Coming off of their most successful regular season in franchise history, Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta is tasked with the job of upgrading one of the NFL’s already most complete rosters. Baltimore enters the 2020 NFL Draft with a number of pressing needs. They have glaring holes at each inside linebacker, outside linebacker and interior offensive line. The team finished as the league’s second-ranked yardage offense and fourth-ranked yardage defense in 2019 but will need a good draft to remain competitive in a rapidly improving AFC.
The Ravens are a team that makes there money in the draft. In their 25 years as a franchise, the team has drafted three Hall of Famers and potentially have another three waiting to be inducted when they become eligible for Canton. Of those six players, five were first-round picks. Each Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata have been first-round selections that created the Ravens identity.
This year, the Ravens get their first pick in the draft with the 28th-overall selection. The back-half of the first round looks to be rich with linebackers, pass rushers, receivers and falls nicely for Baltimore. A number of edge defenders have seen their stock slip during the pre-draft process and so the Ravens could have there pick of one of the top-four at 28th-overall. At linebacker, the best value is right around the end of the first round. Baltimore could also have their pick of some of the best players in the entire draft. The Ravens are still relatively thin at receiver and the 2020 wideout class is maybe the deepest it has ever been.
These are five players the Ravens should be targeting when they pick in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Baltimore Ravens 2020 Draft Possible First Round Targets
Honorable Mention: A.J. Epenesa (Iowa) – Defensive End
The former-Hawkeyes defender went into the off-season as a no-brain top-15 pick but due to his poor combine, he has fallen down many boards tremendously. His lack of true athleticism was surprising to many at the combine and could limit him to being a hand in the dirt pass rusher. Epenesa is not one of the most typical pass rushers, as he uses a combination of strength and smarts to get past defenders. He produced well at Iowa recording 30.5 tackles for loss and 22.0 sacks in his last two seasons. Epenesa would fit the Ravens scheme but if DeCosta is to address the subpar pass rush, it will likely be by finding a player who can play as an outside linebacker. He has a high floor but may benefit more by being selected by a team that plays an even-front.
5. D’Andre Swift (Georgia) – Running Back
The Ravens made it known last season that they are going to run the ball on offense. They set the single-season rushing record as a team and look to continue this trend after retaining offensive coordinator Greg Roman for another season. All three of the running backs Baltimore used in 2019 will be returning in 2020 but the lead back of the three, Mark Ingram, turned 30 years old this past December. Running backs typically have one of the shortest shelf lives of any position in the NFL and keeping the cupboard stocked past next season could be a huge priority. Ingram is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in 2021.
Swift is the most complete back in the NFL draft and would give a team that loves to run the ball a deadly weapon for maybe five years. He’s not the biggest back at 5’8 1/4″ 212 lbs but has every trait NFL teams look for in a three-down back. At the combine, swift tracked a 4.48 Forty Yard Dash time and arguably looked like the best running back in attendance during the on-field drills. His change of direction is deadly, his hands are soft, and his burst is great. He even brings a little bit of power for a smaller guy. Giving an already dynamic quarterback, like Lamar Jackson, a weapon like Swift, could create nightmares for opposing teams.
Other Options at the Position: Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin)
4. Cesar Ruiz (Michigan) – Interior Offensive Line
When you lose a player like Marshal Yanda to retirement, replacing them doesn’t happen overnight. Yanda was a stalwart in the Ravens offense for over a decade and was one of the NFL’s best guards at both pass and run blocking. He only took nine penalties and allowed just two sacks in his last five seasons of NFL action — that’s in 4,266 snaps over 62 games. His play wasn’t slipping at age 37 either. The offensive line became one of the Ravens’ strongest position groups in 2020 and with so much uncertainty on the interior, could use an early-round draft pick to fortify the unit.
