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Ravens Insider: Ravens draft will be more essential in 2024, offensive linemen abound and playmakers wanted | TAKEAWAYS


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With nine picks and holes to fill on both sides of the ball, the Ravens see the 2024 draft as essential to rebuilding the roster depth that made them a top contender last season. General manager Eric DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh shared a bit of their vision — while proudly obscuring specific plans — at the team’s annual predraft luncheon Tuesday.

Here are three takeaways from what they said.

The draft will be more essential to building the 2024 Ravens than it was for last year’s team.

DeCosta made just six picks last April, fewest for the franchise since 2009, and only one of those players, wide receiver Zay Flowers, played a prominent role as the Ravens went all the way to the AFC championship game. This was largely by design as DeCosta tabbed players such as linebacker Trenton Simpson and offensive lineman Andrew Vorhees with an eye on what they might contribute in 2024 rather than 2023.

The script has flipped this year. More talent left the organization than entered it over the last two months. The Ravens kept several of their own key free agents, most recently outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, and added an offensive hammer in running back Derrick Henry. But they said farewell to three starters on their offensive line, a Pro Bowl inside linebacker, their best edge rusher and a pair of essential reserves from their secondary. They anticipated this exodus, sure, but it left them with much work to do just to get back to par.

Both Harbaugh and DeCosta made a point of saying the Ravens have no plan to take even a half-step back this season. Come September, they aim to field a team at least as good as the one that won 13 games and clinched the AFC’s No. 1 seed with a week to spare. To do so, they’ll return to a bedrock principle established by DeCosta’s predecessor and mentor, Ozzie Newsome: build through the draft first.

“There’s a real opportunity for us to build that depth up again,” DeCosta said, referring to the flood of picks the team is expected to make over the next two drafts.

This isn’t just about back filling behind the team’s highly compensated stars and young Pro Bowl starters, however. The Ravens need multiple players from this class to compete for snaps right away, especially on the offensive line but also potentially at wide receiver, edge rusher and cornerback. Even if they don’t need immediate starters at all those spots, they need players who might shove their way to the front of the line heading into 2025, when players such as left tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Brandon Stephens, wide receiver Rashod Bateman and outside linebacker Odafe Oweh aren’t guaranteed to be around.

“We’ll have some opportunities for sure. There’s going to be some spots that need to be filled,” DeCosta said. “The burden is on me to find those players.”

Is this a make-or-break draft? Not quite, but the Ravens’ talent pipeline needs feeding.

Georgia offensive lineman Amarius Mims (65) is shown aginst SOuth Carolina during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Georgia offensive tackle Amarius Mims could be an option for the Ravens in the first round. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

This is a great year to need offensive linemen.

Harbaugh reiterated that the draft isn’t the only means by which the Ravens plan to fill the gaps left by departed starters Morgan Moses, Kevin Zeitler and John Simpson. They expect tackle Daniel Faalele, guard Ben Cleveland and the powerful Vorhees (coming off a de facto medical redshirt year) to compete for snaps this summer.

But it’s hard to imagine DeCosta would have been comfortable waving goodbye to stalwart veterans Moses and Zeitler if he was not confident he could snag at least one immediate starter from this draft. We’ve heard it from evaluator after evaluator: there could be 10 starting tackles drafted from the top of the first round to the middle of the second, with potential standouts at guard and center also available on all three days of the draft.

DeCosta noted that the Ravens spent all of Monday on offensive line prospects, because there were just so many draftable players to review. Do you fancy an athletically gifted talent who didn’t play much such as Georgia’s Amarius Mims? Or a more refined plug-in at right tackle such as BYU’s Kingsley Suamataia?

There’s an answer to fit every strategy, including a possible trade out of the first round.

And the key point to keep in mind is the Ravens’ work won’t stop with the first offensive lineman they draft. DeCosta will almost certainly draft at least two and perhaps three, recognizing that center Tyler Linderbaum is his only current starter certain to be on the team in 2025. This is the year for the Ravens to set up their offensive line for the next half-decade.

“Offensive line is just stacked across the board, in most rounds,” DeCosta said.

It’s a perfect meeting of need and opportunity.

The calls for a playmaker aren’t quite as urgent, but expect another wide receiver and another running back.

It was unusual to go through a predraft news conference without DeCosta having to answer for the team’s spotty track record evaluating wide receivers. That’s partly because Flowers, the team’s third first-round receiver in five years, performed well as a rookie, and partly because of the more obvious holes along the offensive line.

But with Bateman, the team’s 2021 first-round pick, still looking for a breakout season and potentially headed to free agency after this year, the Ravens do need another young pass catcher. Harbaugh and quarterback Lamar Jackson have discussed which type of receiver — fans still lust after a big, fast X receiver on the outside — might be the the best fit.

Again, the good news for the Ravens is that this draft class comes packed with options of all sizes, speeds and styles. DeCosta put the wide receiver group right next to the offensive linemen when asked which positions will yield the most fruit on the draft’s second and third days.

The running backs are far less hyped, and the Ravens already made their big move there when they signed Henry. In fact, DeCosta suggested that teams rushed to scoop up starters in free agency in part because there’s not a premium ball carrier projected to go in the first round of the draft.

That said, he expects interest in running backs to intensify in the middle three rounds and all but guaranteed the Ravens will draft a player to supplement Henry, Justice Hill and rehabilitating Keaton Mitchell. No, they won’t be looking for a runner to take carries away from Henry, but they could use another versatile threat to rotate in on third down and to take advantage of the NFL’s new kickoff rules, designed to increase returns.

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