Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta is not a patient man, but he’ll have to bide his time when the NFL draft kicks off April 25. The Ravens have the No. 30 overall pick, their latest first-round slot in over a decade, and DeCosta knows the team’s options will be limited by then.

“If you’re picking 28th or 30th,” he said last Tuesday, “you might only have 15 or 20 guys that you really want.”

So what will the Ravens do when they’re finally on the clock? In the two weeks leading up to the draft, The Baltimore Banner will make the case for how DeCosta should handle the Ravens’ first-round pick, from rebuilding their offensive line to bolstering their secondary to moving around the draft board.

On Friday, we made the case for Oklahoma offensive tackle Tyler Guyton. Today, it’s for Texas wide receiver Adonai Mitchell.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The need

Over the past five years, no team has spent more draft capital on wide receivers than the Ravens. in that span, they’ve taken three wideouts in the first round (Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Rashod Bateman and Zay Flowers), two in the third round (Miles Boykin and Devin Duvernay) and two on Day 3 (James Proche II and Tylan Wallace).

But, in keeping with the franchise’s long and storied tradition at the position, the Ravens still need more help. Their wide receivers combined for 2,216 receiving yards last season, seventh fewest in the NFL, and their second-leading receiver overall, free agent Odell Beckham Jr. (565 yards), is not expected to re-sign.

Flowers was a sensation as a rookie, setting Ravens rookie records with 77 catches and 858 receiving yards, but he’s the team’s only wide receiver signed beyond 2024. Even if Bateman (367 yards in 2023) steps up in what could be his final year in Baltimore, he might not be around for long. Same goes for Nelson Agholor (381 yards), who turns 31 next month and is playing on another modest one-year deal. Wallace (11 yards), meanwhile, has just seven catches over his first three seasons.

With the profusion of wide receiver talent in the draft, the Ravens will probably never need to spend lavishly in free agency to acquire talented pass catchers. (Then again, big-ticket acquisitions might prove increasingly difficult with the growing salary cap hits of stars like quarterback Lamar Jackson.) But the Ravens will need to be proactive in their approach to the draft. Certain receiver archetypes are not available for long.

This year’s class, for instance, is especially rich with potential “X” receivers like Mitchell, who have the size, speed and strength to line up on the line of scrimmage, defeat press coverage and win their one-on-one matchups downfield. Bateman and Flowers both primarily lined up out wide last season, but Bateman did not command targets, and Flowers was often sent in motion before the snap. Beckham was actually the team’s most effective option as an isolated wide receiver, averaging an impressive 2.8 yards per route run in those alignments, according to Sports Info Solutions, far ahead of Flowers (1.8 yards) and Bateman (1.7 yards).

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The draft range

Mitchell could help make history next week. In 2004, an NFL-record seven wide receivers, headlined by Larry Fitzgerald, were selected in the first round of the draft. This year’s class could match that record, or perhaps even top it. According to DraftKings, the over-under for the number of first-round wide receivers taken is 6.5.

Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. and LSU’s Malik Nabers are top-10 locks, and Washington’s Rome Odunze could go before Nabers. LSU’s Brian Thomas Jr. is a likely top-20 pick himself. After that, though, the draft could go anywhere.

According to one consensus big board, the high-upside Mitchell is one of five receivers projected to go late in the first round or early in the second round. Also in the mix: Georgia’s Ladd McConkey, one of the draft’s best route runners; Longhorns teammate Xavier Worthy, who ran the fastest 40-yard dash in NFL scouting combine history (4.21 seconds); Oregon’s Troy Franklin, a productive, speedy downfield option; and Florida State’s Keon Coleman, who has some of the class’ best highlight reel catches. South Carolina’s Xavier Legette is another first-round dark horse.

If Mitchell is near the top of the Ravens’ wish list, they might have to trade up to get him. The Buffalo Bills, slotted in at No. 28, will likely take a wide receiver in the first round after trading away Stefon Diggs. The Detroit Lions, drafting one pick later, could also look to add a field-stretching wide receiver to complement Amon-Ra St. Brown and tight end Sam LaPorta.

According to DraftKings, the over-under for Mitchell’s draft slot is 27.5. On ESPN’s draft predictor, however, there’s about a 65% chance that he’ll still be available at No. 30.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The fit

Athletically, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Mitchell is a rare breed. His 4.34-second 40-yard dash is in the 97th percentile for wide receivers and the 99th percentile for players his size. His broad jump, a measure of lower-body explosiveness, is in the 99th percentile for wide receivers and the 100th percentile for players his size. His vertical jump is in the 92nd percentile for both groups. His 6-foot-5 wingspan is also above average.

