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Reading between the lines on Ravens' 2020 NFL Draft approach

Reading between the lines on Ravens' 2020 NFL Draft approach

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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Edge rusher Matthew Judon and Ravens agree to compromise on franchise tag

Edge rusher Matthew Judon and Ravens agree to compromise on franchise tag

What position Matthew Judon plays makes a bit of a difference when it comes to how much the NFL says he’s worth. In fact, it’s about two million dollars of difference.

If Judon was classified as a defensive end, he’d make $17.788 million on the franchise tag. If he was a linebacker, he’d make $15.828 million. 

Judon’s position as an edge rusher means he’s a bit of a hybrid, so that’s exactly what he and the Ravens agreed to. Judon will make $16.808 million next season, the average of both salaries, the team announced on Friday.

Now, the Ravens and Judon can continue negotiations on a long-term contract until July 15, at which point he’ll play under the franchise tag and be forced to wait until the end of the 2020 season. 

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Judon, who had 9.5 sacks last season, will be 28 years old when the season begins. He’ll likely start opposite Jaylon Ferguson, a 2019 third-round pick who had 2.5 sacks in his rookie season. 

If the Ravens agree to a long-term deal with Judon, it will likely be the first in a line of many long-term contracts to come on a team loaded with young talent. That deal would likely allow the Ravens to spread out his cap hit over multiple seasons and increase the likelihood of re-signing other future free agents on the roster.

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John Harbaugh explains how the Ravens plan to use first-round linebacker Patrick Queen

John Harbaugh explains how the Ravens plan to use first-round linebacker Patrick Queen

The Ravens hit a home run in the NFL draft when Patrick Queen fell to them at 28th overall. 

Queen, likely the best player in the draft available when the Ravens picked, filled the biggest position of need for the Ravens at inside linebacker. 

The question now, though, is how he’ll be used. 

“Patrick Queen will probably be... we’ll play him probably at MIKE [linebacker] for the most part, right there in the middle,” Harbaugh said on a Thursday conference call with Ravens season-ticket holders. “We’ll let him use his speed and instincts to run around and make plays at all three phases. He’ll be a three-down guy, both in our base package and our sub package.”

Queen made 85 tackles last season at LSU, his only season as a starter. The Ravens loved his ability to play sideline-to-sideline; his coverage ability dictates keeping him on the field for all three downs. 

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The Ravens have L.J. Fort, Otaro Alaka, Chris Board and Jake Ryan as some veteran help on the inside as well, but they’ve got another talented rookie in Malik Harrison. 

At Ohio State, Harrison registered 75 tackles in 2019 and had 16.5 tackles for loss. Even at 6-foot-3, 247 pounds, Harrison is still an athletic linebacker who can provide big hits and run defense, and perhaps even his underrated coverage skills.

“Malik ... we’ll probably start him off at WILL [linebacker] in the base package, but he’ll probably be repping in the base package at MIKE,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll flip those guys around. We move those guys back and forth.”

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