When offensive guard Ben Powers was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the loudest cheers at Powers’ draft party in Wichita, Kansas, came from his former and future teammate, Ravens tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
“He was yelling more than I was,” Powers recalled.
Brown, who established himself as the Ravens starting right tackle as a rookie last season, was on hand at Powers’ draft party to see where his best friend and former Oklahoma teammate would land. The answer was Baltimore, as the Ravens added to the growing Sooner flavor of their locker room.
“We like Oklahoma,” director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said shortly after the team drafted Powers. “It’s our new Alabama.”
Indeed, former general manager Ozzie Newsome might have been partial to players from his alma mater, Alabama, but new general manager Eric DeCosta said after the selection of Marquise Brown that he has “an affinity for Oklahoma players.” The Ravens have drafted four Oklahoma players the past two years — first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown and Powers this year, following Orlando Brown and tight end Mark Andrews, both third-round picks, last year.
“All of the Oklahoma players have a similar mentality,” Powers said. “Our No. 1 goal is to win, and that’s what we care about, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The selections of Marquise Brown and Powers this year brings the number of Sooners selected by the Ravens during their history to 11, tying Alabama for the most from one school. And current players from both schools quickly stoked a growing locker room rivalry on social media.
“Is OU about to take over the locker room,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey (Alabama) tweeted.
“Already did,” safety Tony Jefferson (Oklahoma) replied.
Humphrey also tweeted a popular Internet meme of a man holding one woman’s hand while eyeing another woman walking the other way. The man is labeled “Ravens,” the woman with him, who looks none too pleased, is “Alabama,” and the woman the man is eying is “Oklahoma.”
“What is this @Ravens?” Humphrey asked.
The current roster has six players from Alabama and five from Oklahoma. Alabama lost one with the departure of Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley, but gained one with the signing of running back Mark Ingram. In addition to the four draft picks from the past two years, the Sooners can claim Jefferson, who was not drafted by the Ravens but, like Ingram, was signed as a free agent.
It’s clear Ravens evaluators value the Oklahoma pedigree, and, with a record of 46-8 during the past four years, they also recognize the Sooners’ ability to play what head coach John Harbaugh frequently refers to as “winning football.”
The Ravens aren’t the only team seeing the talent that is immediately ready to translate to the NFL. Brown and Powers were two of eight Sooners drafted this spring, and Oklahoma became the first program ever with quarterbacks taken No. 1 overall in back-to-back drafts; Kyler Murray’s selection by the Arizona Cardinals came a year after Baker Mayfield was taken first overall by the Cleveland Browns. Both those quarterbacks won the Heisman Trophy, meaning Marquise Brown and Powers will have the rare chance to play with a third different Heisman winner in Lamar Jackson.
Hortiz said the Ravens’ affinity with the Sooners comes down to ability as well as fit.
“The offensive style they’re running, that fits what we’re doing here in Baltimore,” Hortiz said. “I think that plays into it. But it’s really just opportunity meeting our draft board, and it’s just worked out great for us. We certainly love the mentality they come in with, so we’re going to keep shopping there hopefully.”
Last season, both Oklahoma draft picks made a significant impact.
After a disastrous combine, Orlando Brown, once viewed as a potential first-round talent, was still available when the Ravens selected at No. 83 overall in the third round. In the process, he became the first second-generation Raven; his father, Orlando Brown Sr., played for the Ravens from 1996-1998 and again from 2003-2005.
The younger Brown became the starter in Week 7 of his rookie year and started the final 11 games, including the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. He figures to be the starting right tackle until further notice.
Andrews was the second tight end taken by the Ravens in 2018, at No. 86 overall — three picks after Brown. Tight end Hayden Hurst, the Ravens’ first pick in the draft, was hobbled early in the season by a foot injury, and Andrews emerged as one of Jackson’s favorite targets. He finished the season with 34 catches for 552 yards, by far the most ever by a Ravens rookie tight end.
Andrews’ 74-yard catch-and-run from Jackson against the Oakland Raiders was the Ravens’ longest play from scrimmage last year, and his 68-yard touchdown pass from Jackson against the Chargers during the regular season was the longest touchdown from scrimmage.
Both of this year’s Oklahoma draft picks should be impact players as well. Marquise Brown, the cousin of former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, is likely to start at one wideout position, and the Ravens see his speed as a game-changer.
“He’s a playmaker,” DeCosta said. “He’s a guy who can do a lot of different things with the ball in his hands. He can catch screen passes, he can run reverses, he can run deep. He has outstanding hands. I think he’s tough, and he’s electric.”
The Ravens won’t see much of Brown through spring OTAs, as he is recovering from a Lisfranc foot injury, but the Ravens have no long-term concerns about the injury, and Brown said he expects to be ready for training camp.
Powers (6-foot-4, 307 pounds) could compete immediately for the starting spot at left guard, where he started all 13 games last year en route to All-America honors. Alex Lewis and James Hurst each started there at times last season for the Ravens, but Lewis has not been able to stay healthy, and the door is presumably open for Powers to challenge right away.
So it’s certainly possible that when the Ravens’ offense takes the field, four of the 11 starters could be former Oklahoma Sooners.
“There are a whole bunch of Oklahoma players [in Baltimore],” Powers said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be a fun offense to watch, I can promise you that.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Oklahoma Athletics
Issue 254: May 2019