The Ravens are expected to have about 170 players on their big board when the NFL draft kicks off Thursday. Only a small share are first-round prospects. An even smaller share will be available at No. 22 overall. What will the Ravens do when they’re finally on the clock?
Over the past week, The Baltimore Banner has made the case for how general manager Eric DeCosta should handle the Ravens’ first-round pick, from building up their offense to bolstering their defense to moving around the draft board.
Today, we make the case for trading down.
The Ravens have just five picks in this year’s draft: No. 22 overall (first round), No. 86 (third round), No. 124 (fourth round), No. 157 (fifth round) and No. 199 (sixth round). Their second-round pick went to Chicago in last season’s trade for Bears inside linebacker Roquan Smith. Their seventh-rounder went to New York, along with guard Ben Bedeson, as part of a 2021 deal for the Giants’ 2022 fourth-round pick, which became offensive tackle Daniel Faalele.
DeCosta has said he’d “love” to have more picks this year. Probably a lot more. The Ravens have drafted 11, eight and 10 players over the past three years, respectively. DeCosta said in 2020 that, “all things being equal,” he’d like to have 10 to 14 picks every draft.
“If you have 10 or 12 draft picks in any given year, even if you suck at drafting, you’re probably going to hit on five or six picks,” DeCosta told former Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff last year on his podcast, “The GM Journey.”
The closer the Ravens get to paying Lamar Jackson the going rate for franchise quarterbacks — whether it’s $32.4 million this year under the nonexclusive franchise tag or $60 million in 2026 under a record-breaking extension — the smaller their margin for error becomes. The Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes last season became the first quarterback to win a Super Bowl with a salary cap hit relatively higher than Steve Young’s in 1994 (13.1%), the league’s first year with the cap.
Mahomes (17%), not surprisingly, had the help of a deep and talented rookie class: 10 selections, four of them Super Bowl starters. The Chiefs’ draft made general manager Brett Veach’s salary cap math work. The more picks a team hits on, the less it has to spend on pricey free agents. And the less a team has to spend on free agents, the more flexibility it has to build around a megadeal.
While high-quality picks offer star potential, high-volume classes present backfill opportunities. The Ravens will enter this week’s draft looking not only for rookie stars but also developmental players. As much as DeCosta needs a starting cornerback and left guard, he can’t overlook the state of the team’s wide receiver and defensive line rooms. Odell Beckham Jr. and Devin Duvernay, two potential starters on offense, are set to become free agents next offseason. So are Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington, two projected starters on defense.
“I think it’s important to note that we’ve had a lot of picks over the past four, five years,” DeCosta said at the team’s pre-draft news conference earlier this month. “You get to a point where maybe having too many picks isn’t necessarily the right thing in any given year. You almost have to have a purge at some point because you have all these young players on the team, and they can’t all make the team if you just keep stacking these huge, massive draft classes.”
The Ravens have made seven deals involving first-round picks over the past five years, including five in which they traded down.
- 2018: Traded the No. 16 overall pick and a fifth-round pick to the Buffalo Bills for the No. 22 pick and a third-round pick. Traded the No. 22 pick and a sixth-round pick to the Tennessee Titans for the No. 25 pick (tight end Hayden Hurst) and a fourth-round pick. Traded a second-round pick, fourth-round pick and 2019 second-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for the No. 32 pick (quarterback Lamar Jackson) and a fourth-round pick.
- 2019: Traded the No. 22 overall pick to the Eagles for the No. 25 pick (wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown), a fourth-round pick and a sixth-round pick.
- 2021: Traded offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., a second-round pick and 2022 sixth-round pick to the Chiefs for the No. 31 overall pick (outside linebacker Odafe Oweh), a third-round pick, fourth-round pick and 2022 fifth-round pick.
- 2022: Traded Marquise Brown and a third-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for the No. 23 overall pick. Traded the No. 23 pick to the Bills for the No. 25 pick (center Tyler Linderbaum) and a fourth-round pick.
