Defense and skill players are the priority for the Baltimore Ravens in the 2017 NFL Draft. A 7-round mock draft for the black birds.
2017 is poised to be a rebound year for the Baltimore Ravens. They have lost some key components to the team and are lacking talent in some key areas. What can the team do to fill those holes?
Coming into the 2016 NFL season, expectations were high for the Baltimore Ravens. They were led by one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league, Joe Flacco. At his side, the ageless wonder Steve Smith Sr. in his swan song in the NFL. Backed up by what has historically been a team predicated on strong defense. The AFC North crown was the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
For a team and fan base which has grown accustomed to winning the 2016 season can’t be considered anything other than a major disappointment. They were in the hunt for the playoffs the majority of the season, but then fell just short of snagging the last Wild Card spot to make a playoff appearance in the AFC.
The team finished 8-8 and in second place in the AFC North. Some upgrades are needed to return to their winning ways, but what should their draft strategy be? Are the Ravens just one or two pieces away from AFC North dominance? Does the 2017 NFL Draft contain the pieces they need?
The 2017 NFL Draft has a crazy amount of high-end talent in the defensive backfield. As many as eight defensive backs could be selected in the first round. Nine if you have Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers as a safety prospect instead of a linebacker. If you’re a team in need of help at either safety or corner, this is the draft for you.
The Baltimore Ravens are in that boat, and perhaps the most-talented of the group is Ohio State corner Marshon Lattimore. On tape, there really isn’t anything to dislike about Lattimore’s game. He’s not the biggest or strongest corner in the class, but he’s physical enough to play press coverage. He has the speed and agility to turn and run with receivers. What’s more, he has an amazing burst and always finds himself around the ball. He’s even an asset in the run and short passing games.
In short, Lattimore is a guy who can do it all. And that’s exactly the type of player that the Ravens need in the secondary. Baltimore is a team that, throughout its history, has been known for great defense. 2016 was then, by their standards, somewhat of a down year. Though the team led the league in interceptions with 18, the corner play left something to be desired.
That won’t be the case if Lattimore falls into the Ravens lap at 16. He’s ready to step in on the first day and be an instant contributor. He’ll need to work on reading the quarterback a bit more, and some teams will be put off by him only having one year as a starter. Don’t let that fool you; Lattimore is the real deal.
If you want to have a dominant defense, you better be able to rush the passer. Sure, it’s great to have corners who can blanket wide receivers. But if your rush can’t get home, even the greatest corner in the world is going to get beaten eventually. This was one of the pitfalls of the Ravens defense in 2016. They were one of the worst teams in the league when it came to bringing down the QB.
Finishing 24th in the league last season in sacks, the Ravens are in desperate need of some pressure from the outside. Luckily, 2017 is the year to need help on the defensive side of things. It’s crazy how deep the draft class is at every position, and EDGE is certainly no different.
Missouri EDGE rusher Charles Harris might not be a name you know, but it’s one you should. One of the best pure pass rushers in this year’s class, Harris is a first-round talent in my eyes. Getting him in the middle of the second would be a steal for the Ravens. Harris is a pass-rush extraordinaire who has some excellent moves. All too often in the college game you see edge rushers who have developed one strategy and stick with it.
That’s not the case with Harris. Harris can beat you off the edge with his speed rush. He possesses very good hands, and has a deadly spin move. Where Harris is going to struggle at the next level is when asked to provide support in the run game. Unless he’s able to add some significant muscle with a professional strength coach, he’s going to struggle to get off blocks from much bigger linemen. However, if you’re drafting Harris, you’re doing so for his rush ability and you know what you’re getting in that regard.
Wide receiver may not be a major concern for the Baltimore Ravens, but you can never have too many weapons on offense. Mike Wallace had a pretty nice bounce-back year in 2016, but the Ravens wide receiver group as a whole was nothing spectacular. Injuries played a major role in their lackluster performance, but adding talent is never a bad thing.
One of my favorite prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft is Louisiana Tech wide receiver Carlos Henderson. Henderson is a borderline first-round talent. To be able to pick him up in round 3 is a complete steal. He should be able to come in right away and make a significant contribution to anyone who drafts him, both in the offense and on special teams.
The biggest plus to Henderson is his motor. He’s very hard to bring down in the open field and works to get every yard he can on a consistent basis. He’s also a solid route-runner and has great hands. Though he’s only listed at 6-1 and just shy of 200 pounds, it doesn’t seem like it. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he was a couple inches taller and 20 pounds heavier. He doesn’t play like a small receiver at all.
Where Henderson my slip in some team’s eyes is the lack of competition he faced. Louisiana Tech and Conference-USA aren’t exactly the pinnacle of elite competition in many scout’s eyes. He may also struggle with press coverage at the next level. He was fairly reliant on simply being faster and more agile than the man across from him, which won’t be the case at the next level. All that being said, he has amazing traits and should be talked about more than he is.
Another one of my 2017 NFL Draft favorites is running back Kareem Hunt from Toledo. The Baltimore Ravens have struggled with their running game for years since Ray Rice’s hay-day. Terrance West and company finished 28th in the league last season, averaging a paltry 91 rushing yards per game.
Hunt isn’t a burner who’s going to get to the next level and run away from guys. He’s a bigger back who fits the theme of Ravens running backs of year’s past. At 5-11 and nearly 210 pounds, Hunt has some nice agility for a back his size. He’s elusive in the backfield and can make guys miss in the open field, while he also shows exceptional vision and finds the cut-back lane with ease.
