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5 players Ravens fans should keep an eye on at the NFL Combine

5 players Ravens fans should keep an eye on at the NFL Combine

For a team that finished 14-2 in 2019, the Ravens have quite a few holes to patch up across the roster. 

The team needs an edge rusher — a situation that could be exacerbated by a potential departure of Matthew Judon — and help at inside linebacker, interior offensive line and wide receiver.

Baltimore isn’t flush with cap space, especially if Judon is retained by either a contract extension or franchise tag. Meaning, they’ll have to capitalize on their draft picks, of which they have six — with compensatory picks still to be announced. 

The combine schedule will have tight ends, quarterbacks and wide receivers workout on Thursday, special teamers, offensive line and running backs on Friday, defensive line and linebackers on Saturday and defensive backs on Sunday. 

Here are a few players who the Ravens could take a look at near the top of the draft:

Patrick Queen, LB, LSU

This is the linebacker that the Ravens might have to make a move to acquire. 

Patrick Queen, an off-ball linebacker from LSU, is listed at 6-foot-1 and 227 pounds. He made 85 total tackles in his junior season as a Tiger and had one interception, too. 

“Patrick Queen to me would be a home run pick from LSU if somehow he was there,” NFL Network analyst Jeremiah said in a conference call last week. “I think he should be gone by then. He's so athletic and explosive.”

Should Queen be on the board, the Ravens could have themselves a three-down linebacker capable of dropping into coverage or finding a ball-carrier behind the line of scrimmage. 

If Queen is on the board when the Ravens pick, even if there’s a hole at edge rusher, there will be a difficult decision to make for the Ravens.

Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma

Perhaps the most popular selection in early mock drafts, Kenneth Murray could deliver the most realistic chance the Ravens have at getting an impact off-ball linebacker in the first round. 

Murray registered 102 tackles in his junior year, down from his 155 tackles he posted as a sophomore. He’s an excellent open-field tackler, one that can fill a hole in the Ravens front seven on day one. 

The former Oklahoma Sooner would fill a spot that linebacker C.J. Mosely left vacant after he went to the Jets in the spring of 2019. 

Zack Baun, EDGE, Wisconsin

Here, the Ravens could be almost forced to take an edge player. Enter Zack Baun.

Baun, an edge rusher at Wisconsin, was a disruptive force on the outside for the Badgers in perhaps college football’s toughest conference. 

In his final year in Madison, he made 76 total tackles and had 12.5 sacks — second in the Big 10 behind only Chase Young.

“Zack Baun from Wisconsin can give you versatility as somebody who can rush...then cover,” Jeremiah said. “When you talk about pure edge guys, you know they've (the Ravens) tended to lean more towards the physical rushers.”

The ceiling for Baun isn’t what Young’s ceiling is, but Baun — while a bit light at just 238 pounds — has the makings of a productive player at the NFL level.

Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado

Now, it’s time for some fun.

The Ravens had the NFL’s best and most explosive offense in 2019, led by MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews, Marquise Brown and Mark Ingram. While it might not make sense, on paper, to overlook other more prominent needs on the roster, another top wideout for Jackson is certainly on the needs list.

“Shenault would be a heck of a lot of fun,” Jeremiah continued. “I put down this list of guys in this draft, and I just wrote "Finding (49ers wide receiver) Deebo (Samuel)." 

Shenault, listed at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, compares physically to Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. At Colorado, Shenault caught 56 balls and totaled 764 yards for four touchdowns in 2019. A year prior, he eclipsed 1,000 yards through the air and had 86 catches and six touchdowns.

The way the Buffaloes used him, though, could play favorably to what the Ravens would like to do in the backfield. And with his big frame, he’s able to be versatile in any offense.

“I would go back, get more speed and just continue to add more speed like the Chiefs have done,” Jeremiah said. “I would double down. And I think Shenault would be a fun toy for them, somebody that could play in the slot. You can use the fly sweep stuff with him. You could put him in the backfield with Lamar hand him the ball. He's done that a bunch at Colorado, for a creative offense, there's none more creative than Greg Roman.”

Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU

This one might seem like it’s out of left field, but Jalen Reagor is a wide receiver to watch at the combine. 

A speed demon at TCU, Reagor totaled just 611 yards in his final year of college, down from the 1,061 yards he posted a year prior. In that way, Shenault and Reagor are similar players. 

“So finding somebody with maybe some physicality to go along with their speed to complement Hollywood Brown in this offense, it would be fun to watch,” Jeremiah said, speaking generally of the Ravens’ offense.

