The Ravens’ braintrust will hold its annual predraft news conference April 19, and if you expected any clear answers to emerge from it, then it’s probably worth noting that general manager Eric DeCosta has said, with a wry smile, that he fully recognizes the exercise is known as the “Liars Luncheon.”
In the past, the news conference was followed by a media lunch at the facility, and while this year’s virtual event won’t include lunch, it is sure to include the usual smokescreens and vague references as DeCosta and the Ravens keep their intentions close to the vest.
The NFL Draft begins Thursday, April 29. The Ravens as of now have seven picks, beginning with the No. 27 overall selection. They have one pick in each of the first four rounds, two picks in the fifth and one in the sixth. Their seventh-round pick went to the Pittsburgh Steelers as part of the Chris Wormley trade last year.
Here are five questions that DeCosta might be asked at this year’s “Liars Luncheon,” how he will answer them, and the larger truth beneath:
1. Would the Ravens really draft a center in the first round?
What DeCosta will say: At some point, DeCosta or Joe Hortiz, director of player personnel, will say, “We think there are centers (or fill-in-the-blank position) who can help us in every round.”
The truth beneath: When DeCosta was asked after the season about the team’s No. 32-ranked passing offense, the first thing he mentioned wasn’t the need for better receivers or a better scheme, it was the need for better pass protection. The Ravens already signed free-agent guard Kevin Zeitler, and they’ve made clear that upgrading the offensive line — both to improve the passing attack and to continue their dominance on the ground — is a top priority.
If Alabama center Landon Dickerson (6-foot-6, 333 pounds) is on the board at No. 27 overall, he would be a tempting choice, though it surely wouldn’t placate a fan base desperate to see the team add a playmaking receiver or impact edge rusher.
There is speculation that the torn ACL Dickerson sustained in December — his second torn ACL — will bump him out of first-round territory. The Ravens have never drafted a center in the first round.
2. Will the Ravens trade up?
What DeCosta will say: “Our phones will be on, and we’ll be ready to listen.”
The truth beneath: DeCosta and the Ravens covet draft picks, and a few years ago he stated, “The more picks you have, the more likely you are to hit on the pick.” If their history is any guide, the Ravens are more likely to trade down than up, particularly early in the draft, since trading up would cost them the very picks they covet.
Since 2010, the Ravens have traded down from their original first-round position five times, including twice in 2018, when they traded from No. 16 to No. 22, then from No. 22 to No. 25 before selecting tight end Hayden Hurst. (A few frenzied minutes later, they traded back up into the first round to draft quarterback Lamar Jackson.) In 2010 and 2012, the Ravens traded down and out of the first round altogether.
The Ravens’ most notable first-round draft gymnastics came in 2008, when they began the day with the No. 8 overall pick, traded back to No. 26 in exchange for three additional picks, then later jumped back up to No. 18 to select quarterback Joe Flacco.
The last time the Ravens traded up for their first pick was in 2009, when they climbed three spots, giving up a fifth-round pick to select tackle Michael Oher. They also traded up in 2006, moving up one spot to select defensive lineman Haloti Ngata.
One wild card in this year’s equation could be tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who is known to be available via trade, and could be part of any move the Ravens make to trade up.
Later in the draft, the Ravens are more inclined to trade up, as they did last year to select wide receiver-return specialist James Proche in the sixth round, or a year earlier when they moved up nine spots in the third round to select receiver Miles Boykin.
3. What do you see as the most pressing need?
What DeCosta will say: “We like the players we have, but we will be looking to improve every position across the board.”
The truth beneath: After seeing Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue and Jihad Ward leave as free agents, the Ravens have one returning edge rusher who totaled more than two sacks last season, and that’s 32-year-old Pernell McPhee (3.0). The Ravens re-signed Tyus Bowser, and they are hoping that Jaylon Ferguson can take a big step forward in Year Three, but the Ravens need to add some pass rushers.
As DeCosta made clear, the Ravens also want to bolster their offensive line, even if Brown is back for the final season of his rookie deal. If Brown is traded, tackle moves to the top of the list of most pressing needs. And if he isn’t traded, Brown is likely gone after next season, so they might want to be eyeing his replacement now.
The Ravens have added Kevin Zeitler at guard, but either center or left guard remains a concern, depending on what the Ravens do with Bradley Bozeman. He has started at left guard the past two years but could move to center, his position at Alabama.
It’s not the most pressing need, but the Ravens are almost certain to draft a defensive lineman because they almost always do (have done so 11 years in a row, in fact), and their entire starting defensive line (Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams and Derek Wolfe) is on the high side of 30.
4. How do the signings you have already made, including guard Kevin Zeitler and wide receiver Sammy Watkins, change your draft board?
What DeCosta will say: “It really doesn’t change anything. We’ll continue to look for the best available player.”
The truth beneath: No smokescreens from DeCosta here. It doesn’t change anything. The Ravens remain in the market for a plug-and-play interior offensive lineman, and they remain in the market for an impact wide receiver.
Zeitler fills one hole along the offensive line, but the center position remains a major question mark after the Ravens started three different players there last year, none of whom definitively earned the job. Matt Skura has since left as a free agent, and Patrick Mekari and Trystan Colon-Castillo will have to compete for the job this summer.
If Bozeman shifts to center, then the Ravens need a starting left guard. Ben Bredeson, Tyre Phillips and Ben Powers are all potential internal candidates, but there is room there for a talented rookie to come in and start.
As for the receiver group, the Ravens could always use a big, strong receiver such as Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman or LSU’s Terrace Marshall, popular first-round Ravens picks in various mock drafts. After being spurned in free agency by several receivers, the Ravens would do well to draft an impact receiver and have him for several years on a relatively cheap rookie deal. Adding Watkins doesn’t change that equation at all.
5. Do you already have a good idea of who the Ravens will select first?
What DeCosta will say: “We never know how the board will fall, but we like the work our scouts have done to put us in a position to make the pick when we’re on the clock.”
The truth beneath: DeCosta loves the draft process, and has since he was an 8-year-old in New England dreaming of becoming a GM. It really is a game to him, but as he said in a previous Liars Luncheon, “It’s not a game we can afford to lose.”
DeCosta has been at this for more than 20 years, learning under Ozzie Newsome before taking command in 2019, and he has a good sense of how these boards fall. There are always some surprises, and with the Ravens picking at No. 27, there are far more variables in play than if they were picking in the top 10.
A few years back, DeCosta joked that he could put three names in an envelope, and there’s a good chance that the Ravens would be getting one of those three players in the first round. Could he do that again this year? Probably. Largely ignoring the noise of mock drafts, DeCosta and his staff trust their system of assigning value to each player, and he has a good idea of how that value will align with their draft position.
So who would be in that envelope this year? DeCosta isn’t going to say. And if he did, it’s worth noting, again, that this event is called “The Liars Luncheon.”
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