On the first night of the 2018 draft, the Ravens’ deal to jump back into the first round and select Lamar Jackson with the final pick of the night changed the course of the franchise.
Three years later, though, something else from that draft has become clear: That Ravens draft class — the last for retiring general manager Ozzie Newsome — is on course to be among the best in franchise history. True, it has produced Jackson, already a league Most Valuable Player by age 24, but what has further stood out about this class is its depth: PressBox compiled the total number of starts for the Ravens by players in each class during their first three years, and the 2018 group has among the most:
|Draft class||Starts in first three seasons||Leaders|
|1997||162||(Sharper 47, Boulware 43, Herring 27)|
|2018||154||(Brown 42, Jackson 37, Bozeman 33)|
|2002||139||(Reed 47, Weaver 46, Jones 30)|
|1996||131||(Ogden 45, Lewis 43, J. Lewis 21)|
|2013||120||(Wagner 33, B. Williams 30, Elam 26)|
|2006||120||(Ngata 48, Landry 32, Chester 20)|
Granted, any draft class will be hard-pressed to match the Ravens’ first, which produced a pair of Hall of Famers in Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis with the first two picks.
And gauging impact based on starts has some inherent flaws; Andrews for example, technically has started just nine games — two more than cornerback Anthony Averett — because Andrews isn’t often on the field for the first offensive snap. Plus, this list doesn’t factor the impact of, say, punter Sam Koch on the 2006 draft class, or an undrafted player such as Justin Tucker, who greatly elevated an otherwise underwhelming 2012 rookie class headlined by Courtney Upshaw and Kelechi Osemele.
However, it’s not as if the Ravens’ 2018 picks have accumulated starts for a rebuilding franchise — far from it. They have contributed to the best regular-season record in franchise history (14-2 in 2019) and a record of 35-13 and three straight playoff appearances.
Newsome and current general manager Eric DeCosta have long advocated a strength-in-numbers approach, and the 2018 class was a good example of that. The Ravens made a flurry of trades that year, which ultimately produced a draft class of 12 players, tied with the 1997 class for the most in one year.
“The more picks you have,” DeCosta said to reporters before the draft a few years ago, “the more likely you are to hit on the pick.”
So it makes sense that the draft classes with the most picks would produce the most starts through three years, but there’s more to it than that with the 2018 group. In three years, this draft class has produced:
• The team’s first-ever league Most Valuable Player
• Three Pro Bowl players (Jackson, Andrews, Brown)
• Two starters out of the sixth round (guard Bradley Bozeman, safety DeShon Elliott)
• Two players who were traded (tight end Hayden Hurst and linebacker Kenny Young), effectively bringing in return running back J.K. Dobbins and Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters
• A seventh-round pick who didn’t stick with the team (defensive lineman Zach Sieler) but who has since become a starter for the Miami Dolphins and has already signed a contract extension
Skeptics will note that in a recurring theme, the one area in this draft that the Ravens fell short was at wide receiver, as fourth-round pick Jaleel Scott and fifth-rounder Jordan Lasley never panned out; combined, they had one career catch for the Ravens, by Scott.
But other than those two, Sieler and sixth-round tackle Greg Senat — who played 10 games for the Dallas Cowboys this year — everyone else in that 2018 draft class has started games for the Ravens:
|Player (round, overall)||Starts with Ravens|
|TE Hayden Hurst (1, 25)||4|
|QB Lamar Jackson (1, 32)||37|
|T Orlando Brown Jr. (3, 83)||42|
|TE Mark Andrews (3, 86)||9|
|CB Anthony Averett (4, 118)||7|
|LB Kenny Young (4, 122)||6|
|WR Jaleel Scott (4, 132)||0|
|WR Jordan Lasley (5, 162)||0|
|S DeShon Elliott (6, 190)||16|
|T Greg Senat (6, 212)||0|
|G Bradley Bozeman (6, 215)||33|
|DL Zach Sieler (7, 238)||0|
Brown has the most starts of the group and has established himself as a two-time Pro Bowl pick, but he and the Ravens find themselves at a crossroads this offseason.
Brown, entering the final year of his rookie deal, has publicly voiced his desire to be a starting left tackle, something that won’t happen in Baltimore when All-Pro Ronnie Stanley is healthy. Several teams are reportedly interested in trading for Brown, and any deal DeCosta reaches should send significant draft capital to the Ravens in return.
Going into the 2021 draft, the Ravens tentatively have six picks, and DeCosta again is on the lookout for more.
“We like to add picks,” he said at his season-ending news conference, “and that’ll probably be something that we try to do throughout the course of the draft.”
The Ravens gave up a third-round pick in the midseason trade for Yannick Ngakoue, and gave up their seventh-round pick in last year’s deal that sent defensive lineman Chris Wormley to Pittsburgh.
But they acquired a third-round compensatory pick when assistant coach David Culley was hired as the Houston Texans head coach, and they figure to gain at least one more compensatory pick after losing Michael Pierce to free agency last year. Those picks are expected to be announced early next month.
The Ravens have acquired a league-high 50 additional picks since the comp pick system was established in 1994, including Bozeman, whose emergence as a top lineman out of the sixth round is a good representation for the overall success of that 2018 class.
Photo Credits: Kenya Allen/PressBox