Reagor, who called himself a mix of Tyreek Hill and Deebo Samuel at the combine this week, could run the fastest 40-yard dash in Indianapolis — even faster than former Alabama wideout Henry Ruggs. And Reagor, who weighed in at 206 pounds, was used in a way that could benefit the Ravens as well. 

TCU used him in a variety of ways: as a receiver, in the backfield and as a returner. Reagor could fill multiple roles, so don’t be surprised if the Ravens target the athletic wideout — even if it’s not in the first round of such a deep wide receiver class.

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Ranking the Ravens’ five biggest needs headed into the NFL Draft

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Ranking the Ravens’ five biggest needs headed into the NFL Draft

Though the Ravens’ run through free agency went as well as could reasonably be expected for a team without bundles of money to burn, they’re still left with a few holes on the roster headed into the NFL Draft. 

The Ravens have nine picks in the draft, which begins on April 23, seven of which come in the first four rounds. There, general manager Eric DeCosta said he expects the Ravens to be able to get players that can contribute immediately with the team's first seven picks. 

Here are a few of the most pressing needs on the roster with just over two weeks until the draft begins.

Baltimore selections are: 28th, 55th, 60th, 92nd, 106th, 129th, 134th, 170th, 225th overall.  

Inside linebacker

The ranking of the needs can be varied a little bit, but this stands as the Ravens’ biggest hole on the roster. 

It’s a position they didn’t address in free agency, and Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor left for other teams. L.J. Fort is the only off-ball linebacker with starting experience. He’s backed up by special teams linebacker Chris Board and Otaro Alaka, who was placed on injured reserve before Week 4 by the Ravens.

Last season, the Ravens used Chuck Clark heavily at the linebacker position in a lot of sub-package roles. That will likely happen once agai with the return of Tavon Young and a bolstered defensive front on the way, but the Ravens won't be able to use Clark as their de facto middle linebacker for forever.

If Monday’s conference call with reporters was any indication — which could mean anything — the Ravens don’t need to take a linebacker that can be on the field for all three downs, or a linebacker in the early rounds. Instead, they can find a one or two in the mid-rounds with a specialized trait and build packages around him for one or two downs.

“I think when we look at the board, there's obviously guys who can do all three things — play the run, cover and blitz — but I think when we look at the guys throughout the draft, there are players that can help us in specific roles,” director of player personnel Joe Hortiz said. “There are guys in the mid-rounds that can come in and cover, maybe play the run.”

Interior offensive line

The Ravens interior offensive line isn’t in the best shape right now. In fact, they might need to add two or three different pieces to the entire line before next season begins. 

“You’ve certainly got guys,” DeCosta said Monday. “There are some tackles that we think can play inside, play guard. There are some really good guards (and) some centers in this draft. I think we’ve shown in the past that we can find guys in the second, third, fourth, fifth rounds, offensive linemen who can come in and play.”

With Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. the bookends at both tackle spots, the interior of the Ravens’ offensive line is in a state of flux. Left guard Bradley Bozeman played well last season, but the two spots to his right are still up in the air. 

Center Matt Skura is still recovering from a significant knee injury where he tore his ACL, MCL and PCL in late November. He also suffered a dislocated kneecap. Patrick Mekari played admirably in his absence, but only started five regular season games in his rookie season.

Then, legendary guard Marshal Yanda announced his retirement and left a hole at right guard. For now, Ben Powers figures to be the one to replace his spot along the line, but Powers has just one game of experience in his NFL career. 

The Ravens also cut reserve tackle James Hurst, a versatile offensive lineman who could fill in at four of the positions along the line. Meaning, the Ravens could enter the 2020 season with a center and a right guard who have played, including playoffs, a combined seven games. 

Expect the Ravens to add multiple picks along the line, even extending out to the tackle position as well. Backup tackle Andre Smith is 33-years-old, so some youth could be needed there as well.

“So, we’re going to have to really do a great job there,” coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s one of the biggest challenges. It’s probably job one or two. We’ve got to make sure that we do a great job of making sure the interior offensive line is all set. How you do it, you do it the old way. We’ve got to look at all the players, try to find the best fits.”

Edge-rusher

This ranking of need can be debated as well, but the Ravens need another pass-rusher on the outside to go with Matthew Judon and Jaylon Ferguson. 

Teams can always use more pass-rushers, and the Ravens are no different in this case. Judon is coming off a Pro Bowl season where he registered 9.5 sacks and 33 quarterback hits — both team highs. The Ravens placed the franchise tag on him in the offseason, which will pay him just over 16 million dollars. After him, though, the Ravens had a noticeable drop in production.. 

