A dandruff shampoo will not stand between the Ravens and a successful draft this month, but it shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Because, as general manager Eric DeCosta builds the team’s draft board over the next two weeks, he will inevitably reach a point at which there are no more viable prospects to consider. And, if that point is earlier than he’d hoped for, he will have shampoo to blame.

Well, kind of. This year’s class of edge rushers, DeCosta said Tuesday at the Ravens’ predraft news conference, is “average.” There are only four consensus first-round picks, and none is expected to be available at No. 30 overall. There could’ve been a fifth, though. That’s where the shampoo comes in.

In mid-January, Ohio State defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau, who’d entered the 2023 season with first-round buzz, announced he was returning for his senior year. A few weeks later came another announcement. Tuimoloau had partnered with an Ohio State donor-backed name, image and likeness collective and a regional supermarket chain on a signature dandruff shampoo. (Retail price: $4.99.) In lieu of a professional career, Tuimoloau had still seized on his earning potential.

The trickle-down effects of college football’s NIL and extended-eligibility era could have profound consequences on the top, bottom and middle of the Ravens’ draft board. With just 58 underclassmen declaring early, the fewest since the NFL’s rookie wage scale was implemented in 2011, this year’s draft is not only missing potential stars at positions of need in Baltimore. Its value could also be weakest where the Ravens are positioned the strongest.

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Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy, a former NFL scout, told reporters in January that the wave of underclassmen returning to school had “wiped out” the all-star game’s board of players projected to be taken in the fifth round and later. Of the Ravens’ nine picks in the 2024 draft, which kicks off April 25, just five are in the first four rounds. The team’s remaining draft capital — one fifth-rounder, one sixth-rounder and two seventh-rounders — could turn into anything: a handful of Day 3 fliers? Fodder for a trade package? A 2025 selection in a pick swap?

Somehow, somewhere, the Ravens will need to find value. In the 2022 and 2023 drafts, the NFL’s first two since since NIL rules changed prospects’ stay-or-go incentives, DeCosta took four players in the fifth round or later: running back Tyler Badie, cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly, and offensive linemen Sala Aumavae-Laulu and Andrew Vorhees. None has played a snap for the Ravens. The team’s three late-round picks in 2021 — cornerback Shaun Wade, outside linebacker Daelin Hayes and fullback Ben Mason — combined for 24 career snaps. Of those seven picks, only Aumavae-Laulu and Vorhees remain under contract in Baltimore.

DeCosta said Tuesday that he sees this draft as key in rebuilding the depth the Ravens lost in free agency this offseason. He also acknowledged that there are fewer “draftable” players on the team’s board this year, due in part to NIL and COVID rules.

“This whole draft landscape has changed,” DeCosta said.

“We’re just in that in-between year this year where I think at certain positions, specifically, it really falls off earlier than it has in the past,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former Ravens scout, said in a February conference call. “And I don’t think the draft is quite as deep because we don’t have the underclassmen … all those experienced guys that we’ll get next year.”

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Last year, the Ravens traded a 2024 sixth-round pick to the Browns to acquire Cleveland’s seventh-round pick, which they then used to draft Vorhees, a midround prospect whose stock had fallen since the USC star tore an ACL at the NFL scouting combine.

This year, the Ravens could be tempted to trade into the 2025 draft, where they’re projected to have 11 picks. Next year’s class will include one of the last groups of college standouts who enrolled during the pandemic and used all five-plus years of eligibility available to them. A deal for a future pick, then, could be doubly valuable, not only getting the Ravens into a deeper reservoir of talent but also getting a higher pick in return.

Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta says some teams have demonstrated success in trading picks for selections in the next year’s draft. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

“That’s one of the nuances of the draft,” DeCosta said. “When you trade a pick in a given round for next year’s pick, you get the benefit of increased value. So, if you trade a fifth-round pick this year, you’d get a fourth-round pick, hypothetically, next year. That discount is actually, if you think about it, it only makes sense because the pick is a year away. But a pick is a pick. ... So there is opportunity there, and some teams do it pretty well.”

“If I’ve got Day 3 picks, I’m trading and moving around. I’m moving up in those first four rounds, for sure,” Nagy, the Senior Bowl official, said in January. A typical fourth-round pick, according to one trade chart, is roughly equivalent in value to a sixth- and seventh-round pick. “It’s not just our board; I’ve spoken to teams in the league. They got wiped out as well. So I think you’re going to see a lot of movement of teams, either trying to move up in the first four rounds or trying to move out and get picks for next year.”

There are gems unearthed in every round, and even after the draft. In building a perennial contender around quarterback Lamar Jackson, DeCosta drafted defensive lineman Broderick Washington (fifth), safeties Chuck Clark (sixth round) and Geno Stone (seventh) and center Bradley Bozeman (sixth), and he signed quarterback Tyler Huntley, running backs Gus Edwards and Keaton Mitchell, fullback Patrick Ricard and offensive lineman Patrick Mekari, among others, as undrafted rookies.

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But, with Jackson’s astronomical cap hit rising every year, the Ravens’ margin for roster-building error continues to shrink. Asked Tuesday about the team’s Super Bowl ambitions, DeCosta said the Ravens would be “in every single year.” How that affects the draft strategy remains to be seen. Opinions vary. Roster needs change.

ESPN draft analyst Field Yates said in a conference call last month that “there’s a touch of risk involved if you just sort of punt on the idea that you’re going to be able to find sixth- and seventh-round players this year that end up being good players.” Matt Miller, another draft analyst for ESPN, called it a more “fallow” draft, with a pool of talent far shallower than last year’s.

“It’s something that kind of goes in waves,” Miller said in a February conference call. “I think smart general managers are always looking at least a year ahead at each position group and at the draft as a whole to try to say, ‘OK, this might be the year where we’re willing to trade a seventh-round pick in 2024 for a seventh-round pick in 2025 because we like the talent pool a little bit better next year.’ So we could see some teams try to bail out a little bit on Day 3. But 256-something players are going to get drafted regardless of how deep the draft pool is.”

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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