Game tape and statistics are part of the talent evaluation process, but watching a player practice and participate in drills can reveal even more about him as a competitor—and that’s what the combine gives scouts and executives.
You get to see every prospect run the same drill and compare players without the confounding factors of surrounding talent or scheme. With plenty of needs and a very deep draft class, the combine will be a critical step in the Ravens’ perfect offseason.
Part of the reason for Baltimore’s draft success is that they go into the process with an open mind and malleable opinions.
Preconceived player rankings don’t factor into the Ravens way, so you can be sure that anybody that stands out will be discussed by general manager Ozzie Newsome and the rest of his front office.
That said, there are some intriguing talents that the scouting staff will be watching closely. This slideshow will highlight some of the early-round prospects that will catch Baltimore’s eye as well as what the evaluators will want to see from each future NFL player.
Note: All prospect heights and weights are courtesy of NFL.com.
At every level, Zack Martin has been the best.
He was elite at Notre Dame, earning the school’s offensive lineman of the year four times—nobody else has ever won the award more than twice. When he faced some of the college game’s best linemen (like Trent Murphy, the nation’s sack leader), he came out on top—even from their perspective:
Martin went to the Senior Bowl and wowed everybody, according to every report:
Draft analyst Scott Wright: Zack Martin is arguably the best player in attendance & could be the 1st Sr. Bowl participant selected in draft.— Eric Hansen (@hansenNDInsider) January 21, 2014
Despite all of that success, he’s not viewed as a can’t-miss first-round draft pick—almost entirely due to his size. Mike Hugenin of NFL.com summed up the issue nicely:
Martin measured 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds during Monday's Senior Bowl weigh-in, and his lack of size and less-than-ideal arm length (32.25 inches) will be issues for some teams, Mayock said. There also is some concern about Martin's position at the next level.
Martin started 52 consecutive games for Notre Dame at tackle, with all but two coming on the left side.
Still, his size has led some teams to question whether he can handle the left side in the NFL, and there is some talk he would be better on the right side or even at guard.
There are many scouts (like B/R’s Matt Miller in the above video) who feel that Martin will have to kick inside to guard at the next level because he won’t be able to deal with the NFL’s best, quickest and strongest edge-rushers.
If Martin can continue to play tackle at the high level we’ve seen so far, he would be worth the Ravens' first-round pick and would have the versatility to play at least four positions on the offensive line extremely well.
At the combine, the Ravens will find out if Martin’s physical deficiencies are a legitimate concern or whether he has the foot speed and lateral quickness to smother pass-rushers and bookend an O-line.
The result might dictate where Baltimore goes with its first-round pick.
Along with offensive tackle, wide receiver is the Ravens’ biggest position of need.
Fortunately, this draft class is very deep at both positions, but there are probably going to be two receivers worth Baltimore’s pick in the middle of the round: Marqise Lee and the guy on the next slide.
Both come with their own sets of question marks despite posting some eye-popping numbers over their college careers.
The problem for Lee is that those monstrous numbers (118 receptions for 1,721 yards and 14 TDs) came in his sophomore season—alongside 2013 second-round pick Robert Woods—and dropped off rather noticeably last year (57 receptions for 791 yards and four TDs).
What Baltimore needs to figure out is the root cause of that decline—and whether it will be a lingering issue in the NFL.
One of the primary obstacles he faced last year was injury.
He showed the toughness to fight through that injury, but NFL teams will need to determine whether he’s fully recovered and whether there’s a risk that he becomes an injury-prone NFL receiver given his smaller build (5’11” and 195 pounds).
Lee also displays a lack of focus at times, which results in unprovoked drops—not a coveted characteristic for a wide receiver.
Baltimore will get a good read on both of those red flags at the combine, while witnessing Lee’s raw athleticism and speed.
Mike Evans is the other wide receiver the Ravens are likely considering with their 16th/17th pick (to be decided by a coin flip at the combine with the Dallas Cowboys). His issues are quite different than Lee's.
For starters, there are absolutely no concerns about his size or how he’ll hold up in the NFL. If anything, the concern lies with the defensive backs he bullies using his imposing 6’5”, 225-pound frame.
No, the worry about Evans is that he will only be able to fall back on his ability to box out defenders if he’s not quick enough (and doesn’t run routes well enough) to gain separation from NFL cornerbacks.
Additionally, there’s his lack of refined route-running and the rather limited route tree he ran at Texas A&M.
With the amount of routes he’ll be following in the combine drills, the Ravens will learn whether Evans has the footwork and short-area quickness to develop into a superstar wide receiver or whether his ceiling is as a box-out receiver.
Morgan Moses was an afterthought in a talented class of tackles, but an impressive 2013 season and scintillating practices at the Senior Bowl have lifted his stock dramatically:
One thing I heard a lot this week: Morgan Moses is gonna go late 1st in May.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 25, 2014
Moses definitely has the size to play tackle in the NFL, standing tall and heavy at 6’6” and 325 pounds. Despite that enormous body, Moses has the quick feet to mirror speed-rushers and has the prototypical arms to engulf NFL defenders:
Morgan Moses has the longest arms at the Senior Bowl with 34 3/4 inch arms. At 6'6 and that length, that bodes well for him.— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) January 20, 2014
The considerable Morgan buzz has been building for quite some time now, and it’s unlikely that the Ravens will be able to draft him in the second round.
