The longtime right-hand man of the great Ozzie Newsome enjoyed quite a rememberable first season. A successful 14-2, AFC North Championship season gave quite an idea of how Eric DeCosta values different positions. Last year showed how he plans to pursue building what could be a championship-contending roster. The next couple of years will be key. With MVP Lamar Jackson on his rookie deal, DeCosta has to strike while the iron is hot.
DeCosta’s first draft gave us an insight into his guidelines for future Ravens. His mid-season moves painted a picture of his personal positional value. His offseason transactions helped support the story. Let’s take a closer look at what to expect from DeCosta in his second draft.
The 2019 Draft
The Ravens selected eight players in DeCosta’s first draft. The Ravens have always been vocal about having a plethora of picks. That was always the case under Newsome. The DeCosta regime has echoed those words. DeCosta has stated the value and want of compensatory picks. With their draft history, it makes complete sense to have plenty of ammunition.
The Ravens consistently draft and develop talent and let them play out their rookie deals. Then, allow other teams to highly pay for their players in free agency. Thus, acquiring higher round compensatory picks. Similar to his predecessor, DeCosta states “Right player, right price.” DeCosta allowed top free agents C.J. Mosley and Za’Darius Smith to walk to greener pastures and received an extra 3rd and 4th round pick in return. Instead of overpaying for talented players, DeCosta is in pursuit of cheap rookie deals. Finding the right players at the right price.
In the 2019 draft, the lack of a second-round pick haunted DeCosta. The pick was traded to Philadelphia in the 2018 draft to trade back into the first round for future NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. DeCosta was very vocal about his disappointment in not having that second-round pick in his post-draft press conference. He even stated that it would take a mind-blowing offer for him to trade his second-round pick in the future.
Seeing how DeCosta attacked his first draft gave an indication in what he’s looking for in the draft. Let’s dive in.
With their first selection, Baltimore chose the speedy Oklahoma receiver Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown (4.32 40yd dash). Brown was the first receiver off the board, over the likes of A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, among others. DeCosta made it known that he was looking to build a track team of an offense around Lamar Jackson. The trend continued.
The other offensive picks of the 2019 Draft included the 3rd round selection of Notre Dame wide receiver Miles Boykin (4.42 40yd dash time). The 4th round selection of Oklahoma State back Justice Hill (4.40 40yd dash). Another 4th round selection of Oklahoma guard Ben Powers. And finally, 6th round selection Trace McSorley, the quarterback from Penn State.
Obviously, looking into the 40 yard dash times alone shows that DeCosta is valuing speed at the skill positions. Following a similar fashion to what the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs have done. The pick of McSorley was given the chance to battle Robert Griffin for that backup quarterback role. With McSorley, RG3, and Jackson on the roster, it appears Baltimore and DeCosta have bought into the mobile quarterback friendly ‘college-style’ offense.
Using that data from the first draft, it could be possible to see how the Ravens’ board stacks up. DeCosta could target receivers such as Jalen Reagor (TCU), Denzel Mims (Baylor), Brandon Aiyuk (Arizona State), and Devin Duvernay (Texas), among others. Thus, getting as many athletic receivers as possible. Running backs Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin), Darryton Evans (Appalachian State), and RB/WR Antonio Gibson (Memphis) are possible running back targets. However, running back type is still up in the air due to the Ravens having Mark Ingram and big bruiser Gus Edwards currently on the roster. With Ingram on the wrong side of 30 and Edwards not currently signed past the 2020 season, Baltimore will likely find another back to add to its’ stable
On the defensive side of the ball, Baltimore chose the highly productive edge rusher from Louisiana Tech, Jaylon Ferguson. The edge rusher fits what the Ravens have always looked for in their draft history. Pass rushers with a history of production. Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon are well-known examples. Newsome had always been vocal that he believes college production is a big factor in pass rush candidates. Look for Alex Highsmith (Charlotte, 14 sacks), Curtis Weaver (Boise State, 13.5 sacks), and Bradlee Anae (Utah, 13 sacks) among potential edge prospects Baltimore will consider.
