After an unprecedented predraft process that included an abbreviated college football season and a canceled Scouting Combine, the Ravens assembled an eight-player 2021 draft class in which the best-available-player philosophy that drives the Ravens appeared to mesh nicely with key areas of need.
During the three-day draft that ended May 1, the Ravens came away with two wide receivers, including a first-rounder; two edge defenders, including a first-rounder; and a hulking interior offensive lineman that the Ravens consider an ideal fit for their run-first scheme.
Versatility also seemed to be a common theme, as the Ravens see positional flexibility in several of their draft picks. They also leaned more heavily on the sure thing; general manager Eric DeCosta said that with the pandemic-altered college football landscape last fall, the Ravens focused on players from Power Five conference schools.
If there was a glaring omission in this draft class it was an offensive tackle; the Ravens traded away Orlando Brown Jr. shortly before the draft and passed on starting-caliber tackles early in the draft. That leaves second-year tackle Tyre Phillips in the mix to start, but the Ravens are also expected to add a veteran, perhaps as early as next week.
“We have some guys that we think are going to compete right now at the right tackle spot, and we’re excited about that,” DeCosta said. “And as I learned from my mentor, Ozzie Newsome, we don’t have to play games until September. And we’re confident we’ll have a right tackle. … The best guys are going to play.”
DeCosta has often said that the Ravens draft the best available player regardless of need, but this was a case where best available and need appeared to intersect nicely, and although time and performance ultimately will dictate how this draft class is graded, the Ravens appeared to consistently find top value where they were drafting.
DeCosta said the Ravens had both Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman and Penn State edge defender Odafe Oweh in the top 20 on their draft board, and they got them in the first round at No. 27 and No. 31 respectively.
In adding massive guard Ben Cleveland (6-foot-6, 345 pounds) in the third round, the Ravens got a road-grading mauler who should be an ideal fit for the Ravens’ run-first offense. Head coach John Harbaugh liked him so much he lobbied DeCosta to trade up for him, but DeCosta held firm and got Cleveland with the No. 94 overall pick.
With their first pick on the draft’s final day, the Ravens selected Oklahoma State wide receiver Tylan Wallace at No. 131, considerably lower than many draft experts projected. DeCosta said the 5-foot-11, 195-pound first-team All-Big 12 selection was “too good of a player for us not to take him.”
The Ravens then selected Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade with their first of three fifth-round picks; Wade’s stock fell after a subpar 2020 season that he attributed to turf toe and knee injuries as well as personal issues that included deaths in the family, but Wade was viewed as a high Day 2 or even potential first-round pick a year ago.
“Good players fall,” DeCosta said. “If you stay patient, stay true, you don’t panic, you’ll get good players. … It just happens.”
The Ravens closed out the draft with four picks on the final day, trading back out of the fourth round and dealing away a sixth-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for an extra fifth-round pick this year and a fourth-rounder in 2022.
After selecting Wallace and Wade, the Ravens selected Notre Dame edge defender Daelin Hayes and Michigan fullback Ben Mason with their final two picks of the fifth round. Oweh and Hayes should quickly figure in the edge rush equation after the Ravens lost Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue and Jihad Ward as free agents. Director of player personnel Joe Hortiz praised the versatility of Hayes as someone who could play on the line of scrimmage or out on the edge and in coverage.
For a team whose mantra is “you can never have too many corners,” the Ravens added a pair in third-round pick Brandon Stephens, a converted running back who could be a hybrid cornerback/safety, and Wade, who starred as a slot cornerback two years ago.
The Ravens closed out their draft by selecting Mason, a fullback/H-back in the mold of Patrick Ricard who even played a little bit of defensive line for the Wolverines.
“Overall it was a very successful day,” DeCosta said. “We got four excellent football players.”
COMPETITION ADDED TO RECEIVERS ROOM
In adding Bateman and Wallace, the Ravens have supplied two more weapons for quarterback Lamar Jackson and offensive coordinator Greg Roman as the Ravens look to jump-start a passing attack that ranked last in the league last year with 171.2 yards a game. Head coach John Harbaugh has downplayed the ranking, saying the Ravens pass less than any other team in the league, and their passing success is measured more by efficiency, particularly in the red zone.
The picks of Bateman and Wallace also continued DeCosta’s aggressive push to find internal, long-term solutions at wide receiver. In the past three drafts, the Ravens have selected six receivers, including a pair of first-rounders and five in the first four rounds. The Ravens have now drafted 33 receivers in their history, including the two this year, and just one has had a 1,000-yard season with the team (Torrey Smith in 2013).
DeCosta made headlines at his pre-draft news conference when he said he was “insulted” by the perception that the Ravens needed more help at wide receiver, but then he went out and selected two receivers with the Ravens’ first five picks.
“One thing people will learn eventually is that sometimes what we say leading up to the draft, there’s different ways to interpret those types of things,” DeCosta said. “It’s a game. The draft is a game. It never serves us any purpose to give away any inside information.”
DeCosta added that they didn’t anticipate drafting two receivers necessarily, but, “It was a great group of receivers in this year’s draft.”
But he also again tried to placate the current receiver group of Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay, James Proche and offseason acquisition Sammy Watkins.
“We’re happy the way it played out, but I also want to say that we feel really, really good about the guys that are already on campus,” DeCosta said. “Those guys are going to compete. They’re good players. They’re going to help us win a lot of games. All we’ve done really is just kind of stack the deck and created a lot of competition.”
THE 2021 RAVENS DRAFT CLASS
1st round — WR Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
1st round — OLB Odafe Oyeh, Penn State
3rd round — G Ben Cleveland, Georgia
3rd round — CB Brandon Stephens, SMU
4th round — WR Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State
5th round — CB Shaun Wade, Ohio State
5th round — DE/OLB Daelin Hayes, Notre Dame
5th round — FB/TE Ben Mason, Michigan
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Minnesota, Penn State, Georgia, SMU, Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Notre Dame Athletics