About 15 minutes before the 2024 NFL draft began Thursday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh gathered with some defensive coaches in passing game coordinator Chris Hewitt’s office. They contemplated what it would be like to draft Clemson cornerback Nate Wiggins but agreed he probably wouldn’t be available. Hours later, the Ravens selected Wiggins with their first-round pick.

“We got the best corner in the draft, highly athletic, fantastic feet, really, in our opinion, a guy that can grow into a shutdown-type corner,” general manager Eric DeCosta said. “Ecstatic that he fell to us.”

Wiggins, in turn, said he’s excited to be headed to the Ravens, who have what he described as the best defense in the league.

Coming into the draft, corner and offensive line were widely seen as the Ravens’ weakest position groups. DeCosta acknowledged that he planned to address one of those positions with the pick. The Dallas Cowboys took Oklahoma tackle Tyler Guyton one pick ahead of the Ravens, leaving few offensive linemen with first-round value. DeCosta can’t say for certain he wouldn’t have taken a lineman, should one have been available, but he said he was already leaning toward cornerback.

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“That’s something that honestly kept me up at night just because there are a lot of offensive linemen in this draft,” DeCosta said. “There is a pretty good pool of receivers. But as I would go through and work on all these different simulations, it became apparent that if we didn’t get a corner in the first round, it was going to be challenging to get a really good corner in the second round, third round, fourth round that could help us right away.”

With 21 offensive players selected before the Ravens’ turn at 30, there were plenty of cornerbacks to choose from. Iowa’s Cooper DeJean and Alabama’s Kool-Aid McKinstry were on the board, but the Ravens went with Wiggins, a 20-year-old speedster.

They also had options to trade up or down. DeCosta said he’s not a trade-up kind of guy, and he felt Wiggins was worth the 30th pick.

Wiggins, who is 6-foot-1, ran a 4.28-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. He was only the ninth defensive player selected in a first round that saw an unprecedented number of QBs and offensive players selected. There’s been concern about Wiggins’ weight — he was only 173 pounds at the combine — but Harbaugh dismissed them: “He comes up and smacks people.”

DeCosta added, with a big grin, that they have a plan to help him put on weight. When asked about it, Wiggins added that he’s young and still has lots of room to grow. He’s not fully “stretched out yet,” as he put it.

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“When I get to my peak, it’s going to be scary,” Wiggins added.

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Although Wiggins is young, the Ravens felt he was ready mentally for the next level. They met and had calls with him, and they talked to those around him. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney talked to them in return, texting them to please take Wiggins in the first round.

Wiggins was a productive college player, finishing with 50 tackles in the short time he was there. He also had 24 pass breakups, three interceptions (two of which were against North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye, whom the New England Patriots selected third overall), two forced fumbles, a sack and a blocked field goal over just 34 college games.

DeCosta referred to Wiggins as “a ridiculous athlete” who could match up with the best receivers in the league.

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Wiggins joins a secondary that includes starting corners Brandon Stephens, who had a breakout season last year, and Marlon Humphrey. Harbaugh said all of the above are versatile players, which gives the defense flexibility.

“We’re just going to have a lot of options,” Harbaugh said. “I mean [defensive coordinator Zach Orr]’s going to be working on that versatility — probably tonight.”

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Behind Stephens, Arthur Maulet is a capable backup, although he is stronger inside than outside. After that, the drop-off is steep, with players who have been injured or who haven’t proven themselves.

The long-term depth was a concern, as well. Stephens is heading into the final year of his rookie contract and may be difficult to retain. Humphrey is only 27, but he’s dealt with multiple injuries and the Ravens don’t have anyone else guaranteed for the long haul.

Nate Wiggins of the Clemson Tigers defends a pass against South Carolina. (Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images)

Over the offseason, DeCosta emphasized how important depth in the secondary is. He said that was proven last season when the Ravens suffered constant injuries to their defensive backs but found success because of how deep their bench was.

Humphrey was out for seven games, and Maulet, Ronald Darby and Rock Ya-Sin all stepped up to cover for him. Only Maulet is returning.

The lack of depth in the secondary extends to the safeties, as well, following Geno Stone’s departure. Wiggins’ versatility, as well as Humphrey’s ability to play inside, helps ease the need there.

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