Blend it all together, and Mitchell can make the position look easy at times. In an early-season win over Alabama last season, he made quick work of press coverage against the Crimson Tide’s talented cornerbacks, notably projected first-round picks Terrion Arnold (No. 3 jersey) and Kool-Aid McKinstry (No. 1 jersey).

With few manufactured touches in Texas’ run-pass-option-heavy scheme — in 14 games, he was targeted on passes of 3 air yards or fewer just 10 times, according to SIS — Mitchell had to win over the middle and downfield. Working primarily from the outside, he showed reliable hands and a quarterback-friendly catch radius as he posted 55 catches for 845 yards and a Big 12 Conference-leading 11 touchdowns. Mitchell dropped just one pass in 2023, according to Pro Football Focus, and turned 81.8% of his completions into a first down or a score.

Even in an offense starring the lighting-fast Worthy, Mitchell was the Longhorns’ most popular deep threat. He had eight completions on 22 targets of at least 20 air yards last season, both team highs, and he caught 88.9% of the deep shots that were considered on-target, according to SIS.

In a Ravens attack with a long-inconsistent downfield passing game, Mitchell could develop into a much-needed safety net: savvy enough to separate downfield, fast enough to get behind safeties and big enough to win jump-ball throws along the sideline.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Mitchell’s history of clutch plays in the College Football Playoff — one touchdown catch in all five games he played in, including the go-ahead score in Georgia’s 2022 national championship game win over Alabama — also can’t be overlooked. Ravens wide receivers have combined for just three touchdown catches in the playoffs since 2019. One of those scores, a Tyler Huntley-to-Demarcus Robinson 41-yarder against the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2022 postseason, came from two players no longer on the team.

Reuniting Mitchell with Ravens offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who served as Georgia’s play-caller during Mitchell’s two years with the program, could add another dimension to a loaded skill group. With the signing of star running back Derrick Henry, the Ravens should see even more loaded defensive fronts next season, as opponents drop a safety into the box to keep Jackson and Henry contained.

And the more one-high coverages the Ravens get, the more space Flowers, Bateman and potentially Mitchell would have to work with down the sideline. Mitchell is not a contested-catch dynamo, but he has the frame and ball skills to help unlock one facet of Jackson’s game. Over his career as a starter in Baltimore, the two-time NFL Most Valuable Player has completed just one back-shoulder fade, according to SIS: a 30-yarder to Agholor in Pittsburgh last season. Mitchell had three such catches just last year.

The red flags

Mitchell’s production is an outlier for a first-round wide receiver prospect. The four most coveted players at the position — Harrison, Nabers, Odunze and Thomas — all ranked in the top 12 nationally last season in receiving yards. Mitchell, meanwhile, finished outside of the top 50 and second on Texas, behind Worthy. The year before, Mitchell missed most of Georgia’s season with a high-ankle sprain. As a true freshman in 2021, he was third among the Bulldogs in catches (29) and fourth in receiving yards (426).

Wide receivers with Mitchell’s skill set are rare. But NFL stardom for wide receivers with Mitchell’s college production might be even rarer. With a low target share last year (19.3% of Texas’ pass attempts), he averaged just 1.72 yards per route run, a measure considered one of the more reliable indicators of receiving ability. According to PFF, that final-college-season rate would be the lowest of any Ravens receiver drafted since 2015. It also ranks in the third percentile among all wide receiver prospects since 2019.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Mitchell’s freakish athleticism belies some surprising holes in his game. He averaged just 3.2 yards after the catch last season, a bottom-of-the-class rate that can’t be fully explained by his share of downfield targets. On his 30 receptions of passes of 10 air yards or fewer, Mitchell averaged just 3.5 yards after the catch and broke zero tackles, according to SIS. Worthy, meanwhile, averaged 8.3 yards after the catch for Texas.

Mitchell’s contested-catch rate also fell over his three years in college, according to PFF, from 50% as a freshman (5-for-10) to 44.4% as a sophomore (4-for-9) to 36.4% last season (4-for-11).

Maybe his most surprising drop-off last season, though, was his engagement as a blocker. At Georgia, Mitchell’s effort level on run plays and screen passes was fairly consistent. At Texas, he seemed to run hot and cold, barely offering a shoulder to defensive backs on some plays and hunting them down in the box on others.

Mitchell’s half-speed approach occasionally carried over into his routes at Texas, especially if he wasn’t one of the first reads in Longhorns quarterback Quinn Ewers’ progression. At the scouting combine, Mitchell said he “never” runs his routes at full speed. “That’s just the part of my game that allows me to run routes for the whole drive and mostly just feel like I’m in control when I’m running routes with the people I’m going against,” he told reporters.

In 2019, asked about the team’s struggles at wide receiver, DeCosta said the Ravens needed more “at-bats” in the draft. Over the past five years, DeCosta has taken swing after swing at the position. Mitchell could be his biggest yet.

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.

More From The Banner