With just under two weeks until the NFL Scouting Combine, front offices across the league are beginning to assemble their draft boards of the over 1000 eligible prospects. The Baltimore Ravens will head to the combine looking for very specific needs at an array of positions.
General Manager Ozzie Newsome stated after the season that the Ravens will be targeting three positions this offseason: A reliable wide receiver who can make plays on third down, an athletic and rangy free safety and additional girth on the offensive line, especially up the middle.
Whether the Ravens will fill these needs in free agency or the draft is unclear, but if history tells us anything, Newsome and company will be looking to draft players who can contribute right away. Last season, the Ravens drafted S Matt Elam in the first round and Elam went on to start 15 games for the Ravens.
Let’s take a look at six prospects that can come in and contribute from day one for the Ravens. While generally late round prospects are figured to be more developmental, with the depth of this draft class, starters will be found on day two and day three of this year’s draft.
The criteria for this list is derived from detailed research and film study of all prospects and are assembled alphabetically.
Ravens fans should get to know this name before the NFL Draft in May. Campanaro is a local product from the Baltimore area who plays with a giant chip on his shoulder. At 5’9” 190 pounds, Campanaro is a tough, gritty receiver who is not afraid to go over the middle to make key plays and pick up yards after the catch.
With a very similar build to Broncos receiver Wes Welker, Campanaro emulates Welker in many ways, especially with his toughness and route running. He is a smart receiver and very underrated as an athlete. The Wake Forest graduate broke almost all the school’s receiving records and should be available in the late fourth or early fifth round.
Campanaro has already met with the Ravens at the Senior Bowl and will look to improve his draft stock at the Combine later this month. Campanaro has the ability to come in and play right away for the Ravens, who are one of the most wide receiver needy teams in the league. Don’t be surprised to see the local product get drafted close to home and make impact plays from the first snap.
Nobody’s stock has risen more this season than former Aggie Mike Evans. Evans is a big bodied wideout who won’t impress with his speed, but is built to make plays over the middle with strong hands and leaping ability. Evans reminds scouts of 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin because he can high point the ball and will win almost every 50/50 ball.
Quarterback Joe Flacco has a tendency to create jump ball situations when he is pressured, and in years past, would throw the ball in Boldin’s direction knowing Boldin had a good chance to come down with the ball. Evans is bigger and more athletic than Boldin and can bail Flacco out of these situations.
There is no doubt that Evans will be a contributor from day one in the NFL. The only problem that the Ravens might face with Evans is that, with his soaring stock, he might be gone when the Ravens pick in the middle of the first round.
Evans would be an extraordinary complement to WR Torrey Smith and together, could wreak havoc under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Kubiak is a graduate from Texas A&M and will make a big push on draft day to select Evans, however way possible.
Lewan measures as one of the biggest offensive tackles in this year’s draft, and throughout his career at Michigan, proved that he has a very bright NFL career. Listed at 6’7” 315 pounds, Lewan plays with a nastiness that is required in the NFL trenches and is able to maneuver his body extremely effectively to deal with all types of pass rushers.
The Ravens draft scenarios are endless, but the one key component to their first round selection is based on current left tackle Eugene Monroe. The front office must meet the needs of Monroe and sign him to a long-term contract. The Ravens traded a fourth and fifth round pick for Monroe during the season and it would be considered a huge disappointment if they are unable to retain him.
If the Ravens are unable to re-sign Monroe, drafting an elite left tackle will be the Ravens’ number one priority. Lewan has the experience and maturity to be an NFL starter and would make the loss of Monroe much less severe.
The Ravens could still end up selecting Lewan to sure up the right side of the line with the expected loss of current RT Michael Oher. Lewan is likely to be drafted in the middle of the first round and will compete for a starting spot on whichever team he ends up on.
A cousin of NFL great Jerry Rice, Matthews is exactly what the Ravens are looking for in a wide receiver in this draft and could provide excellent value in the second round. Like Evans, the biggest knock on Matthews is his speed, but he makes up for that with his intellect and savvy route running. Matthews had a very storied career at Vanderbilt, finishing as the SEC’s all-time leader in catches and receiving yards.
At the Senior Bowl, Matthews impressed with his ability to get off the line of scrimmage and position himself to give quarterbacks a big target. At 6’3” 205 pounds, the former Commodore is a playmaker and has a knack for getting open over the middle to make the difficult catches.
With a record-setting number of underclassmen entering the 2014 draft (98), Matthews has first-round talent, but he could fall into the second round with so many receivers available.
Matthews has an incredibly high football IQ, and will impress teams during individual meetings at the Combine. Matthews has the experience and as the highest rated senior on Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller’s Big Board, is NFL ready now. Playing in the SEC, Matthews has faced the best and thrived. At the Senior Bowl, he made headlines asking Senior Bowl Director Phil Savage for game tape on all Senior Bowl cornerbacks.
Expect the Ravens to give Matthews an intensive look at the combine and attend his pro day at Vanderbilt. He is one of the most NFL-ready receivers this year and the Ravens could benefit if he slips into the second round.
If the Ravens are unable to nab a free safety in free agency, they will be forced to use a mid-round pick to fill the starting role. Ed Reynolds from Stanford makes a lot of sense for the Ravens due to his athleticism, ball-hawking ability and intellect.
Last season, rookie Matt Elam was forced into the free safety position where he was exposed at times. However, Elam is a hard-hitting strong safety and shined when he played closer to the line of scrimmage. The combination of Elam and Reynolds would give the Ravens a great mix of speed, talent and hitting power at the back end of the defense.
While Reynolds may not be as NFL ready as other safeties in this draft class, his ability to learn defenses will be a huge plus for his draft stock. Watching him this past season, Reynolds plays a very similar style to Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu. He has the ability to make game-changing plays and has above average closing speed.
Reynolds plans to graduate from Stanford with a degree in Political Science and could be a tremendous value pick for the Ravens while also filling a huge need.
Drafting Thomas would be considered a luxury for the Ravens this year. His position in the NFL is unclear for he is undersized at 5’9” 170 pounds. That being said, Thomas could be the most explosive player in this year’s draft class and could be a huge weapon for the Ravens’ offense in 2014.
What makes Thomas an exciting prospect for the Ravens is the impending free agency of WR Jacoby Jones. If Jones does not re-sign with Baltimore, the Ravens will be looking to fill the void of kick and punt returner. Thomas thrives in the open field and could be used similarly to how the 49ers use RB LaMichael James.
With Gary Kubiak bringing his zone-blocking scheme to Baltimore, Thomas will also have the ability to show off his speed in the backfield and could be a great change-of-pace back to Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce.
It is hard to gauge Thomas’ draft stock because, like Denard Robinson a year ago, it only takes one team to fall in love with Thomas’ speed. If Thomas is available late in the fourth round, look for the Ravens to use one of their compensatory picks on him.
While Thomas might not be considered a starter, he could be one of the most impactful rookies if he gets a chance to play, especially on special teams.