As a result, the front office will have to pull the trigger in the first round (either at the original slot or by trading back) if it wants him on the roster.
It’s fairly safe to assume that Morgan has what it takes to play right tackle, but given the uncertain future of left tackle Eugene Monroe and the value of a first-round pick, the Ravens would like Moses to be capable of playing left tackle fairly soon if they select him so early.
The combine drills will reveal how far along Moses is in terms of technique—which should give the coaches an idea of whether he has what it takes to protect the blind side.
Allen Robinson is a difficult receiver prospect to get a read on.
On the one hand, he does everything pretty well. He has good size (6’3” and 210 pounds) and adequate speed, but he doesn’t impress athletically.
His best trait is his route-running and great hands, where Robinson is definitely right there at the top of the class:
Allen Robinson's overall catch pct is awful, but take out Hackenberg's wild throws and you see his true potential pic.twitter.com/XWxcchs70I— Ryan McCrystal (@Ryan_McCrystal) January 25, 2014
But does he have the athleticism to warrant a first-round pick?
That’s what the Ravens want to know. Right now, Robinson is one of the most pro-ready prospects at the position, but the former Nittany Lion needs to show off some impressive speed and athletic ability to convince teams that his long-term potential compares to that of Mike Evans and Marqise Lee.
The Tennessee tackle that normally gets the most attention is Antonio “Tiny” Richardson, but he may not even be the best pro prospect on his own team.
Ja’Wuan James has surprised scouts as they watch Tennessee film, including former Ravens scout and current NFL.com writer Daniel Jeremiah:
Studying the Tennessee OL…Ja'Wuan James has been a nice surprise. Does a nice job using his length in pass pro.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) February 7, 2014
James has good size at 6’6” and 314 pounds and uses his length and balance to excel in pass protection on the edge. He’s an underrated prospect with the ability to be a bargain pick for the Ravens in the second or third round.
Before that happens, however, Baltimore needs to see some improved footwork and athleticism which can help him get outside and to the second level—as he’ll need to do in Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking system.
In his end-of-the-year press conference, GM Ozzie Newsome singled out free safety as a position where an upgrade was necessary.
Matt Elam showed how effective he can be when he’s playing in the box, near the line of scrimmage. But drop him back as a single high safety and you’re asking for trouble.
That’s why Newsome wants a rangy, athletic safety with the ball skills and instincts to force turnovers—in other words, Newsome is looking for the true heir to Ed Reed.
With more pressing needs, Newsome can’t afford to spend a first-round pick on a safety like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor, but the value might be too good to pass up if Jimmie Ward is on the board in Round 2 or 3.
Ward opened some eyes at the Senior Bowl, disproving the notion that his excellent play was a product of weak competition in the Mid American Conference. His lack of size is somewhat of a concern, but he more than makes up for it:
Big fan of Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward. Lacks ideal size but he's very instinctive and he has the fluidity to cover the slot.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 21, 2014
According to Senior Bowl Director Phil Savage (another former Ravens scout), Ward’s play was earning him the “sleeper” label:
Unfortunately for Baltimore, it seems that the cat is out of the bag. Ward has skyrocketed up draft boards, from the region of a fifth- or sixth-round pick all the way up to being one of the best safety prospects in the draft.
The Ravens may not want to spend another early draft pick on a safety, but if his combine performance reaffirms how scouts view his coverage abilities, Newsome may have to pull the trigger and solidify the back line of his defense for years to come.
Eric Ebron is the unquestioned No. 1 tight end in the class—just ask him:
Eric Ebron not backing off comment that his size/speed mix should be illegal: http://t.co/vcomt8LNuJ— CollegeFootball 24/7 (@NFL_CFB) February 13, 2014
With freakish athleticism and soft hands, Ebron is considered the next big thing in the new breed of tight end/wide receiver hybrids (like Jimmy Graham).
Someone is going to take him early in the first round, but will it be the Ravens? With no starting-caliber tight ends on the roster right now, it’s definitely a fit.
Especially if the report by Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun is true, and the Ravens and Dennis Pitta really are “far apart” in their contract negotiations.
Ebron has the talent to replace Pitta as a focal point in Gary Kubiak’s offense, but the Ravens will have to use their first-round pick to land him.
The combine will be Baltimore’s chance to get up close and personal with the former Tar Heel and determine how special a tight end prospect he is.
According to College Football 24/7, Ebron lost some speed as the result of extra bulk:
Eric Ebron, considered top TE in 2014 draft, reportedly put on significant weight, lost speed: http://t.co/rotJoEakMo— CollegeFootball 24/7 (@NFL_CFB) February 9, 2014
If he can show that he still has elite athleticism to go with his natural receiving skills, the upside may be too high to pass on a weapon like Ebron. At the end of the day, however, that determination will be based on his combine performance.