As with Henderson, some teams are going to question Hunt’s ability due to the level of competition he faced. The MAC has garnered a lot more attention recently for their ability to show up against bigger schools, but they’re still thought of as lesser competition. Frankly, I don’t put a whole lot of stock into where a kid went to school. If you’re a football player, you’re a football player. And Kareem Hunt definitely has the makings of a solid NFL running back.
Desmond King was a highly-decorated cornerback for the Iowa Hawkeyes who, by all rights, could have easily come out last season and been a high draft pick. He won the Jim Thorpe award as the nation’s best defensive back and was a consensus All-American. With eight interceptions, King was poised to have a huge senior season when he surprised the league by coming back.
However, that wasn’t exactly the case. Due in large part to teams figuring out just how good King was at the collegiate level, his numbers tapered off quite a bit in his final year as a Hawkeye. After his career-high interception mark in 2015, King came back to earth in 2016 with only three interceptions.
Interception numbers aside, King was a shutdown corner in college. King has shown amazing instincts over the years, being able to read the quarterback with precision and always find himself around the ball. He is an exceptional ball tracker in the open field, and has great hands for a defensive back. He also possesses the physicality to play press coverage with the best of them.
What King doesn’t have is the size to be a press corner at the next level. At only 5-10 and just over 200 pounds, he’s not going to be able to out-muscle many non-slot receivers at the next level. King also lacks speed, often getting left in the dust by speed receivers. These knocks on King lead to most believing he’ll be a safety at the next level.
The Ravens had solid safety play in the 2016 season, but more talent never hurts. The fourth round might be a bit of a reach for King, but if he can make the transition from corner to safety, the Ravens have a very good player on their hands. He’s not the elite talent that so many in this crop of defensive backs are, but his instincts and ball skills are up there with the best of them.
In the fifth round, we continue the theme of making the Ravens offense more explosive. Joe Flacco could use more weapons in the Ravens offense, and Cal wide receiver Chad Hansen could be the answer he and the offense are looking for. The Ravens are set at one outside receiver position with Mike Wallace, but adding Hansen to the fray would solidify the other side.
Hansen is a guy climbing up a lot of people’s draft boards, and for very good reason. He has all the traits you want from a solid receiver. He’s not going to blow you away with any one aspect of his game. Rather, he’s just an all-around solid player. Hansen is a very good route runner, and handles press coverage very well. The Cal standout also has great body control at the boundary. He’s also quite physical for an outside receiver, showing a willingness to work the middle of the field.
Perhaps the most underrated aspect of his game, however, is his willingness to be a blocker. He might be the best blocking receiver available in this draft. For a team that has struggled running the ball for years, this contribution shouldn’t be overlooked.
Being able to land Chad Hansen in the fifth round would be another steal for the Baltimore Ravens. Hansen has the potential to be a third-round type guy, and a staple for any team looking for an outside possession receiver. Add in Hansen’s ability to make highlight reel plays, and you have someone with the potential to really make a name for himself in this league. Pretty good for a fifth-round pick.
Jessamen Dunker might not be a name you know. But if you’re a team looking for an athletic guard who can slide to tackle in a pinch, it should be. Dunker is an athlete at the position who has the physical skills to play at a much higher competition level than he faced at Tennessee State. Off-the-field issues, however, led him down the path to the FCS.
Dunker started his career at Florida. A program much more fitting for a player with the skills that Dunker possesses. However, after an arrest for grand theft, Dunker unceremoniously left the program. Rather than sitting out a year in accordance with the NCAA’s transfer policy, Dunker chose to play right away for Tennessee State.
As for his skills on the field, Dunker is a very solid option in the late rounds for teams needing help on the interior offensive line. He is a great athlete who has the speed and quickness to effectively reach the second level of a defense. He has long arms and big hands, and is sound in his technique.
That’s not to say that off-the-field concerns and competition level are the only thing driving Dunker down draft boards. He does have his faults, namely that he doesn’t play as strong as someone his size should. He’ll need to put in some serious work in an NFL weight room to get where he needs to be. Currently he can find himself taken out of plays by defenders with strong rushes. That won’t work at the next level, and should be a significant red flag.
Much of the talk about the 2017 NFL Draft has centered around the quarterbacks. And rightly so. It’s widely regarded as the most important position in sports. You want to get the position right. The 2017 class is considered by many to be a poor class, but I don’t think that’s the case. It certainly isn’t the strongest class we’ve seen, but it’s by no means poor either.
The class is strong at the top, with four quarterback potentially being selected in the first round (Kizer, Watson, Trubisky, and Mahomes). After that, the talent at the position drops off considerably. But that’s not to say that you can’t find talent in the later rounds. After all, Tom Brady was a sixth round selection that no one thought very highly of at the time.
There aren’t any Tom Brady’s in this class, but a guy that I really like as a late-round flyer is Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback C.J. Beathard. Beathard had a down season in 2016 as he was fighting off nagging injuries, but his tape from 2015 shows the promise of being a capable back-up/spot starter in this league. With a seventh-round pick, that’s really the most you can reasonably hope for.
Beathard played in a pro-style offense with the Hawkeyes and showed he has the arm strength to make any throw needed. He has solid footwork and mechanics, which is something that can’t be said for some of the upper-tier quarterbacks in this class. However, where he struggles is with locking on to a receiver too long, and not having a good sense for pocket pressure. Those two things that can kill the career of a young quarterback.