Ravens: Top 3 positions to watch at the NFL Combine
WASHINGTON (ABC7) —
The Winter Olympics end and the Underwear Olympics begin!
That's right, the NFL Combine, the giant convention of talent evaluation for the latest crop of potential pro football talent is here again. The Baltimore Ravens are facing more pressure this draft season than maybe they ever have during the John Harbaugh era. Recent struggles for the usually draft savvy Ravens have been a heavy contributor to their postseason drought of mediocrity, leaving fans to question what has been the foundation of building this team.
It will also be the final year that the legendary Ozzie Newsome will be calling the shots as Baltimore's general manager before handing the rains over to successor Eric DeCosta. So it is safe to say that many Ravens fans will devote even more attention to this season's draft process.
336 players were invited to Indianapolis this year and each one will undergo a detailed evaluation. That is an information overload. So with that in mind, here are the top three positions to pay attention to this week if you wear the Purple and Black.
This one is gratuitously obvious. The cupboard was nearly bare on the 27th ranked offense of 2017, which included the league's 29th ranked aerial attack. No Ravens pass catcher had more than 748 yards receiving and top options Ben Watson and Mike Wallace could both be gone. The fan-favorite first round pick is Alabama's Calvin Ridley and he is expected to make a strong showing at the combine. But he has a good chance of being long-gone by pick 16.
The best value for receivers this year is projected to be in the second and third rounds. SMU's Courtland Sutton is a towering 6' 4" with good hands but some wonder about his speed. Anthony Miller of Memphis and James Washington of Oklahoma State are ultra productive with questions about how their games will translate to the pro ranks. Equanimeous St. Brown and D.J. Chark are physical specimens with production that does not match their potential. Just as much attention should be paid to tight ends.
Joe Flacco loves to throw to his tight ends. Dallas Goedert of South Dakota State, Mark Andrews of Oklahoma and Mike Gesicki of Penn State are all pass-first tight ends currently rated as players that could go during the middle of day two of the draft. Goedert in particular is adept at making one-handed grabs and contested circus catches and could sneak into round one of the draft with a memorable combine.
It has been well-documented that Baltimore's offense needs an upgrade. But the team has options as to how they go about doing that. The Ravens have historically preferred a run-first philosophy backed by a strong blockers up front. The Ravens did have the 11th ranked rushing offense last season and were among teams that allowed the fewest sacks and quarterback hits.
But as the Dallas Cowboys and Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles have shown, a dominant offensive line can truly help a team ascend. Orlando Brown Jr. is a mountain of a man at 6' 8" and 345 pounds and is rated as the top tackle prospect by many pundits. Brown Jr. of course is the son of Orlando "Zeus" Brown Sr., one of the original Ravens from the 1996 team. Movement and flexibility are some of the issues former Baltimore scout Daniel Jeremiah says Brown will have to address going forward. Connor Williams of Texas will look to prove he is the elite prospect experts thought he was before a disappointing 2017. The possible departure of Ryan Jensen in free agency could focus the team's attention on centers like Ohio State's Billy Price, Iowa's James Daniels or Arkansas's Frank Ragnow. Marshal Yanda is coming off injury and is 33 so Baltimore could look for a middle round guard prospect like Humboldt State's Alex Cappa to groom.
The other part of having a potent rushing attack obviously includes a capable stable of ball carriers. Alex Collins came out of nowhere to lead Baltimore in rushing yards, attempts and touchdowns but is far from a proven commodity. Kenneth Dixon's brief career has been plagued with injuries and suspensions. The Ravens also lack that home-run hitting, change of pace back or that true passing weapon out of the backfield that Danny Woodhead was in his prime.
The success of Alvin Kamara last season will have everyone on the lookout for those types of players this year. Prospects in that mold for the 2018 class include Sony Michel of Georgia, Rashaad Penny of San Diego State and Northwestern's Josh Jackson. LSU's Derrius Guice is the consensus number two running back in the 2018 class and could propel himself into the middle of the first round with a strong combine effort. Guice has the skill set to be the type of franchise running back the Ravens have leaned on when their offense was at its strongest. Kalen Ballage did not put up the numbers that would merit consideration but many expect the versatile runner to put on a show this weekend.