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Breaking down the 2021 draft class

Badge of honour to those UK Ravens who stayed up to witness possibly the Ravens’ most intriguing NFL Draft since their first, in 1996. It was always going to be a late one. Even with a rare two first round picks, the Ravens’ record is usually good enough that they pick late in the round. This year was no exception. Many expected the Ravens to trade one of their first picks but in the end the Ravens picked at both slots. At the end of the weekend, they ended up with the following:

1st Round
Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

Frequently mocked to the Ravens, Bateman was the fifth WR drafted in round one. I had him just behind the big three – Chase, Smith and Waddle – who all went in the top 10. GM Eric DeCosta said Keith Williams and Tee Martin – both renowned receiver coaches who joined the Ravens this off-season – had a big say in who they liked, and it showed with this pick. Bateman has excellent speed but isn’t quite the physical specimen/burner that the Ravens typically like WR.

Bateman looks likely to be a day one starter. An outstanding catcher, his excellent body control lets him contort his upper body into an optimal position to raise his hands and secure the football. On top of his speed, he’s arguably the best route runner we’ve ever selected, he is consistent and understands how to get open, with a knack for finding the soft spot in zone coverage. He likes to work the intermediate, middle section of the field, which is where Lamar likes to deliver the ball.

Odafe Oweh, EDGE, Penn State
Oweh is a physical freak – literally the most athletic outside linebacker to come out of college since measurements were uniformly recorded. He’s in the 99th percentile as a defensive end, runs the 40-yard dash in 4.37, which is ridiculous for a 6’5, 257lb player, and tested in the 90th percentile or above on all other explosion and agility tests. But you’ve likely heard the big knock by now: production. He got zero sacks his final year. But if you take one thing from this piece, remember that Oweh is not the usual, unpolished, physical freak edge-rusher with little production, who goes on to be an NFL bust.

His limited experience shows an ascending pass-rusher. In just over 700 college career snaps, his production is at least comparable to Chase Young, TJ Watt and Joey Bosa. These formative snaps allow a player to practice pass-rush moves in live scenarios and get pressure, as Oweh did. But they often yield fewer sacks because the player cannot yet put those moves together to get sacks. The Ravens are gambling that Oweh’s trajectory continues. The best thing about him: he plays the run hard already, which is usually not the case with developing pass rushers.

3rd Round 

Ben Cleveland, OG, Georgia
The massive Ben Cleveland fits our offensive line scheme perfectly. He likely slots straight in at left guard with Bozeman sliding inside to his college position of center. Cleveland’s biggest strength is his run blocking, especially down blocking where he can destroy one side of the defensive line with his power. He also once shot some squirrels out of a tree and grilled them for breakfast.

Brandon Stephens, CB/S, SMU
Brandon Stephens was a less-known selection at the end of day two. I evaluate around 200 prospects each year and he was off my radar. A late convert to DB who began his college career at running back, Stephens projects as a free safety. This makes sense from the tape I’ve since watched, which shows a raw, but excellent mover, who plays the ball well. I’m willing to give the Ravens the benefit of the doubt, especially as they clearly didn’t want to risk waiting to get him. He’ll play special teams and on defense for nickel and dime packages. The Ravens will hope he develops over the year as DeShon Elliott is a free agent after this season.

4th Round

Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
Excellent value. A physical, catch-point freak, despite not being especially big, Wallace has an outstanding catch-radius. The big concern is his ability to get off press, which he wasn’t asked to do much at Oklahoma State. He’s a tough and physical receiver that fits the Ravens’ identity. 

5th Round

Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
An intriguing prospect, Wade was a heralded nickel corner coming into the year. Everything just worked for him in shorter areas – he’s big for the position but has outstanding movement, which suits playing against slot receivers. He moved outside in 2020 and had a bad season, giving up a lot of catches and looking lost in coverage. We have since learned that he played despite lingering injuries and three family deaths, which affected his performance. The Ravens likely want him as a slot corner in any case, as insurance for often injured Tavon Young. He was a steal in the fifth round for a guy with some first-round talent to him.

Daelin Hayes, EDGE, Notre Dame
One of my favourite picks in the class, Hayes feels like everything a Raven should be. A captain and community leader at Notre Dame, he is an outstanding person first. Like Oweh, there wasn’t much sack production, but unlike Oweh there aren’t the same physical traits to work with. However, the Ravens may see him as a Sam linebacker who, in the Ravens scheme, must be a good run defender and able to drop in coverage. Hayes has some movement ability to play in coverage but was also the main cog in the Notre Dame run-stuffing machine that was college football’s most efficient unit last year.

Ben Mason, FB, Michigan
The final pick could become a fan favourite, though many in the Flock seem angry for now. Mason is the heir apparent to Pat Ricard, who has only one year on his contract and the Ravens do not typically spend big on a full back. I don’t believe Mason would have signed with the Ravens as a UDFA despite our scheme being full-back friendly, purely given the presence of Ricard, so they secured him in the draft. Far smaller than Ricard, Mason is a more traditional full-back. He has some development to do. He can’t yet lever defenders at the line of scrimmage, as Ricard can, but has more upside as an occasional runner and receiver. He charts a middle path between the athleticism and offensive-weapon-status of a Jusczyk, and the physicality and dominance of a Ricard. 

So that’s the Ravens 2021 draft class. It was partly an exercise in filling future holes. Once Lamar gets his franchise QB contract, the Ravens may not be able to afford to re-sign free agents elsewhere. That means fortifying these positions with young talent in the draft this year and next. They got high character, athletic and versatile guys as they often do, but there seemed to be a particular focus on outstanding young men who contribute to their community and are socially conscious.

They didn’t address every position they might have, particularly offensive tackle, following the Orlando Brown trade. Even with the Villanueva signing, a developmental OT wouldn’t have gone amiss. There are also some difficult decisions coming, particularly at wide receiver, where there is a glut of recent draft picks. But the Ravens got better through this draft and hopefully got at least three significant day one contributors in Bateman, Oweh and Cleveland. 

You can read more of my draft analysis at Russell Street Report and more in-depth evaluation of the picks at my own site.

Photo: Erik Drost

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