The Ravens received national acclaim for their 11-man draft class, with the consensus being that Eric DeCosta and his staff received tremendous value, especially in their early picks.
Time will tell whether that praise is justified. Similar plaudits after the 2019 draft now seem premature considering that four of the first six picks in that class — Jaylon Ferguson, Miles Boykin, Justice Hill and Iman Marshall — have had little to no impact on the team.
Still, an exhausted DeCosta called the three-day draft marathon “a great weekend for us,” and said the Ravens are a better team than they were a week ago. But there was no shortage of intrigue along the way.
On the first night, the Ravens announced they had traded away their leading wide receiver, and by the end of the third day, it appeared they were ready to bid farewell to a Ring of Honor candidate and franchise leader in games played.
Along the way, they nabbed Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton — viewed by DeCosta as a top-five talent — with the No. 14 pick in the draft, selected the consensus top center and addressed several other areas of need with their haul of six fourth-round picks.
Here are five quick takeaways on the Ravens’ 2022 draft:
1. Significant holes remain at edge rusher and wide receiver.
For all of DeCosta’s optimism, it has to be concerning that even after drafting 11 players, the Ravens still have substantial needs at edge rusher and wide receiver.
The Ravens knew that Michigan edge rusher David Ojabo, selected in the second round, was a long-term play. He’s considered a first-round talent with Pro Bowl potential, but that is unlikely to show up on the field this year. Ojabo tore his Achilles at Michigan’s Pro Day in March, and it’s uncertain whether he will play at all this season. The pass rush was perhaps the roster’s biggest area of need going into the draft, and in the near term, it’s the biggest area of need coming out of the draft.
Tyus Bowser is coming off an Achilles tear in the season finale, but the pressure is on him and Odafe Oweh considering that Ojabo was the only edge rusher the team drafted. The Ravens could look to add another pass rusher via free agency — Justin Houston remains unsigned — and are still waiting for Jaylon Ferguson to live up to his “Sack Daddy” nickname.
The Ravens also passed on drafting a wide receiver after trading away leading wide receiver Marquise Brown. Miles Boykin had already been released, and Sammy Watkins hit free agency after one nondescript season with the Ravens. That leaves the Ravens with a receiver room led by Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, James Proche and Tylan Wallace.
DeCosta didn’t seem enamored with the depth of the receiver class, and once a run on the top receivers started, DeCosta’s best-available-player mantra had the Ravens looking elsewhere.
The Ravens will invite another cast of undrafted rookies to camp, and while they often create buzz on practice fields in July, rarely have they made an impact during the season. The Ravens might need to hope they can find another Marlon Brown, who caught 49 passes for 524 yards and seven touchdowns for the Ravens in 2013 as an undrafted rookie out of Georgia.
The Ravens could look to the free agent market, but it’s fair to wonder whether receivers would consider Baltimore an attractive destination given the run-first mentality. Marquise Brown certainly did not.
No team finds all the answers during the draft, and no one really knows for months or even a few years whether the draft class was a success. But after taking 11 players to fortify the roster, major questions remain.
2. The Ravens made the right call in trading Marquise Brown.
The trade of Brown to the Arizona Cardinals, announced moments after the Ravens selected Hamilton with the No. 14 overall pick, was a stunning surprise to most people, but not to anyone in that Ravens war room, and certainly not to Brown, who appeared at a Cardinals draft party shortly after the deal was announced.
DeCosta explained that Brown had requested a trade after the season. Despite ranking 10th in the league in targets (146) and finishing with 91 catches for 1,008 yards — becoming just the second receiver drafted by the Ravens to have a 1,000-yard season with the team — Brown was clearly unhappy with how he fit into Greg Roman’s offensive system.
It made little sense to keep a mercurial player who didn’t want to be on the team and has at times publicly griped when the ball didn’t come his way. Brown’s fifth-year option, which DeCosta has said the Ravens planned to exercise, would have cost about $13 million on the cap next year.
Instead, the Ravens traded Brown and acquired another first-round pick, which they used on Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum, whom DeCosta called one of the best centers he has seen in the draft in years. Unlike Brown, Linderbaum seems a good fit for the offensive system the Ravens want to run, and unlike Brown, it seems he wants to be here.
DeCosta called the trade of Brown a “complicated topic,” given that Brown was DeCosta’s very first draft pick as GM, and it is further complicated by the fact that Brown and quarterback Lamar Jackson are best friends. But the move made sense, and the Ravens appear to have gotten good value in making the trade, even if they acknowledge they have created a major hole at wide receiver.
“We like our group [of receivers],” DeCosta said. “We will add players to the mix. … It wasn’t really by design that we wanted to create a hole on the team. I don’t look at it that way, but in this business, you pivot, you dodge, you weave, you’re always really going to be chasing a need.”
3. Sam Koch has been around long enough to know that it’s just business.
The biggest surprise of the Ravens’ draft came when they selected Penn State punter Jordan Stout in the fourth round. That would seemingly spell the end for 16-year veteran Sam Koch, who has played more games for the Ravens (256) than any other player in franchise history.
DeCosta called Koch “part of the fabric of this team,” but he also said he informed Koch that the team might be selecting a punter. That they did so in the fourth round shows how much they value Stout, but also that their decision to move on from Koch, emotional though it may be, is essentially done.
The Ravens are not going to keep two punters on the 53-man roster, and they don’t cut rookie fourth-round draft picks. Stout is going to move forward as the Ravens’ punter. The only question now is how the Ravens and Koch process the end of the line.
Koch, who turns 40 in August, is due to make $2.1 million this season. Last year, when the Ravens parted ways with another member of the special teams “Wolfpack,” longtime long snapper Morgan Cox, DeCosta said it was a tough decision but, “You have to continue to get younger as a team.”
One of these days, expect him to say much the same about Koch, whose time with the Ravens predates even head coach John Harbaugh.
4. DeCosta stayed true to his pledge to address the offensive line.
At this season-ending news conference, DeCosta said the offensive line would be a top offseason priority. Clearly, he didn’t like seeing his quarterbacks sacked a franchise-record 57 times and didn’t see running plays blown up at the line of scrimmage, though the team had to hastily assemble a crew of street free-agent backs after injuries decimated the running back room.
DeCosta signed tackle Morgan Moses early in free agency, but he further addressed the line in the draft, adding Linderbaum in the first round and massive Minnesota tackle Daniel Faalele — all 6-foot-8 and 380 pounds of him — in Round 4.
Harbaugh has all but declared Linderbaum would be a Week 1 starter, something he rarely does with rookies, and called him “I think … the best lineman we’ve seen in many, many years.”
“You can talk all about the traits, but the bottom line is, do they block people? This is a center who blocks people all the time, play after play, many times, in dominant fashion.”
The arrival of Linderbaum means super-utility lineman Patrick Mekari, who was a candidate to succeed Bradley Bozeman at center, could compete for the starting left guard job, or could even become an insurance, stopgap option at left tackle if Ronnie Stanley’s ankle injury remains an issue.
As always, the Ravens will try different combinations in training camp, but DeCosta said he wanted to get bigger and better up front this offseason, and he has taken several steps to do exactly that.
5. The Ravens’ offense became even more tight-end-centric.
The Ravens have an offense considered very tight-end-friendly, and it helps when you have an All-Pro in Mark Andrews. But en route to their 2019 run to the AFC’s top overall seed and 14-2 record, it helped having Hayden Hurst, who caught 30 passes for 349 yards, and a healthy Nick Boyle (31-321).
Hurst was traded to the Atlanta Falcons after that season, a deal that netted a draft pick that became running back J.K. Dobbins, but for an offense that relies so heavily on tight ends, the lack of another consistent receiving tight end has been notable. This past season, Josh Oliver ranked second among tight ends with nine catches, for 66 yards.
The Ravens have created a major hole in the offense with the trade of Brown, and it looks as if one way they plan to fill it is with two pass-catching tight ends they drafted in the fourth round: Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar and Coastal Carolina’s Isaiah Likely.
Kolar (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) made 62 catches for 756 yards this past season and has 23 career touchdowns. Harbaugh called him “a big receiver for us in the middle of the field” who can also block. Likely (6-foot-4, 238) had 912 receiving yards this past year, and five of his 27 career touchdown catches were longer more than 50 yards.
“He’s just really electric,” Harbaugh said, noting that they aren’t exactly sure how Likely will fit on this team, but “he definitely fits as a playmaker.”
Boyle’s health and status remain uncertain after he missed nearly the entire 2021 season recovering from a major knee injury sustained late in the 2020 season, and if he returns to full health, the Ravens could have a crowded tight end room with Andrews, Boyle, Kolar and Likely, plus fullback Patrick Ricard.
Is there enough room for all of them? In this offense, and especially with their shortage at wide receiver, there probably is.
RAVENS 2022 DRAFT CLASS
1st round (No. 14 overall): S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
1st round (25): C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
2nd round (45): OLB David Ojabo, Michigan
3rd round (76): DL Travis Jones, Connecticut
4th round (110): T Daniel Faalele, Minnesota
4th round (119): CB Jalyn Armour-Davis, Alabama
4th round (128): TE Charlie Kolar, Iowa State
4th round (130): P Jordan Stout, Penn State
4th round (139): TE Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina
4th round (141): CB Damarion Williams, Houston
6th round (196): RB Tyler Badie, Missouri
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Notre Dame, Iowa, Michigan, UConn and Minnesota Athletics