Let’s not forget that Baltimore will not shy away from small school prospects. Baltimore has actually had a lot of success with small school prospects. Judon and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Brandon Williams were both non-D1 schools (Grand Valley State and Southeast Missouri State). New Vikings’ defensive tackle Michael Pierce (although he was a UDFA) was a Samford alum. Longtime quarterback Joe Flacco and tight end Nick Boyle both hail from Delaware. All prove as evidence that Baltimore will turn all stones in their effort to find the best players.
The final two selections were Texas A&M defensive tackle Daylon Mack and Southern California cornerback Iman Marshall. Both of these selections were former five-star recruits (per 247Football) when being recruited out of their respective high schools. While this may have been a coincidence, DeCosta and the Ravens are big into analytics and may use former recruiting data to find potential draft gems. Levonta Taylor, a former top recruit at Florida State, could be the type of prospect Baltimore will take a late-round chance on. Benito Jones (Ole Miss) is another former 5-star recruit who could be a late-round target.
Summing up the 2019 NFL Draft, we can see that GM Eric DeCosta is putting a high premium on uber-athletic players for both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Offensively, he appears to want a physically punishing offensive line to pair with the speed to make defenses choose between getting bludgeoned on the ground or blown past in the air. Defensively, he is sticking to his Ravens’ roots of keeping positional guidelines (such as college production for his pass rushers) as he develops the athleticism.
2019 Mid-Season Roster Moves
The big mid-season move DeCosta made was trading a 5th round pick and non-factor linebacker Kenny Young for the All-Pro cornerback, Marcus Peters. Acquiring Peters gave Baltimore a secondary consisting of two current All-Pro cornerbacks in Peters and Marlon Humphrey and former All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas. Add highly paid slot cornerback Tavon Young, who unfortunately missed last season with a neck injury. Recently re-signed box safety Chuck Clark (who replaced Tony Jefferson following Jefferson’s season-ending injury), former first-rounder Jimmy Smith, the oft-injured corner who shows the high performance when healthy, and mid-round draft picks of Anthony Averett, DeShon Elliott, and Iman Marshall, and team captain, special team ace Anthony Levine round out the rest of the secondary.
Before the season even ended, DeCosta resigned Peters, giving him a 3 year, $42 million ($32 million guaranteed) and has already started working on a Marlon Humphrey extension for the future. DeCosta obviously placed a lot of resources in the secondary, telling the rest of the league how valuable he holds those positions. This also fits the analytical approach of pass coverage being greater than the pass rush.
Other roster moves made during the 2019 season were the signings of linebackers Josh Bynes, L.J. Fort, and the defensive line switchblade player of Jihad Ward. All three players played a large role in the Ravens’ defensive turnaround late in the season and played more than 50% of the snaps down the home stretch. Ward and Fort were brought back on 1-year deals. Both players figure to play a large role this season.
DeCosta let starting linebacker Patrick ‘Peanut’ Onwuasor (now with the Jets) and key rotational piece Bynes walk in free agency. Fort cannot be expected to shoulder the load. After the signing of Jake Ryan, many pundits have pointed to the Ravens targeting linebacker high in the draft. While the Ravens have a very rich history of linebackers (Ray Lewis and C.J. Mosley holding down the middle for nearly all of the Ravens’ existence), DeCosta may place a much lower value on this position with the evolution of the passing game in the league.
Baltimore defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale operated out of sub-packages a large majority of the time in the 2019 season. People may point the Ravens lack of linebacker play for the reason. Although, it can be said that the Ravens are looking more at rotational ‘chess piece’ defensive players more than a dominant linebacker. DeCosta did state that top linebacker prospects Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma) and Patrick Queen (LSU) as ‘top 40 players.’ While it may have been a smokescreen, it could show that DeCosta has devalued the linebacker position.
