Thursday night became a whirlwind for fans of the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens nailed their first two picks of the draft, selecting Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton with the 14th overall pick, then spending the 25th choice on the top center in the draft, Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum. The latter of the two selections came via a trade that shipped receiver Marquise Brown and a third-round selection to Arizona.
That deal sent Ravens fans into an internet tizzy fueled further by Lamar Jackson’s stunned tweet:
Baltimore then finished its draft without selecting a replacement for Brown, leading many of the club’s fans to wring their hands over the current state of the position. Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta attempted to explain the outcome following the draft.
“It wasn’t for a lack of effort,” DeCosta said, via USA Today’s Ravens Wire site. “I think, honestly, the fact that there was a run of receivers in the first round like there was … I wouldn’t say it was a great receiver class in general, compared to some of the years. There were very good players at the top.
“So, for us, it was a good draft, and there were really good players at other positions. There were some receivers that we liked; we tried to take a couple guys at different points. But, again, one of the (phenomena) that we’ve seen is that those receivers get picked really, really early now. Similar to corner, they just fly off the board — in some cases, maybe a round to a round and a half earlier than you’d expect. I said this last year, but we like our receivers, we do. We’ve seen growth, we’ve seen our guys mature and develop.”
Baltimore is one of the franchises that staunchly refuses to deviate from its board and spends its draft capital wisely. Since Ozzie Newsome took a role in Baltimore’s front office in 1996 and eventually became GM in 2002, the Ravens have consistently drafted well while also addressing their biggest needs. Unsurprisingly, when the dust settled Saturday, Baltimore emerged with another excellent class filled with high-value picks that should reinforce a number of positions — just not receiver.
It has become an annual tradition for fans of clubs that don’t feature bona fide star receivers to wish for an injection of pass-catching talent via the draft. We can point to Green Bay as an example of this, but the Packers’ faithful is far from alone in this regard.
Baltimore joined that group over the weekend.
There’s a fair counterpoint to be made here, though. The Ravens spent a first-round pick on Rashod Bateman last season, rode the hype wave through offseason workouts, then saw Bateman suffer an injury in training camp and end up catching 46 passes for 515 yards and one touchdown.
Why spend another first-round selection on a receiver in a class that was strong at the top, but as DeCosta intimated, may have been overvalued as a whole?
Baltimore has used draft capital on receivers in recent years, selecting the likes of Bateman, Devin Duvernay and James Proche. All three remain on the Ravens’ roster. Baltimore also struck out on another first-rounder, Breshad Perriman, whom the Ravens chose in 2015. Selecting a receiver isn’t as foolproof as it appears when the first round arrives.
The Ravens also didn’t miss the playoffs last season because of a lack of receiving talent. After finishing 22nd, 27th and 32nd in passing yards per game in each of Jackson’s first three seasons, Baltimore ended up 13th in the category in 2021. Brown broke 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career, but wasn’t happy with the Ravens and wanted to reunite with his former college teammate, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.
DeCosta addressed Brown’s displeasure by fulfilling his wish, and in return, he picked up a selection he used to fill a significant need at center. The GM also reinforced a defense that was decimated by injuries last season, starting with Hamilton and continuing with the likes of defensive tackle Travis Jones, edge rusher David Ojabo (a long-term pick with high upside), and Alabama corner Jalyn Armour-Davis. In between those selections, DeCosta added to the offensive line again with the choice of Minnesota tackle Daniel Faalele, filling a need at another position of weakness that contributed to the disappointment of 2021.
DeCosta did a good job, yet again. It just didn’t include a shiny new toy for Ravens fans.
The sparkle of such toys tends to wear off before long. Competitive depth, structural integrity and maximization of capital, however, do not erode.
The Ravens might see more in their receivers than the rest of the football world, sure. But more important was their need to fill multiple needs elsewhere, which DeCosta succeeded in doing in the draft. The return of Baltimore’s backfield and aforementioned additions to the offensive line will end up proving more beneficial to the Ravens than another pass-catcher — especially one that might have not enjoyed playing in Baltimore’s system.
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