Ravens Focus On Defense During Second Day Of 2022 NFL Draft With David Ojabo, Travis Jones

After selecting Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton with their top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Ravens continued to focus on the defense on Day 2, taking Michigan edge rusher David Ojabo in the second round and Connecticut defensive lineman Travis Jones in the third round.

Ojabo, coming off an Achilles tear at the Michigan pro day last month, is unlikely to play until at least the second half of the season, but he is viewed as a first-round talent when he finally hits the field.

Jones, meanwhile, could offer immediate help as a run-stuffer inside and interior pass rusher, something the Ravens have been lacking in recent years, and he fills a stated desire of general manager Eric DeCosta to get younger along the defensive line.

The Ravens still have a major hole at wide receiver after the trade of Marquise Brown, but it’s no surprise that the Ravens concentrated on upgrading their defense after a season in which they slipped to No. 25 overall, the team’s lowest ranking since 1997.

Injuries played a major factor, but the Ravens need an infusion of young talent, especially in the front seven, something they accomplished on Day 2 of the draft.

In the second round, the Ravens took the long view with the selection of Ojabo, knowing full well that he won’t be available for much of the coming season, if at all, but also believing he can be an elite NFL pass rusher once he is healthy.

Ojabo (6-foot-4, 255 pounds) had been considered a lock to go in the first round and was a popular mock to the Ravens at No. 14 overall before his Achilles injury.

Neither he nor the Ravens would speculate on a timetable for his return, but DeCosta said team doctors are “optimistic that at some point this year, [Ojabo] will have a chance to play. … There might be a delay, but we think he’s going to come back with a vengeance and play outstanding football.”

The Ravens can only hope he thrives at the NFL level as he did this past season at Michigan under new Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald.

Ojabo finished this past season with 11 sacks and five forced fumbles and earned second-team All-America honors as his football career continued a remarkable upward trajectory.

Born in Nigeria, Ojabo moved to Scotland at age 7 and had never played football until he suited up for Blair Academy in New Jersey, where one of his teammates was current Ravens outside linebacker Odafe Oweh. But his physical tools stood out immediately, and the college recruiters quickly came calling.

Ojabo saw no action as a freshman at Michigan and played just briefly in his sophomore season before exploding onto the national radar this past season.

After falling into the second round, Ojabo was nonetheless all smiles when he discussed reuniting with Oweh.

“It’s all scripted,” he said. “It’s all part of the plan. I can’t wait to work with him.”

Oweh had five sacks as a rookie last year, and he and Tyus Bowser (team-high seven sacks) lead an edge rush group that has significant health concerns. In addition to Ojabo, Bowser is coming off a torn Achilles in the season finale in January, and his status for Week 1 is uncertain. Oweh had a procedure after the season on a shoulder injury but he should be fully recovered and ready to go.

Other than Bowser and Oweh, the only other returning edge rushers are Jaylon Ferguson, who has showed little in three NFL seasons, and Daelin Hayes, who played in just one early-season game as a rookie in 2021 before landing on injured reserve.

Veteran Justin Houston (34 tackles, 4.5 sacks) has not been re-signed, and Pernell McPhee is said to be considering retirement.

Jones (6-foot-4, 327 pounds), the Ravens’ first-ever draft pick from UConn, has speed and strength and could give the Ravens a pass-rushing element inside, something they have been lacking in recent years. Just four of the Ravens’ 34 sacks this past year came from interior linemen.

Jones, 22, arrived at UConn as an offensive guard before switching to the other side of the ball, dropping 30 pounds and fashioning himself into an NFL prospect. He led the Huskies with 4.5 sacks this past season and had eight in his last two collegiate seasons; the Huskies did not play during the 2020 season because of COVID concerns.

DeCosta said he first saw Jones at the Senior Bowl practices in February and described him as “unblockable.”

“His style of play really fits us,” DeCosta said, noting that Jones can line up anywhere along the defensive line.

Jones was viewed as a top-50 prospect by many draft experts but was still on the board at No. 76, adding to a draft seen as long on value for the Ravens. All four of their picks during the first two days were taken later than expected, beginning with Hamilton, a safety they picked at No. 14 overall who was viewed by DeCosta and others as one of the top five talents in the draft.

This marks the 12th time in 13 seasons that the Ravens have drafted at least one defensive lineman, and it comes as no surprise after DeCosta said earlier this spring that, “We need to get younger for sure” up front on defense. “This year, we had a lot of grizzly war horses up front.”

The Ravens let veteran defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Justin Ellis walk as free agents, but they re-signed 35-year-old Calais Campbell for his 15th NFL season and signed veteran Michael Pierce to be a run-stuffer in the middle. They also have 32-year-old defensive end Derek Wolfe under contract, but he missed all of last season with a hip injury.

Jones joins Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington as the heirs apparent of that group.

The Ravens are looking to rebound from an injury-ravaged 2021 season that ended at 8-9 with a six-game losing streak. With several starters lost for all or much of the season, the Ravens ranked dead last in pass defense, allowing a league-high 278.9 passing yards a game. They ranked tied for 22nd in sacks with 34 and surrendered 16 plays of 40 yards or more, the most in the league.

In addition to using three of their first four draft picks on defense, they also signed safety Marcus Williams to a five-year, $70 million contract. But to this point, the cornerback group remains a major position of need, with little depth behind Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, both of whom are coming off major injuries.

Barring any trades, the Ravens still have seven picks in the final day of the draft, including six picks in the fourth round and one in the sixth. Cornerback and wide receiver top the list of remaining needs, though edge rusher remains an immediate concern given that Ojabo isn’t likely to be available until at least the second half of the season.

See Also: Ravens Bolster Secondary, Offensive Line In First Round Of 2022 NFL Draft, But New Hole Emerges

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Michigan and UConn Athletics

Bo Smolka

See all posts by Bo Smolka. Follow Bo Smolka on Twitter at @bsmolka