What to Expect in the 2020 Draft
History shows the Ravens are big fans of having multiple draft picks. I would expect to see the Ravens to stay put at 28 or trade back to acquire even more picks. In past drafts, the Ravens love to trade back if the board is not to their liking. Baltimore will tier their big board. Once a tier has disappeared, the Ravens will be on the move. Don’t expect the team to focus solely on positional need as well. DeCosta has mentioned that they are always looking ahead as they inspect the draft board.
Popular picks in mock drafts have been linebackers or receivers. In the same press conference, DeCosta stated that he believes receivers in the fourth and fifth rounds can come in and contribute right away. In my opinion, DeCosta will look to bolster the offensive and defensive lines earlier than those two positions.
The retirement of future hall of fame guard Marshall Yanda and the major injury to starting center Matt Skura leave Baltimore in a hazy spot on their offensive line. Second-year player Ben Powers will be given the chance to earn the right guard spot. However, I foresee Baltimore bringing in more competition. Head Coach John Harbaugh loves competition across the roster. The offensive line will be very important for the team who broke the NFL single-season rushing record. On the flip side, Baltimore has shown they will invest high picks in the tackle spot. Then, develop the interior of the line through mid and late-round picks, or even UDFA’s.
The trade of Calais Campbell and the Derek Wolfe signing will play a roll on the defensive line this season. The defensive line is still a major area of need following the 2020-2021 campaign. Campbell, Wolfe, and Williams are all in their 30’s. Also, Baltimore currently has just Daylon Mack and Campbell on contract past the season. It’s been rumored that Baltimore spent a lot of time in virtual meetings with top defensive linemen; Ross Blacklock (TCU), Neville Gallimore (Oklahoma), Raekwon Davis (Alabama), and Justin Madubuike (Texas A&M). Expect a defensive lineman high in the draft.
With Earl Thomas and Jimmy Smith in their 30’s, and Tavon Young’s uncertainty with injury, Baltimore will likely aim for a defensive back or two. Especially with DeCosta’s high priority in the secondary. If one of Grant Delpit (LSU), Xavier McKinney (Alabama) falls in the draft, I can see Baltimore pulling the trigger. Jeremy Chinn (Southern Illinois) and Kyle Dugger (Lenoir-Rhyne) can be potential day two candidates as well. Delpit could be their top safety target when considering the age of their current free safety.
As always, Baltimore will prioritize prospects with high character, team captains, and big motors. These factors will dictate how they stack their draft board. Prospects with major troubled pasts will be avoided. Ever since the Ray Rice incident, Baltimore has quickly cut and avoided players with a domestic violence issue.
The famous Raven quote “Play like a Raven” will ring true. My sleeper selection is Wisconsin linebacker Chris Orr in the late rounds. Zach Orr, a former Raven, is Chris’s brother. Zach Orr still works with the team as a coaching analyst. Orr showed the versatility that DeCosta and Martindale will enjoy. After starting as a true freshman, Orr racked up 11.5 sacks as Wisconsin’s play-caller in the middle. Martindale, who loves to blitz and dictate the offense, will surely be intrigued by the blitzing skill and the communication background. Early in the season, communication was a defensive issue and led to the green dot being rotated around.
Solomon Kindley (Georgia) is another prospect I can see Baltimore taking in the mid-rounds. Kindley seems to be the type of project the Ravens love on their offensive line as well. He does not have to play early in his career. He can focus on dropping weight. refining his technique, and climbing to the second level. If he can fix those three areas of his game, Kindley could be a very solid right guard.
With the uncertainty swirling around, the 2020 NFL Draft appears to be filled with surprises. DeCosta faces a pivotal draft as it could pay dividends in their pursuit of the franchise’s third Lombardi trophy. However, it is even more important with Lamar Jackson under his rookie contract. This roster is still in need of more impact players.
For two decades, Raven fans everywhere chanted “In Ozzie, we trust.” It is time to place that belief in Eric DeCosta.
“In DeCosta, We Trust.”