

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