Target Lock: Should the Baltimore Ravens Pursue Any of These Top Draft Picks?
I apologize to all of you for not writing more recently. However, I know you will all understand when I explain that it took me an inordinately long time to really even speak about football after the Steelers lost it all, much less invest the time to write about the Ravens following the season. Obviously, the news today about the NFLPA's decision to de-certify is very disappointing and count me among those who believe we won't have a full season in 2011. Even so, we can hope—and right now, the only thing that can be done is to get ready for the draft.
I admit it—I really do not care about which players get picked in the fifth round. I (over)scrutinize the guys at the top of draft boards because that generates more buzz. And to be honest, after you get to the third round or so, it is just difficult to project when certain players will go. One team might have linebacker X rated halfway through the third, while another team has that same guy rated early in the fifth. I haven't been making mock drafts for more than about three or maybe four years, tops, but even my best year, I only had precise "hits" on nine players in the first round. And my second round in that same draft? A whopping two guys exactly correct.
I'll almost certainly be mocking as we get closer to the draft, but I thought I'd shake things up and discuss a few top-tier prospects who the Ravens might decide to target. You know, guys who won't be there unless the Ravens move up to get them. The hype monsters.
As any good Ravens fan knows, it'd be really out of Ozzie Newsome's character to move way up in the draft for any player. In recent years, though, with Baltimore's window to win the second Lombardi Trophy in franchise history closing, Newsome has been more active in the trade market, perhaps the flashiest move being last year's acquisition of Anquan Boldin from the Arizona Cardinals.
I would not expect a similar move in the draft, and if I have learned anything from being a Ravens fan over the years, it is to trust Ozzie's drafting strategy and his draft board. But still...it's the middle of March, and right now, I get to play GM, so...here are five guys I would look at.
Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
He's the top 3-4 rushing linebacker in the class, and if there is a position where the Ravens need to improve defensively, this might be it. You can never have too many good pass rushers in the NFL, so even though the Ravens have a solid blind side guy in Terrell Suggs, new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano wouldn't be forced to scheme nearly as much to get free rushers. Yes, coaching helps, but ultimately, when you're playing a team like Pittsburgh twice a year, you have to get to Ben Roethlisberger by winning one-on-one matchups.
Miller is the high-profile guy. Respected NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock says that Miller reminds him a little bit of DeMarcus Ware, though he's a little bit smaller and therefore not quite as powerful. Even so, Miller wouldn't be brought in as the featured rusher—that's Suggs—but rather as the second rusher. There would be a little bit less of a learning curve going against right tackles than against left tackles.
Still, it's important to remember that the Ravens invested their top draft pick last year into Texas hybrid rusher Sergio Kindle. Kindle fell down a flight of stairs before last season and missed his entire rookie season with a fractured skull—AND it's possible he may also be out for the 2011 season (assuming we have one...but I digress), as a fractured skull is really not something to mess around with.
I liked the Kindle pick at the time, and I still like the pick, even though we haven't seen Kindle actually play. But the question is: Can the Ravens really afford to roll the dice on waiting for him? Will he be able to play at all during the season?
Those questions could be eased quite a bit if the Ravens traded up for Von Miller. Still, I'd put the likelihood of this happening at LOW, simply because Miller isn't the only pass rusher in this class, and again, it isn't usually Ozzie's style to trade up.
Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
With how highly I seemed to be shooting with Von Miller, I'll bet it is a surprise to some people that I have Julio Jones here rather than Georgia wideout A.J. Green. My reasoning is very simple: I just don't see a lot of difference between the two, and why spend the extra draft capital when you can pick up a guy like Jones, who by the way ran a sub-4.4 40 yard dash time at the NFL combine (faster than expected) ON A BROKEN FOOT?
Such great combine numbers can only have helped Jones's draft stock, and with him shooting up draft boards, he seems like the hot prospect at the moment. His decision to recover from his injury is, I believe, the correct one—no need for him to jeopardize his health when he can stand on a solid combine performance.
Green is the more polished receiver—he doesn't drop as many passes as Jones and doesn't disappear for long stretches. But Jones might have a slightly higher ceiling, as he's a classic height-weight-speed guy. People who are 6'2" and 220 just can't run like Jones, which will be hard for a lot of teams to pass up, possibly including the Ravens.
A Jones trade would surprise me—but it's more likely than one to go get Von Miller because the Ravens only have two wideouts (Anquan Boldin and David Reed) under contract for the upcoming season. With free agency suspended for the forseeable future, the Ravens would like to take the best player on their board—but if it happens to, say, fill a need, so much the better.
Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
Another example of a guy who I think the Ravens could use as an edge rusher, Smith has a lot less polish than some of the other guys he's competing against for draft position but has scouts salivating over his potential.
A HUGE upside pick and one of the most talented players in this year's class. However, he's only a redshirt sophomore and is definitely something of a project, similar to Jason Pierre-Paul last year in that regard. He can probably add some weight to his frame in order to stand up to big NFL right tackles in the run game.
But again—something of a project. Not the guy the Ravens should look at if they are trying to improve RIGHT NOW.
The likelihood of the Ravens getting Smith is somewhat higher than for the previous two players—for starters, there is a slight possibility he may fall all the way to Baltimore just because the DE/pass rusher group is so deep. Still, I don't think that's likely, and I'd be pretty excited if we snagged this guy on draft day.
Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Now we get to my two most interesting picks. Count me among the people who believe the Ravens have something of a need in the defensive backfield—and I'd of course be delighted to see a player like Nnamdi Asomugha ink with the Ravens. Still, now that no extension of the CBA has been reached, it is looking more and more like the NFL draft will be taking place before free agency.
That means the Ravens cannot afford to wait until free agency to see if they get Asomugha; they must at the very least consider addressing their needs in the draft. The Ravens will benefit from the return of Domonique Foxworth, though he may not be 100 percent after suffering a season-ending injury before last year even began, and Chris Carr was solid, if unspectacular. Fabian Washington's contract is up, and Lardarius Webb does not appear to be one of those guys who can develop into a top-flight corner.
Still, the Ravens are looking up at Pittsburgh and a big reason why has to do with the development of Pittsburgh's young receivers as last season progressed. The Steelers can really go 3 or 4 receivers deep, and you can never have too many good cover guys.
Amukamara is a big man for a corner, measuring in at 6'1 and 205 but running a very respectable 4.43. He doesn't possess the raw speed of a guy like Mike Wallace, but he has more scheme diverse than most corners coming out, as he is big enough to play safety. Oh, and he can hit people, too—never a bad attribute for a defensive player.
Amukamara seems to be a little bit quicker than he is fast, and he has good ball skills in the air. He is an extremely physical corner who works best in man-to-man coverage, though he is not bad working the zone and can accelerate quickly to reach his top speed if he gets beaten off the line.
The Ravens could certainly use a guy like Amukamara, but if they are going to move up and get one, I'd expect it to be...
Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Why do I expect the Ravens to target Peterson more than Amukamara? A few reasons.
First, I know multiple respected draft analysts that have Peterson as the top player on the board. I know that the Ravens do their own thing, but I think it's unlikely that ALL of those people are "wrong" according to Ozzie and that the Ravens will have Peterson as, say, their No. 12 guy. Amukamara, on the other hand, might actually be listed around No. 12 or No. 15. I seriously doubt that the "Fresh Prince" will actually be AHEAD of Peterson on Baltimore's draft board.
Peterson is a natural when playing in space, and though he is probably weaker in run support than his Nebraska counterpart, he has generally done well playing against top competition. He also doesn't have any character concerns to speak of, a nice bonus, but maybe an even nicer one is his status as one of the best return men available in the draft.
The Ravens need both a good cornerback AND another good return man. The Ravens could probably afford to put Peterson back there from day one if they so chose because they do have some depth at cornerback even if their top pick were to go down.
Secondly, there seems to be something of a bias against taking cornerbacks with the first few picks. Shawn Springs is the only cornerback ever to be taken at No. 3 or higher when Seattle picked him in 1997. And while several corners have gone in the top 10, some teams would prefer to pick up a player with good "positional value," for instance, a quarterback or to a much lesser extent a defensive lineman.
Now, people were saying this about why Eric Berry could not go in the top five last year and then Kansas City picked him at No. 5. But, it is worth considering that Peterson may last longer than he should if you were to pick players solely based on where they are on the draft board due to their talent and skill. Peterson plays the "wrong position" to go very early, particularly when positions with high "positional value" (the defensive line, specifically) are very deep this year.
There is one more reason for the Ravens to go and get Peterson: to get a top-tier cornerback, you need to give up a lot of something. In the case of a guy like Nnamdi Asomugha, it's going to be the dough, but even if you're ready to shell it out, there is no guarantee he will sign with you.
If the Ravens are planning to add a big-name corner, Peterson might make a little bit more sense because he'll probably come somewhat cheaper than Asomugha financially.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it, and I welcome comments!