After last season’s virtual draft, Cleveland is playing host to festivities this year with a handful of potential draft picks present and socially distanced because of COVID-19.
Here’s a pick-by-pick look at how each player Baltimore has selected will fit.
Round 1, No. 27 overall: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
My take: A week after general manager Eric DeCosta said he was “insulted” by the criticism of the team’s current wide receivers, Baltimore showed its commitment to upgrade the weapons on the outside for Lamar Jackson by selecting a wide receiver over replacing Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle (Teven Jenkins was available) or filling the biggest need at pass-rusher (Azeez Ojulari, Jayson Oweh and Gregory Rousseau were on the board). “He really checked off all the boxes,” DeCosta said. “From my perspective, it was a very easy pick to make.” After watching their wide receivers finish last in receiving yards the past two years, the Ravens now have three first-round picks at wide receiver (Bateman, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Sammy Watkins) for the first time in franchise history. Bateman has been compared to Keenan Allen for how he creates separation with his route-running. By investing their first pick in a wide receiver, does that end the speculation of Baltimore pursuing Julio Jones?
Affected by COVID-19: Bateman was one of the best wide receivers in college football in 2019, averaging 20.3 yards per reception. That’s the highest average by a Big Ten player since 2001 (minimum 50 receptions). But Bateman was infected with COVID-19 over the summer, and it led to a disappointing 2020 season (36 catches for 472 yards in five games). Suffering from asthma, Bateman said he lost 10 pounds. “It affected my body, the way I perform and the way I fatigue,” Bateman said. “It definitely feels better to have my weight back up and to feel fully healthy.”
No fear: The Ravens remain relentless in their pursuit of wide receivers early in drafts despite their track record. Over the past 25 years, the Ravens have had one 1,000-yard season from a drafted receiver, the fewest of any team in the NFL. Bateman is the seventh wide receiver drafted by Baltimore in the past four drafts, including two first-rounders in the past three drafts. Baltimore and the Washington Football Team are the only teams not to draft a Pro Bowl wide receiver since 1996.
Round 1, No. 31 overall: Jayson Oweh, LB, Penn State
Check out the stellar highlights from Penn State’s Jayson Oweh.
My take: The Ravens could’ve used the first-round pick acquired in the Orlando Brown Jr. trade to replace the two-time Pro Bowl right tackle with Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins. Instead, Baltimore fills its biggest need by selecting the most athletically gifted pass-rusher in this draft. Oweh is the DK Metcalf of outside linebackers. He recorded the best 40 time (4.37 seconds), longest broad jump (11 feet, 2 inches) and fastest 3-cone drill (6.9 seconds) of any edge-rusher, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Oweh’s 40-time was faster than wide receiver Rashod Bateman’s (4.39 seconds), Baltimore’s other first-round pick.
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No sacks, no problem: Oweh is the first defensive end/outside linebacker to get selected in the first round in the past 25 years after recording no sacks in his final college season, according to ESPN Stats & Info. But the Ravens didn’t hesitate in taking Oweh in the first round despite getting offers to trade back. “We also watch the tape and look at his athletic ability,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Just for that very fact, I think he’s a perfect fit for our defense.” Oweh’s 14.2% pressure rate ranked 26th in the FBS.
End of 18-year drought: Baltimore is expected to sign a free-agent pass-rusher like Justin Houston after the draft, but it was important to find its next young outside linebacker after Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue left this offseason. That’s why the Ravens selected an edge-rusher in the first round for the first time since drafting Terrell Suggs in 2003. Every other NFL team had drafted at least one edge-rusher over that span. This should help quiet the narrative that the Ravens value the secondary more than the pass rush.
Name change: After getting drafted by the Ravens, Oweh told reporters that he wants to go by his first name Odafe (pronounced O-dah-FAY). He had used Jayson, his middle name, because it was easier for others to say. Oweh said people are going to have to learn how to say his first name now that he’s in the NFL.
Round 3, No. 94 overall: Ben Cleveland, OG, Georgia
My take: If there was going to be a team that takes an offensive lineman nicknamed “Big Country,” it would be the one with the NFL’s most dominating ground attack. The 6-foot-6, 343-pound Cleveland is a bulldozer of a blocker, who will get a chance to compete right away for the Ravens’ left guard position. This move could allow Bradley Bozeman to shift from left guard to center.
Cleveland isn’t the most fluid athlete, but he will push back defenders for Lamar Jackson, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. He’s also an effective pass-blocker, allowing one sack and three quarterback pressures in 741 pass-blocking snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
This marks the third time in four drafts that Baltimore has selected an offensive lineman in the first three rounds. With their first three picks, the Ravens have addressed their three biggest needs: wide receiver, pass rush and offensive line.
Ravens GM Eric DeCosta said coach John Harbaugh has been campaigning for Cleveland the past two months. Harbaugh was lobbying to trade up to secure him. “This is John’s pick,” DeCosta said.
Round 3, No. 104 overall: Brandon Stephens, DB, SMU
My take: A former running back at UCLA, Stephens converted to cornerback at SMU and could change positions in the NFL. “He really fits the profile of a free safety-type player,” GM Eric DeCosta said. Baltimore needs a centerfield-type defensive back with hard-hitting safeties Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott, who combined for only eight pass breakups last season. Stephens has great ball skills, leading SMU in each of the past two seasons by breaking up a total of 22 passes. The Ravens also desperately lacked depth at safety beyond Clark and Elliott, who is a free agent after this season. Stephens will make an immediate impact on special teams, which the Ravens value greatly. “A lot of upside potential,” DeCosta said.
Round 4, No. 131 overall: Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
My take: The Ravens continue to heavily invest in the wide receiver position and remain persistent in providing more weapons for Lamar Jackson. Baltimore selected Wallace in the fourth round after picking Rashod Bateman in the first. This marks the fourth straight draft in which the Ravens have selected two wide receivers. Wallace is known for his explosive plays and dependable hands. His 1.1% drop rate in 2020 was the second-best in the FBS. “He’s only 5-11 but he plays like he’s 6-3,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “He plays physical whether it’s as a route runner, contested catches or after the catch.” Projected to go as high as the second round, Wallace said teams scrutinized his medical history (torn ACL in right knee in 2019 and sprain in same knee in 2020). “I’m happy that Baltimore took a chance on me,” Wallace said.