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik called the back half of the first round “a hot spot” for draft day trades. The Ravens were one of six teams picking between Nos. 18 and 27 to part with their first-round pick last April.
With questionable depth atop the draft this year — several teams reportedly have fewer than 20 first-round prospects under consideration — there could be another mad scramble Thursday night.
“I think every club is going to be between 18 and 25, for the most part, of, like, legit first-round grades,” Dominik, a host on SiriusXM NFL Radio, said last week. “And so maybe you’re [picking] at 21 and you’ve run out of first-rounders, but somebody at 29 has one or two left. And that’s where you always see that action in this draft class.”
DeCosta is always eager to see what’s available. He said at the NFL scouting combine in March that the Ravens have “probably made more trades than just about any other team in the league.” But their slot in this year’s draft could limit their viability as a trade partner.
With the No. 22 pick, the Ravens are stuck behind a handful of teams also expected to target so-called premium positions. The Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 17) have been linked to Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. and Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks. The Seattle Seahawks (No. 20) and Los Angeles Chargers (No. 21) have been linked to Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers and USC wide receiver Jordan Addison.
If a rival general manager, fearing a run on a position with limited depth, can’t wait until No. 22, the Ravens could have one less trade partner available. The lack of consensus around Day 1 prospects could also heighten the urgency for some teams desperate to jump the line.
“It depends who you really like,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said in a conference call earlier this month. “There’s super-mixed opinion on a lot of these guys. So where one team may like them, I don’t know if you can build a consensus on other teams liking them equally as well. Some fit different schemes than others.”
The Ravens could also be stuck in a no-man’s land for Day 1 teams. While a flurry of first-round trades shook up last year’s draft order, only three teams traded down in the first round in 2021, none after the No. 14 overall pick. If teams see value in their late-first-round or early-second-round picks, the Ravens could be left to look elsewhere for a fair return.
“What’s the difference in this class at 22 if I’ve only got 17 first-round players?” ESPN analyst Todd McShay said last week. “And most teams probably have 14 or 15, like, true first-round grades. There’s not a big difference between what you’re getting at 22 and 42. So I’d much rather have another pick or two later in the draft. … and just have more swings at it, get three or four guys versus two guys in the first two rounds.”
So whom could the Ravens do business with? Chances are that the Steelers (Nos. 17 and 32) and Cincinnati Bengals (Nos. 28 and 60) won’t be interested in a divisional deal. Other teams with limited draft capital, like the Miami Dolphins (No. 51) and New York Jets (Nos. 15 and 43), might not be too keen on moving up.
Still, there could be plenty of takers in the late first round and early second round. Using Rich Hill’s modern valuation model for trade picks, which assigns point values to draft slots, here are five potential Ravens deals of relatively equitable value. The projected top pick was determined by using Pro Football Focus’ mock draft simulator.
Minnesota Vikings (No. 23 overall)
Incoming: No. 23 pick, No. 158 (fifth round)
Outgoing: No. 22 pick
Ravens’ projected top pick: Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks
New York Giants (No. 25 overall)
Incoming: No. 25 pick, No. 128 (fourth round), No. 209 (sixth round)
Outgoing: No. 22 pick
Projected’ top pick: USC wide receiver Jordan Addison
New Orleans Saints (No. 29 overall)
Incoming: No. 29 pick, No. 71 (third round), 2024 sixth-round pick
Outgoing: No. 22 pick, No. 124 (fourth round)
Ravens’ projected top pick: Iowa State edge rusher Will McDonald IV
Kansas City Chiefs (No. 31 overall)
Incoming: No. 31 pick, No. 95 (third round), No. 122 (fourth round)
Outgoing: No. 22 pick
Ravens’ projected top pick: Clemson defensive lineman Bryan Bresee
Houston Texans (No. 33 overall)
Incoming: No. 33 pick (second round), No. 65 (third round)
Outgoing: No. 22 pick, No. 199 (sixth round)
Ravens’ projected top pick: Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt