Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta is not a patient man, but he’ll have to bide his time when the NFL draft kicks off next Thursday. 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 week, “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.

Over the past week, we’ve made the case for Oklahoma offensive tackle Tyler Guyton and Texas wide receiver Adonai Mitchell. Today, it’s for Alabama cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry.

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The need

In Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Stephens, the Ravens have an outside-cornerback duo that is, at the very least, pretty solid. They combined to allow just three touchdowns when targeted in coverage last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and each had stretches in which he blanketed opposing wide receivers. Humphrey gave up just 24 yards total from Week 6 to Week 10. Stephens didn’t allow more than 50 yards in a game from Week 9 to Week 15.

The challenge for the pair, as it is for the Ravens’ secondary seemingly every year, is staying healthy. Humphrey hurt his foot in training camp, missed the first four games of the season while recovering from surgery, and played just 10 games and 541 defensive snaps total, by far the fewest of his career. Stephens missed the Week 17 win over the Miami Dolphins with a minor ankle injury.

With the Ravens re-signing slot cornerback Arthur Maulet to a two-year, $4 million deal this offseason, the need for help is not urgent. But needs change quickly. Stephens is entering the final year of his rookie contract, Maulet will turn 31 in July, and injuries have muted the impact of Jalyn Armour-Davis and Damarion “Pepe” Williams over their first two seasons. Ronald Darby’s reemergence in Baltimore will likely net the Ravens a compensatory draft pick, but his departure in free agency last month — he signed a two-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars worth up to $10 million — deprived first-year coordinator Zach Orr of a stellar stopgap option.

DeCosta indicated last week that the Ravens would draft a corner, and he said there are “definitely some players who can come in right away and probably compete to start for us.” Humphrey’s inside-out versatility gives the Ravens flexibility in finding potential fits.

“We would love to add a talented corner at some point in the draft, whether that’s first round or second round or third round, whatever that might be,” DeCosta said. “That’s a position, as you all know, that typically, you never have enough due to injuries and different things. Guys will break down through the course of the season. Our depth has always been tested in the secondary. This year was no exception.”

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The draft range

Three cornerbacks are likely to be taken before McKinstry: Alabama teammate Terrion Arnold, Toledo’s Quinyon Mitchell and Iowa’s Cooper DeJean. Clemson’s Nate Wiggins could also edge him out as CB4.

With many of the defenses in the back half of the first round searching for cornerback help, McKinstry’s not expected to make it to Day 2. He’s listed as the No. 24 overall prospect on one consensus big board, 14 spots ahead of the next-highest-rated cornerback, and he has been linked to almost every team picking in the 20s and 30s.

According to DraftKings, the over-under for McKinstry’s draft slot is 27.5. On ESPN’s draft predictor, meanwhile, there’s about a 65% chance that he’ll be on the board at No. 30 and about a 45% chance that he’s not a first-round pick.

The fit

Of all the players linked to the Ravens in the first round, McKinstry might be the safest bet to contribute early and often.

Unlike Oklahoma’s Guyton, he’s not a project. McKinstry started 33 games over three seasons for former Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, a defensive guru, including all 17 games over the past two years. He graded out well in both man and zone schemes and lined up regularly in press coverage, showing a patience that rarely left him out of position.

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Unlike Texas’ Mitchell, McKinstry has a track record of production. He broke up 16 passes on 80 targets in 2022 and broke up seven passes during a less busy 2023, when he was targeted just 39 times. In both seasons, he allowed just one touchdown and a completion percentage under 50%, according to PFF.

And, unlike Georgia offensive tackle Amarius Mims and wide receiver Ladd McConkey, there are no significant injury concerns. McKinstry played 2,199 defensive snaps over three seasons at Alabama, never missing a game. (A concussion did, however, sideline him in a College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Michigan last season.) After medical checks revealed a Jones fracture in McKinstry’s right foot at the NFL scouting combine in February, he recovered in time to run a 4.47-second 40-yard dash at his Alabama pro day last month.

As a prospect, McKinstry is eerily similar to Humphrey, the last cornerback the Ravens took in the first round. Both were five-star recruits from Alabama. Both became full-time starters in their sophomore year. Both earned All-America honors. Both left after their junior season. At the combine, Humphrey measured in at 6 feet and 197 pounds, with 32 1/4-inch arms; McKinstry measured in at 5-11 1/2 and 199 pounds, with 32-inch arms.

Humphrey started five games as a rookie in Baltimore. McKinstry, with his schematic versatility and smooth footwork, should challenge for a starting job wherever he lands. At Alabama, lining up primarily as the right outside cornerback, he wasn’t flagged for a single penalty last season. And, despite concerns about his deep speed, he helped shut down LSU standout Brian Thomas Jr., one of the draft’s most athletic wide receivers, in a win last November.

McKinstry’s football IQ also stood out on tape. His ability to recognize routes and concepts helped him break on passes and organize his teammates as plays unfolded.

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“I feel like I can fit into any scheme as a cornerback,” McKinstry said at the combine. “I feel like, if I went to a team that played more off-zone [coverage] or if I went to a team that played man, they’ll be getting the same player that would have the same production.”

The red flags

McKinstry’s game is hard to pick apart. (So is the nickname Kool-Aid, which comes from his grandmother, who was reminded of the Kool-Aid Man’s smile when she saw him as a baby.) McKinstry’s biggest flaw might be that, for as well rounded as his skill set is, he lacks an elite trait.

Positional versatility? He played just a handful of snaps in the slot over his college career.

Game-breaking potential? He had just two interceptions at Alabama.

Special teams value? He averaged 11.3 yards per punt return over the past two seasons but also muffed five punts.

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Run defense? He was a reliable tackler but turned into a spectator on some plays.

McKinstry’s makeup speed might be his biggest question mark, especially if he’s slotted into a defense that asks him to play press coverage as often as he did in college. Alabama’s fierce pass rush helped limit the amount of downfield shots McKinstry faced last season, but there were missteps along the way.

Against Texas’ speedy wideouts, McKinstry allowed a season-high four catches for 47 yards, according to PFF. Against Texas A&M, he got beat on a back-shoulder fade for a 32-yard gain by Evan Stewart. In a win over Ole Miss, he got cooked at the line of scrimmage by Zakhari Franklin, whose call for a deep shot went ignored. Neither wide receiver was a star — Stewart finished the year with 514 yards, Franklin with 38 — and McKinstry’s margin for error will only shrink in the pros.

“I would say people always question my long speed because you really can’t find no plays where I’m beat or where I’m having to use long speed,” McKinstry said at the combine. “I do a good job of keeping guys cut off and having good technique at the line of scrimmage, where guys do not have the chance to run past me and I have to use long speed. …

“So my long speed may be a question because I do a good job with my technique at the line of scrimmage or even when I’m playing zone. … As a DB, you have to respect the deep part of the field. You cannot give up nothing deep, and every DB coach will agree with that in the world. So I think that’s the main reason my speed is questioned, just because I do a good job at cutting guys off. And there’s really no tape where you can see a guy beating me deep.”

The Ravens don’t need to take a cornerback next Thursday, but they could certainly use one like McKinstry. Then again, so could every other team in the draft.

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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