Baltimore Ravens Draft Prospects to Follow in 2022

Baltimore Ravens Draft

The Baltimore Ravens will enter the 2022 NFL Draft with their highest pick in five years. General manager Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh saw their team lose 20+ players to injured reserve in 2021 and will now try and turn their misfortune into a team-building opportunity. Baltimore will be picking inside the top-15 for just the 10th time in the franchise’s history. Six of the nine previous players picked within the top-15 have been named first-team All-Pro at least once.

The Ravens have often approached the draft with a “best player available” approach. They will likely take a similar approach in 2022. Almost every position group on the Ravens was decimated by injuries last season. This gave a number of players an opportunity to stand out but also gave management a better idea of which units lacked depth or needed support. The 2022 NFL Draft class is rich in defensive talent and should give DeCosta a multitude of options at 14th-overall. These are five draft-eligible players the Ravens will be watching over the next two months.

Baltimore Ravens Draft Prospects to Watch in 2022

1. Ahmad Gardner (Cincinnati) – Cornerback

Gardner is the perfect player for the Ravens in the 2022 NFL Draft. He plays a premium position, he fills a position of need and would be good-to-great value if he is available at 14th-overall. Since taking over from former general manager Ozzie Newsome, DeCosta has made a point of building from the back of the defense. He has constantly stated that no NFL team can be too deep at cornerback and he has demonstrated this by signing each Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, and Tavon Young to extensions within his first five years as a GM.

The first thing that stands out about Gardner is his speed. His break on the ball jumps out of the screen and his fluidity as an athlete is incredibly impressive. He plays at a lean 188 lbs but stands at 6’2″ and has a lot of room to fill in his frame. Gardner was a natural playmaker at Cincinnati and his athletic traits and awareness should let that ability transfer to the NFL. He is not the type of corner to follow around a specific receiver for a full game but his ability to anticipate and break on the ball in zone coverage is amongst the best in the class.

A cornerback with the athleticism and playmaking of Gardner would be a perfect fit in Baltimore’s defense. Humphrey is Baltimore’s only cornerback under contract beyond 2022. While Gardner was seldomly targetted in college, it would be hard to stay away from him in a defense with himself, Humphrey, and turnover warrior Marcus Peters.

Similar fits: Andrew Booth Jr. (Clemson), Trent McDuffie (Washington)

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2. Travon Walker (Georgia) – EDGE

The Ravens took an EDGE defender with one of their two first-round picks in 2021. Odafe Oweh did not have a very prolific college career in terms of sack production (in fact, he did not record a sack in his final season at Penn State) but was largely viewed as the best athlete in his position group. After being taken with the second-last pick in the first round, he balled out in former-Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale’s defense. Oweh registered five sacks, 15 quarterback hits, 27 quarterback pressures, three forced fumbles, and was Pro Football Focus’s highest-rated rookie EDGE.

Walker is another player whose best football may be in front of him. He only logged a total of 9.5 sacks during his entire college career but has shown flashes of elite athletic ability and can be lined up almost anywhere in the front seven. Walker has an explosive first step that he pairs with exceptional power to stun and jolt defenders at first contact. His huge wingspan allows him to create separation with even the most refined offensive lineman. He has all the tools to become an elite outside linebacker; he just needs to develop a real arsenal of pass-rushing moves instead of relying on his pure athleticism.

New defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald ran multiple fronts during his time at Michigan and could turn Walker into the ultimate chess piece. McDonald got double-digit sack seasons out of both Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo in his final year at Michigan. The Ravens ranked ninth in pressure percentage last season despite ranking sixth in blitz percentage.

Similar fits: Jermaine Johnson (Florida State), David Ojab0 (Michigan)

3. Charles Cross (Mississippi State) – Offensive Tackle

The Ravens offensive line has been a question mark since the conclusion of the 2019 season. It is in part because the Ravens regular left tackle Ronnie Stanley has played in only seven games over the past two years. Stanley’s injury has led to a lot of shuffling within the offensive line and has forced Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman to get very creative. However, assuming Stanley is fully recovered and ready to play in 2022, Baltimore has its left tackle spot locked down for the next four seasons.

Cross has received mixed reviews across the board. He is PFF’s sixth-overall player, The Draft Network’s 12th-overall player, and Daniel Jeremiah’s 29th-rated player. However, the consensus is that he is a very refined prospect. Despite not being a freakish athlete with hulking size, Cross dominated his fellow SEC competition. His elite lateral movement skills made him nearly impossible to beat in pass protection and his high football IQ allows him to perfectly time his hand placements when absorbing pass-rushing moves. He simply knows how to get to his spots and where to attack defenders.

Taking a tackle with the expectation of Stanley getting hurt again is a dangerous game for two reasons. First, Stanley still has upwards of $80 million remaining on his current contract. Second, picking a swing tackle with the 14th pick in the draft is not a great bang for your buck (unless that player is Tristain Wirfs). Cross has the tape to be drafted within the top-20 picks in 2022 but the logistics are complicated when it comes to the Ravens selecting a tackle with their first-round pick.

Similar fits: Trevor Penning (Nothern Iowa)

4. Tyler Linderbaum (Iowa) – Center

The Ravens breakout player of the year may have been center Bradley Bozeman. The sixth-round pick from 2017 made the switch back to center from guard and instantly excelled in 2021. He played in 16 of the Ravens 17 games, playing 1127 snaps while not committing a single penalty. However, Bozeman will be a free agent this upcoming March and could be looking to cash in on his career year. Baltimore already has center and utility lineman Patrick Mekari under contract through 2025. The Ravens recently let another standout at center walk in free agency just four years ago. After a career year in 2017, former-Ravens center Ryan Jensen (also a sixth-round pick) was made the highest-paid center in the NFL at the time by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

If the Ravens can’t find a way to retain Bozeman, they may look to the draft for his replacement. Linderbaum is by far the highest-rated center in the upcoming draft and is the only interior lineman worth selecting in the top-20 of the 2021 NFL Draft. At 6’3″ 290 lbs, he isn’t the biggest center prospect around but what he lacks in size, he makes up for in competitive toughest, agility, and pure technique. Linderbaum is seamlessly able to get from defender to defender without any trouble and can be relentless and sudden when attacking defenders in the open field. That ability to clear out defenders in the run game would fit perfectly into the Ravens run-heavy attack.

Similar fits: N/A

5. DeMarvin Leal (Texas A&M) – Defensive Tackle

The Ravens defensive line went through a major rebuild just two years ago. The same thing might happen again in 2022. It was a relief to hear Calais Campbell will not be retiring but he is set to become a free agent this off-season at age 36. Longtime nose tackle Brandon Williams is also set to hit the open market coming off of a major down year. That leaves just Derek Wolfe and Justin Madubuike as the only two major contributors left in the Ravens defensive tackle room. Haloti Ngata still remains the only defensive tackle the Ravens have ever taken in the first round.

Leal is a somewhat polarizing prospect. He can be lined up in a variety of ways along the defensive line and has a rare blend of speed and power for an interior lineman. However, his performance in 2021 was inconsistent. Leal will have splash plays in which he uses his strong hands to completely neutralize offensive lineman but will then get stopped in his tracks up when he is caught rushing from a too upright position. There is obvious potential in Leal’s game and he should simply be able to overwhelm certain interior linemen at the next level. While it is hard to see the Ravens taking Leal, or any interior lineman, as high as 14th-overall, DeCosta could easily trade back like he so commonly does.

Similar fits: Jordan Davis (Georgia)

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