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Ravens Insider: Ravens GM Eric DeCosta sheds light on draft class, including ‘sleeper’ WR who got away and CB Nate Wiggins’ weight

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Two weeks ago, the Ravens’ draft room on the second floor of its sprawling facility in Owings Mills was buzzing. It was the first round of the three-day-long NFL draft, and Baltimore had nine selections to make, trade offers to field and decisions to ponder.

Now, the conference room with its large projection screen, televisions and three long, rectangular tables was quiet, the only remnants of the work that had been done being the neatly written names of all 257 players selected on one board and a list of pro day prospects on another.

On Wednesday, general manager Eric DeCosta met with a group of local media to break down the Ravens’ draft class and provided some insight behind it.

Here are four takeaways from the session.

The ‘sleeper’ wide receiver who got away

There was at least one player the Ravens had their eyes on as a potential Day 2 pick that wasn’t there by the end of Day 1: Florida wide receiver Ricky Pearsall.

Drafted 31st overall by the San Francisco 49ers, Pearsall was, DeCosta said, a “sleeper” whom the Ravens hoped would be there on the second day of the draft when Rounds 2 and 3 took place. Instead, the reigning NFC champions took him with perhaps the idea that he could be the next Puka Nacua — an elite route runner with exceptional hands who had 105 catches for 1,486 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie with the Los Angeles Rams last season.

“Great pick, I give those guys a lot of credit,” DeCosta said. “I thought that’s a guy we might get at some point.

“When you watched his game, he was a super impressive player on tape.”

At 6 feet 1 and 189 pounds, Pearsall projects as a slot receiver for the 49ers alongside wideouts Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and Jauan Jennings.

The wide receiver who fell to them

Along with cornerback and offensive line, wide receiver was another glaring need for the Ravens during the draft — so much so that they had different ones targeted for every round, DeCosta said.

In the end, they drafted only one: Devontez Walker out of North Carolina in the fourth round.

At 6-1 and 191 pounds, his size (and speed) were appealing. Walker struggled with a series of drops at the Senior Bowl, perhaps explaining at least in part why he was still available on Day 3 of the draft, but the Ravens were impressed with what they saw during his time with the Tar Heels.

In eight games with North Carolina last season, Walker had 41 catches for 699 yards and seven touchdowns.

He also perhaps fills a need for Baltimore, given his physical traits, though DeCosta insisted that wasn’t the reason they selected him.

“If it had been a smaller receiver there and he was the best player there we would’ve drafted him,” he said, adding that if Walker hadn’t struggled in his Senior Bowl appearance he likely would have been off the board sooner.

Clemson cornerback Nate Wiggins defends against Georgia Tech wide receiver Eric Singleton Jr. on Nov. 11. (Jacob Kupferman/AP)
Clemson cornerback Nate Wiggins defends against Georgia Tech wide receiver Eric Singleton Jr. on Nov. 11. (Jacob Kupferman/AP)

Ravens not concerned about CB Nate Wiggins’ weight

One of the few concerns about cornerback Nate Wiggins, whom the Ravens drafted 30th overall, is his weight.

At 6-1 and 182 pounds, the former Clemson star is toothpick thin. He’s also fast, rangy and has other traits the Ravens look for in cornerbacks.

“They’ve got to have outrageous traits,” DeCosta said about the team’s proclivity for first-round cornerbacks.

To wit, Marlon Humphrey (16th overall, 2017) was a “a big, physical guy who ran fast” and a “tough competitor.” Jimmy Smith (27th, 2011) had “freakish” size and was a “natural athlete.” Chris McAlister (10th, 1999) had “unbelievable size,” “explosive” ability and “could knock a ball out.” Duane Starks (10th, 1998) was “pound-for-pound one of the toughest guys,” along with being “feisty” and “extremely fast.”

As for Wiggins? DeCosta cited his foot speed and coverage traits.

“Guys don’t get open against him,” he said. “He can just flat out cover. His quality, his superpower is when he’s covering a guy there’s gonna be very little space.

“You want an all-around guy … but when you’re talking about first-round corner, you want traits that will put them ahead of everybody else.”

Traits from other sports that translate

One thing the Ravens do in their evaluation of draft prospects is look beyond football.

More specifically, DeCosta said, there are traits from other sports that translate well, namely basketball, wrestling and baseball. He cited former offensive lineman Joe Reitz as one example.

Reitz was an all-state football player in Indiana but decided to play basketball at Western Michigan, where he went on to finish third in school history in scoring and rebounding. Former Ravens scout Lionel Vital was watching the Mid-American Conference Tournament when he saw Reitz and thought he could make it in the NFL as a tight end or tackle.

Baltimore signed him as an undrafted free agent and he eventually joined the Indianapolis Colts, where he appeared in 73 games, including 44 starts, over six seasons.

Likewise, before Tyler Linderbaum became the Ravens’ center, he beat future Tampa Bay Buccaneers right tackle and Iowa state wrestling champ Tristan Wirfs in a match. Ravens rookie cornerback T.J. Tampa, taken in the fourth round this year, was an athletic and solid basketball player at St. Frances in Alpharetta, Georgia. Wiggins played baseball growing up.

“Players that have had outstanding success at another sport gives you a little bit of insight to how they’re wired, their competitiveness, ability to master a craft or a sport and their discipline,” DeCosta said. “It’s important.”

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