On Wednesday, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta broke down the team’s draft class and took questions from local reporters at the Under Armour Performance Center.

Here are five takeaways on first-round pick Nate Wiggins, how the Ravens evaluate cornerbacks and more.

Worth the weight

Wiggins’ draft stock fell in part over concerns about his play strength. He weighed 173 pounds at the NFL scouting combine — ranking in the second percentile among all cornerback prospects — before reporting to Clemson’s pro day a few weeks later at 182 pounds.

DeCosta said Wednesday he didn’t “really see it as a problem.” The Ravens have typically drafted bigger corners, but a thinner frame isn’t disqualifying in the NFL. Seattle Seahawks cornerback Devon Witherspoon, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last season, weighed just 181 pounds at the combine. Six other cornerbacks who weighed less than 190 pounds at the combine finished last season ranked among Pro Football Focus’ 25 highest-graded players at the position. And, with Wiggins’ 6-1 frame, there’s room for growth.

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“There was this perception that Nate was, like, this skinny, skinny guy,” said DeCosta, who took him No. 30 overall. “I think there’s an opportunity for us to get him stronger. I think we do a good job with that. Again, I saw a guy that was a competitive player. I saw a guy that wanted to be a physical player. Getting stronger is only going to help his game, so if you love his game now, then you have to be really excited about what he could be. So I think his future’s very, very bright. He’s a sponge. He’s going to want to work in the weight room.”

Next Torrey Smith?

The Ravens like wide receiver Devontez Walker’s combination of size and speed. (Gail Burton / For The Baltimore Banner)

Ravens coach John Harbaugh is wary of making player comparisons. DeCosta? Not so much.

After drafting North Carolina wide receiver Devontez Walker, he likened the fourth-round pick to former Maryland and Ravens standout Torrey Smith. The similarities were obvious. Walker is 6-1 1/2 and 193 pounds and has explosive traits, including a 4.36-second 40-yard dash; Smith was 6-1 and 204 pounds and had explosive traits, including a 4.41-second 40.

“Size and speed, the big-play ability outside,” DeCosta said Wednesday. Both can “take the top off, catch the ball and go, can break a tackle.”

Off the field, the Ravens were drawn to Walker for some of the same reasons they were drawn to Smith. DeCosta recalled Smith being a “phenomenal kid,” a “great practice player,” a “great teammate,” someone who’d overcome adversity as the oldest of seven children in a single-parent household. Over four years in Baltimore, he recorded 213 catches for 3,591 yards and 30 touchdowns.

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Walker has faced his own battles. He couldn’t play as a freshman after North Carolina Central’s 2020 season was canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic, then missed the first month of the Tar Heels’ 2023 season as he awaited resolution of his NCAA eligibility. He’d left Kent State after two seasons to be closer to his ailing grandmother, who’d helped raise him.

“I just think Tez has a lot of those same qualities,” DeCosta said.

Nickels adding up

Over the years, the Ravens have added one defensive back after another with inside-out versatility. Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Stephens can line up out wide or in the slot. Wiggins and fourth-round pick T.J. Tampa project as outside corners, but DeCosta said both could handle snaps as a nickel back. Safety Kyle Hamilton was one of the NFL’s best slot defenders last season. And Arthur Maulet, just in case, was re-signed in March after an impressive season inside.

With the rise of three-wide-receiver personnel groupings, DeCosta said, the Ravens treat the team’s nickel back position “just as importantly on the draft board as we do outside corners.” Before the advent of modern-day offenses, DeCosta joked, the spot used to be treated like a “stepchild.”

“It’s hard to play the nickel,” he said. “I mean, it’s a very interesting skill set. You’ve got to be feisty. You’ve got to have some speed and quickness, change of direction. You’ve got to be able to tackle. And you’ve got to be able to blitz. And so it’s a unique skill set.”

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Transfer of powers

The transfer portal has given college football players an unprecedented level of freedom. It’s also given the Ravens opportunities to evaluate players in new, more challenging environments.

Walker, for instance, had 58 catches for 921 yards and 11 touchdowns over 12 games at Kent State in 2022. In his one season at North Carolina, Walker made the transition from the Mid-American Conference to the Atlantic Coast Conference look easy. Despite his eligibility snafu, Walker had 41 catches for 699 yards and seven touchdowns in eight games.

“I think a hard thing is to transfer and be productive right away,” DeCosta said. “I go back to a guy like [Minnesota Vikings wide receiver] Jordan Addison from two years ago. I was really impressed by him because he had been at Pitt, was a great player in the ACC, and then he goes out to USC and he just duplicated it right away. That shows me, kind of like changing positions ... that a guy has the ability to adapt quickly, which is what the NFL is all about. So it does give you a chance to see how guys handle themselves in different situations.”

Changes in the Ravens’ scouting operations and in college football itself have left one partial blind spot for the team, DeCosta acknowledged: small-school players. Thirty of the Ravens’ 34 draft picks over the past five years played for a Power Five conference school at some point in their career. In this year’s class, only Marshall running back Rasheen Ali played for a school outside the Power Five.

The Ravens’ priorities pivoted during the pandemic, DeCosta said, because the bulk of the draft’s best prospects “were in big programs, they got the best training, they had the best nutrition, they were playing games.” Under DeCosta, the Ravens have unearthed gems from under-the-radar programs such as Delaware (quarterback Joe Flacco) and Colorado State Pueblo (center Ryan Jensen). But small-school scouting, he acknowledged, is “just different.”

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“You’ve got guys that look like me, at times, playing,” said DeCosta, an undersized linebacker at Division III Colby College. “And yet some guys end up being the best to ever do it, right? How do you find those guys? How do you take a guy like the Yale [offensive] tackle this year, [Kiran] Amegadjie, and say, ‘Oh, he’s going to be every bit as good as [JC] Latham from Alabama.’ It’s really hard to do, and yet they got picked within, what, 80 spots of each other in the draft this year? It’s really hard to do.”

‘Sleeper’ WR target

DeCosta wasn’t expecting Walker to be available in the fourth round. He also probably wasn’t expecting Ricky Pearsall to go in the first, either.

DeCosta called the Florida wide receiver, who entered the draft as a fringe Day 1 prospect, “a sleeper for us at some point.” But the San Francisco 49ers took Pearsall with the No. 31 overall pick, one slot after the Ravens drafted Wiggins.

“He really wasn’t, like, a hot, hot commodity,” DeCosta said of Pearsall, who had 65 catches for 965 yards and four touchdowns last season. “But that was another guy where when you watched his game, super-impressive player on tape.”

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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