Ferguson, a rookie, slowly found his role throughout the season and finished with 2.5 sacks and nine quarterback hits. Tyus Bowser placed second on the team in sacks and quarterback hits with five and 10, respectively, but the Ravens could be without two of their top five leaders in sacks last season in 2020.

The situation with Judon’s contract only adds to the need, as the Ravens quite simply might not be able to afford Judon long-term, should he have a breakout season. With not much depth on the roster behind Judon, Bowser and Ferguson, adding to that is paramount.

While the defensive line additions of Derek Wolfe and Calais Campbell should help mightily with the pass rush, the Ravens could still use another body on the edge. 

Wide receiver

In a draft class loaded with talented wide receivers, the Ravens have a lot of options. Those options could include trading up in a loaded year for wide receivers to get their guy, or trading back to take one of many on the board. 

DeCosta said 25 players on the Ravens’ draft board will be wide receivers. But the Ravens have options in terms of when, and how, they want to select their receiver — or receivers.

“We like our receivers, first and foremost,” DeCosta said of the current roster. “I think Miles (Boykin) and Marquise (Brown) and Willie (Snead IV) and we brought Chris Moore back, Jaleel (Scott) — we have some guys that we think are going to make another jump. We really like that room. So, do we feel the urgency? We probably feel that with every position.”

As it stands now, the Ravens wideout room is led by two players entering their second seasons. Brown played all of his rookie season, a year in which he finished second on the team in receptions with an injured foot. He's expected to be healthy for his second season in the league. Boykin, after a strong training camp, struggled to break through and caught 13 passes for 198 yards. But in his second year in the league, there’s hope he can develop into a strong possession wideout. 

The Ravens have got a talented stable of pass-catchers with Brown and Andrews leading the way, so the need for a talented third option to emerge is big for the development of the Ravens’ offense.

“We want to be the best we can be at every single position,” DeCosta said. “This happens to be a wide receiver class with a lot of really good players, and if we're on the clock and we think that guy is the best player, we'll probably pick him.”

Defensive line

The Ravens added to this position most in the offseason, so it might seem surprising for this to be on the list. But a deeper dive indicates it’s more of a need than originally thought. 

Baltimore’s starting defensive front next season will consist of Campbell, Wolfe and Brandon Williams. After that, though, the proven depth begins to fade. And there’s even question marks with the starters. 

Wolfe, Williams and Campbell are all over the age of 30, and Wolfe has played all 16 games just once since 2014. He maintains his healthier now than he was in Denver, but the concern won’t go away until he hits the field. 

From there, the depth chart has Jihad Ward, Justin Ellis and Daylon Mack as backup linemen. The unit could use an influx of talent, and youth, to a position that could have some big holes to fill rather quickly.

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What type of running backs are the Ravens looking for in this year's draft? GM Eric DeCosta explains

What type of running backs are the Ravens looking for in this year's draft? GM Eric DeCosta explains

The Ravens’ draft needs mostly stay within the front line on either side of the ball. 

They could use more defensive line and edge-rusher help, as well as more depth and a starter at inside linebacker. The interior offensive line could use depth, as could the tackle position. 

Aside from wide receiver, the Ravens’ needs aren’t all that flashy. 

But when the Ravens are on the clock with the 28th selection, should they stick to their best player available mantra, that could mean a running back comes off the board.

“You have to be big and strong and physical, but you also have to be durable,” general manager Eric DeCosta said. “That's a really important criteria for that position, and also be intelligent. We feel like we have a really good group of running backs on our team, and it'll just basically be who's available when we pick.” 

The Ravens set the NFL’s single-season rushing record last season due in large part to Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram, but also backup running backs Gus Edwards and Justice Hill. 

At a position that is loaded, and also the heartbeat of the Ravens’ offense, there doesn’t appear to be any clear openings. 

“We set the record for rushing last year, so it's going to be hard for us this year,” DeCosta said. “So, we have to find as many good players as we can. I think that position is critically important to our offense.”

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That hasn’t stopped a few mock drafts from around the league projecting the Ravens might go with a running back in the early rounds. Should they do that, a few names to watch are D’Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor, Cam Akers and J.K. Dobbins. All figure to be a few of the top running backs off the board. 

Even if the Ravens don’t pick a running back early in the draft, there’s still the possibility of selecting a back late with one of the Ravens’ nine draft choices. 

Should that happen, there will be a competition for the top three spots on the depth chart at running back for Baltimore.

“There are certainly running backs all throughout the draft in each round – first round all the way through the seventh round – guys that we think have the opportunity to come in and help us be the best team we can be, and we'll look at that,” DeCosta said.

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