Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta held his annual predraft news conference April 19, and the annual exercise known as the “Liars Luncheon” offered its usual lack of specifics, although DeCosta, flanked by head coach John Harbaugh and director of player personnel Joe Hortiz, did offer a few revealing nuggets of information about this year’s draft and the 2021 season.
The NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 29, and the Ravens — barring any trades — have seven picks, beginning with No. 27 in the first round.
Here are five notable takeaways from the media session:
1. DeCosta isn’t interested in your criticism about Ravens receivers.
The Ravens’ tortured history of drafting wide receivers resurfaces like tulips at this time every spring — of 31 receivers drafted by the Ravens, only one (Torrey Smith in 2013) has had a 1,000-yard season with the team.
The Ravens’ failure to consistently draft and develop receivers was perhaps exacerbated this year after a season in which the Ravens ranked No. 1 in the league in rushing but No. 32 in passing.
DeCosta said he is “aware there’s some fan discontent with our wide receivers in our drafting and all of that,” but frankly, he isn’t buying it. At all.
Without naming names, DeCosta mounted a vigorous defense of a wide receiver group led by Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay and James Proche. Free agent Sammy Watkins was signed last month as well.
“We have some really good young receivers,” DeCosta said. “It’s insulting to these guys when they hear that we don’t have any receivers. It’s quite insulting. I’m insulted by it, too, to be honest.”
“I think we’ve had a lot of good receivers here over the years that have won big games for us,” DeCosta continued. “I know this. Lamar [Jackson] likes our receivers, you know? I think our coaches like our receivers. I think the teammates, the guys on this team, like our receivers.”
Still, DeCosta and Hortiz noted that it’s a deep receiver draft, and they stressed that there are several players in the first few rounds who could immediately be a factor in the Ravens’ offense. LSU’s Terrace Marshall Jr. and Minnesota’s Rashod Batemen have been linked to the Ravens in many mock drafts, and Hortiz said there’s a lot to like about both.
They are, Hortiz said, “a little different at what they do best, but certainly two guys that we have our eyes on.”
2. DeCosta offered no news on the Orlando Brown Jr. front, but draft strategy doesn’t change.
The future of tackle Orlando Brown Jr. remains a major question mark just two weeks before the draft, but DeCosta did not offer any update on a possible trade of Brown, whose vocal desire to play left tackle likely means his departure from Baltimore, either before this season or after it, when his rookie contract will expire.
The first second-generation Raven has expressed his strong desire to be (and get paid as) a left tackle, something that won’t happen in Baltimore if Ronnie Stanley returns without incident from the injury that sidelined him for the second half of last season.
DeCosta has been open to trade offers for Brown, and it’s been rumored that the Ravens could package the two-time Pro Bowl Brown in a deal for first- or second-round draft capital, but two weeks before the draft, there has been no movement. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but DeCosta had no desire to approach the issue.
“I’m not going to talk about any ongoing discussions with Orlando, or whatever that might be,” he said. “There are always a lot of moving parts in any offseason.”
DeCosta did say, though, that the Brown situation will have little to no effect on the Ravens draft stragety.
“When you play the type of football we play, offensive line is always going to be a priority for us,” DeCosta said. “We want to build the best offensive line we can in the short term, in the long term … making sure that we have adequate depth at every single spot. So it doesn’t change our thinking very much.”
Adding to the Brown speculation, reports surfaced that former Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl tackle Alejandro Villanueva was paying a free-agent visit to Baltimore this week, but DeCosta wouldn’t confirm or deny that.
“It doesn’t really benefit us to talk about those kinds of things, especially this time of year,” he said.
3. It’s a deep draft at positions of need, so the Ravens might trade back to get more picks.
DeCosta said that, even with a pandemic-altered college football season, his scouting department has compiled a “very strong, healthy” draft board of about 200 draft prospects, a group particularly strong at edge rusher, wide receiver and offensive line — all positions of need for the Ravens.
