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It often takes at least three years to properly judge a draft class, and making judgments just a week after the NFL Draft can often prove misleading a year or two down the road. The Cincinnati Bengals have received widespread praise for their draft, but it is one of their AFC North rivals who could be sitting back and smiling two or three years down the road.
The Baltimore Ravens, led by their esteemed General Manager Ozzie Newsome, are strict adherents to the policy of ‘best player available’ in the draft and, given the multiple needs they had coming into the draft, their ability to still adhere to this policy was very impressive. In fact, the more you look at the Ravens’ current class of rookies, the more you like them, kind of like Michael Jordan’s dunk over a helpless Patrick Ewing back in the early 90’s. Sorry Patrick.
Drafting with the 32nd pick of each round, despite being a problem every team in the league would gladly have, was a challenge Newsome and Co. rose to manfully, and got things underway taking Matt Elam in the first round. The safety will likely step in for the recently departed Bernard Pollard, acting as an enforcer in the secondary, but the rookie is far more than a big hitter. Watch tape of Elam at Florida and you will see a player with all the instincts and coverage ability of a potential ‘ball hawk’ in the NFL. Having a player with that kind of dual-threat in the their secondary will be big boost to the Ravens.
Fearing they could lose their man, Baltimore traded up in the second round, taking linebacker Arthur Brown out of Kansas St., once again securing the best player available while also filling a substantial need. Brown will inevitably be compared to the recently retired Ray Lewis, but Brown is a mature and confident enough player to ignore those comparisons and focus on playing his own game. Like Elam, Brown should also start in his rookie year, and should provide much needed help to a Baltimore defense which uncharacteristically gave up a lot of yards last season.
Newsome, as well as Head Coach John Harbaugh, said that their plans for the 2013 offseason were to strengthen the spine of the defense, and by the end of the third round, they had done just that. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams, the 94th overall pick, might not start immediately on a defensive line boasting the talents of Haloti Ngata, Chris Canty and Arthur Jones, but he will certainly be seen in the rotation, and could be starting at nose tackle before long.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Ravens drafted Kyle Juszczyk (Harvard), arguably the best fullback in the draft, who will learn from Vonta Leach, arguably the best fullback in the NFL, while also probably getting some snaps at tight end. Baltimore also took two linemen in Ricky Wagner (Wisconsin) and Ryan Jensen (Colorado State-Pueblo), both of whom will provide depth and challenge for starters roles. Seventh round pick Aaron Mellette, a wide receiver out of Elon, is another great value pickup for the Ravens, and could feature as a slot receiver in his rookie season if he impresses, as the duo of Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones are bound to continue stretching the field.
Baltimore wasn’t finished defensively either, taking John Simon (Ohio St.), Kapron Lewis-Moore (Notre Dame) and Marc Anthony (California) in the fourth, sixth and seventh rounds respectively. Simon will likely transition from defensive end to outside linebacker in the Ravens’ scheme, and could see time as a rotational pass rusher, while Lewis-Moore will have to contend with an injury he sustained during the bowl game against Alabama, but would likely have gone much higher if he had been healthy, and should be a welcome boost to Baltimore later in the season. Cornerback Anthony, like Mellette, should have been off the board much earlier, and although his contributions this season will likely come on special teams, the depth behind Lardarius Webb, Corey Graham and Jimmy Smith at corner is so thin it would not be too surprising to see him challenge Chris Johnson or Chykie Brown for game time.
The Ravens lost a lot of leaders and veterans this offseason, and we’re not saying that this class of rookies will send Baltimore straight back to Super Bowl (although don’t try telling them that…). But the foundations are being rebuilt that will see the Ravens continue to be a perennial playoff team for years to come. Baltimore had to wait 13 years for their second Super Bowl win, but if these players can reach their potentials, don’t expect them to be waiting 13 more for their third.
Image credit: Baltimore Ravens via Facebook