Just over two weeks before the NFL draft, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta, director of player personnel Joe Hortiz and coach John Harbaugh took part in a video conference with reporters on Monday.
The trio discussed the Ravens’ offseason plans and roster holes headed into the NFL Draft on April 23.
The key to navigating “lying season,” though, is to decipher what is and isn’t truthful.
Notably, DeCosta gave a lot of information about the wide receivers on Monday that could give some insight into the Ravens’ draft plans.
“We think there's a lot of really good players,” DeCosta said. “Obviously, the receiver class is prolific by many people's standards, and so there's probably 25 draftable wideouts in this draft.”
While that doesn’t necessarily mean the Ravens will pick a receiver - especially early on - DeCosta said there will be about 185 players on the team’s draft board. That’s certainly a deep pool of wideouts for the Ravens to select throughout the draft.
If the right opportunity presents itself, the Ravens can jump on a potential trade to make it happen. Or, they can be patient and wait for the wide receivers to come to them. They’ll be guaranteed to have a handful of pass-catchers they like in the middle and later rounds.
“We like our receivers, first and foremost,” DeCosta said. “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.”
Should they feel that urgency to move up and select a first round wide receiver, though, they’ll have the ammunition to do so. They currently have four picks on the second day of the draft, which they could use to go get their desired target.
“This year, we do have a lot of (picks),” DeCosta said. “We have the opportunity to maybe go up and get a guy. Normally, when a guy starts to fall, what you find is other teams are trying to trade for him, too, and they're usually willing to give up more than you're willing to give up.”
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They could also sit back and wait to select one of the top wideouts with one of those four picks in the mid-rounds.
Should the Ravens stay away from a wide receiver in the first round, there are plenty of directions they could go. One option is offensive line.
The Ravens’ offensive line is a question mark, as they could be without Matt Skura for the start of the season — which would leave no interior offensive line depth and two starters with a combined seven games of experience at center and right guard.
That certainly will be a priority for the Ravens in the draft in two weeks.
“That’s one of the biggest challenges, it’s probably job one or two,” Harbaugh said. “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. I don’t think we necessarily have to concern ourselves with what the rest of the league is looking for in the offensive line, or any other position really, but just what we’re looking for and the type of player we want.”
If the Ravens are looking for the type of player they want, a bruising offensive lineman who can run block well is likely in the cards. Additionally, they’ll likely look for a player who can be versatile. The team released James Hurst at the outset of free agency, a versatile offensive lineman who could have filled in at tackle or guard.
Baltimore will certainly try and find his replacement at some point in the draft.
“There are some tackles that we think can play inside, play guard,” DeCosta said. “There are some really good guards, 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.”
Aside from the offensive line and wide receiver positions, the biggest position of need for the Ravens is linebacker. But while there are a few three-down linebackers available in the first round — namely Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma) and Patrick Queen (LSU) — the Ravens are versatile enough defensively to afford to look for more specialized defenders.
“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,” Hortiz said. “There are guys in the mid-rounds that can come in and cover, maybe play the run.”
The Ravens certainly could still add Murray or Queen if either is available, or - if they would like to trade up - make a move to get one of them as well. But the Ravens have options.
“But I think with our versatility and the way [defensive coordinator] ‘Wink’ [Don Martindale] and those guys use guys in their specific roles, it helps us evaluate players that maybe can't do all the things but can do one thing well,” Hortiz continued.
All of this is to say that the Ravens have done a good job through free agency and roster-building already — they haven’t hemmed themselves into a corner.
But through various non-committal answers, the Ravens gave a brief glimpse into their draft process: the offensive line will be a key priority, they don’t need to select a receiver in the first round unless one falls, they have the ammunition for a trade and, most importantly, they have options.
“We try to look at each draft and just stay true to the mindset, ‘What can we do to build our best team moving forward?’ Every roster is different," DeCosta explained. "You lose players in free agency, you gain players, guys retire, be that as it may, and you’re just trying to adjust. We’re trying to find the best guys and kind of assess what our strengths and weaknesses might be.”
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