Ruiz is the only interior offensive lineman worth taking in the first round and could soothe the wound that Yanda’s retirement left on the Ravens. He was a two-year starter at Michigan and played both center and guard for the Wolverines. Swinging Ruiz to guard in the Ravens offense would allow them to minimize his lack of frame and better utilize his great hands and power. He moves well — getting to the right spot at the right time and uses his great strength and impeccable balance to stun defenders. Selecting Ruiz would keep the Ravens as one of the best young run blocking offensive lines in the NFL.
Other Options at the Position: N/A
3. Laviska Shenault (Colorado) – Wide Receiver
When you think of a team that scored 33.2 points and averaged 407.6 yards of total offense per game, they usually don’t have any shortcomings. The Ravens were as effective as any offense in the NFL last season but they still have a lot of room for improvement in the wide receiver room. The receiving corps has been overhauled three times over the past three seasons and the retooling will likely continue during the 2020 draft. Outside of 2019 first-round pick, Marquise Brown, no wide receiver on the Ravens offense caught more than 31 balls last season. Getting a player that can create yards after the catch should be a priority in the draft and Shenault can do that and more.
Shenault is one of the best values and fits for the Ravens offense in 2020. He has good size at 6’1″ 227lbs and is one of the most effective receivers in space in the entire draft. The wideout can run by defenders in the open field, power through them, or snatch the ball from over their heads. His combine was derailed due to a core muscle injury but showed a ton of playmaking ability at Colorado during his college career. Shenault lined up as both a wide receiver and running back (as well as a wildcat quarterback) at times and could bring elite versatility to an offense that already keeps defenders guessing. Adding Shenault would give Baltimore deadly weapons at all three levels on offense.
Other Options at the Position: Tee Higgins (Clemson)
2. Yetur Gross-Matos (Penn State) – EDGE
As previously stated, the Ravens pass rush was a weakness in 2019. The team finished with just 37 sacks in 2019 — a downgrade on finishing with a decent but not good 42 in 2018. The only notable move this off-season made to bolster the pass rush was the franchise tagging of Matt Judon. Judon led the team in sacks and quarterback hits last season. Behind him, there is very little depth. 2019 third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson showed promise and earned starting time as a rookie but he is one of just three edge defenders currently on the Ravens defense and the only one with a contract extending past this coming season.
Gross-Matos has the potential to be the next great Ravens outside linebacker. He had a very productive college career, registering 34.5 tackles for loss and 17 sacks in his last two seasons at Penn State, and has a full arsenal of ways to beat tackles around the edge. His body type is prototypical of a stand-up NFL pass rusher as well. Gross-Matos is still more of an athlete than a polished productive but if he refines his technique as a pro, he could have multiple double-digit sack seasons. The Ravens have a knack for developing pass rushers and if they get there hands on Gross-Matos, he could be scary good in a few years.
Other Options at the Position: K’Lavon Chaisson (LSU)
1. Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma) – Linebacker
Inside linebacker is the thinnest position on the Ravens entire roster. Of the four inside linebackers on the Ravens roster, only L.J. Fort has played more than 100 defensive snaps over the past two seasons. Despite the Ravens’ success on defense, the inexperience in the middle was evident. Baltimore’s defense has often been directed by the Mike, whether it was Ray Lewis or C.J. Mosley, and not having a quality one in 2019 led to a number of problems. Going into the 2020 Draft, grabbing a middle linebacker in the early rounds looks like priority-number one.
Murray is the best fit for the Ravens in the first round. He fills a need, he brings great character off the field as a potential captain and plays the way that so many great Ravens linebackers have before him — smashmouth sideline-to-sideline football. Finding a linebacker with speed, strength, size, and smarts isn’t easy. His production in college speaks for itself, as he racked up 257 total tackles, 29.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks over his last two seasons. Murray is a perfect modern-day linebacker with the ability to blitz, cover and play the run. He may not be the typical prototype at Mike but with some good coaching from Don Martindale, he could get there very soon. The Ravens have been badly missing a player that can make every tackle from the middle of the field and Murray fits the mold.
Other Options at the Position: Patrick Queen (LSU)
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