Given that fact, it seems more likely the Ravens would trade back from their original No. 27 slot, to acquire an extra pick or two, rather than trade up. But that’s nothing new. Since 2010, the Ravens have traded back from their first-round draft position five times, including twice in 2018. The last time they traded up to make their first pick was in 2009, when they jumped up three spots, giving up a fifth-round pick, to select tackle Michael Oher.
“If you have more picks,” DeCosta said, “you’re going to hit on more players, and that goes back to a philosophy that I think [former GM] Ozzie [Newsome] started back in 1996.”
“We’ve had some success. We’ve also had some big misses,” DeCosta added. “We’ve had a lot of picks, and I think that’s the No. 1 indicator to see teams who have success in the draft, is how many chances they have to draft good players.”
DeCosta said he thinks there are “five to eight guys in the first couple of rounds” who could be immediate, plug-and-play edge rushers. Likewise, he said there are a number of immediate-impact wide receivers who could be available in the first three rounds.
“We see a lot of talented players at the starter-level, potentially,” he said. “So if we have the chance to get a pick or two extra, then we’d probably do that.”
4. DeCosta remains confident an extension with Jackson will happen.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and while the Ravens retain a fifth-year option on Jackson that they would surely pick up if necessary, DeCosta again expressed confidence that the team and former league Most Valuable Player will be able to work out a contract extension.
DeCosta said discussions with Jackson are “ongoing” and added, “I’m confident that we’ll continue to discuss this, and I think at some point, hopefully, we’ll have some good news for everybody.”
DeCosta later acknowledged that any extension with Jackson will dramatically alter the salary cap situation for the foreseeable future, with a big chunk of cap space tied up in the quarterback position. As of now, Jackson remains in the best bargain class in the NFL: The successful quarterback still on a rookie deal. So the Ravens can use their resources elsewhere.
Whenever a deal with Jackson happens, that will change, but DeCosta called it “a great problem to have.”
“We aspire to [have] that type of problem,” DeCosta added. “We want to have the franchise quarterback. We want to have the quarterback that cares as much as we do, and he’s a leader, and he’s the face of the team, and he represents the team as well as he does, and he gives us a chance to win every game.”
DeCosta noted that any extension with Jackson will limit their flexibility in other ways, noting, “We may lose some good young players. That’s unfortunately just the salary cap age that we’re in, and it happens to ever single team. … I think the draft will continue and will always remain the lifeblood of this organization when it comes to building this team and building the roster, and draft picks will be more important than ever.”
5. John Harbaugh was diplomatic, but sounded frustrated, about players skipping voluntary workouts.
Ravens players, through a statement released by the players’ union, announced last week that they would be forgoing spring workouts “in solidarity with other members of our union across the league.” The league’s collective bargaining agreement makes most spring workouts voluntary, with only one mandatory minicamp, and several teams have released similar statements indicating players would not attend voluntary workouts in the interest of player safety in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Even before the pandemic, union leadership had been vocal about wanting to eliminate spring on-field workouts.
Asked about the Ravens players skipping the workouts, head coach John Harbaugh struck a diplomatic tone but frustration seemed evident. Harbaugh has lobbied for more time, not less, for coaches to be able to work with players in the spring, particularly rookies and other younger players.
“We’re coaches. We coach. That’s what we’re preparing to do,” he said. “We love our players, and we love to teach. We work together with any player, every player that chooses to be here to help in every way we can.”
The league’s offseason program officially began the same day as the predraft press conference. In the four-week first phase of the program, players can attend up to two hours of meetings and can use weight room and training facilities but cannot do any on-field work with coaches. Harbaugh said some players were in the facility that day to begin the program.
“We coach every guy that wants to be here,” he said. “Every [player] that decides to show up, we’ll coach, and that’s what we’ll do. So I’m looking forward to it. … So guys make their choices, and the guys who are here, we’re coaching them up.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens