Without a doubt, this is my favorite time of the sports calendar. The NCAA Tournament is in full swing, the NBA Playoffs are just a week away, NFL Draft preparation is heating up, and the Orioles just got swept for the first time this season. Although each of those topics deserves their own blog, this week — and probably the next few weeks — will be spent on the third one listed: the NFL Draft.
Likely next week, I will conduct a full 2019 Mock Draft, but to begin my analysis for the April 25 weekend by looking at an underrated position that I think the Ravens could target. Now, this doesn’t mean that I expect them to snag a player of this role in the first few rounds, but I do think they may look for a contributor at the spot. As background, I should mention that I’ve seen multiple players at the position mocked to the Ravens this week, including two players in two rounds by NFL.com’s Chad Reuter.
I may have buried the lead too far here, but the position I’m talking about here is cornerback. Look, I get that this isn’t a position of need. Rather, it could easily be considered the strongest position on the Ravens’ roster. This year, Baltimore looks primed to feature Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young, and some combination of Anthony Averett and Maurice Canady at the position. Undoubtedly, you can do much worse than a group with those names — we’ve even seen that in Baltimore in the early 2010s.
But before you pick me apart for even considering a cornerback in this year’s draft, let’s look closer at the depth that this team has. Of course, Marlon Humphrey is an absolute stud who will be an unwavering force on the defense not only this year but for the foreseeable future, too. Beyond him, however, there are two question marks. With Brandon Carr, the concerns are much less with durability but with age. Carr had a tremendous 2018 campaign, but he will eventually show signs of slowing down as he gets further into his 30s. Before long, DeCosta will be looking for his replacement. If it were just Carr, an easy answer would be either Averett or Canady, but the elephant in the CB room is actually Jimmy Smith and his massive contract.
As has been eluded to on the podcast, Smith is surely nearing his dying days with the Ravens, even as he remains one of the top-two most talented corners on the roster. Simply put, Smith is too unpredictable and inconsistent — in both his play and his health — to be kept at his salary. Many, including me, even saw his departure coming this year, whether that be a permanent leave or a short one before coming back on a smaller deal. Regardless, Smith remains on the roster to this point, though 2019 may be his last year in Charm City.
If that is the case, replacing Carr and Smith cannot be done with Averett and Canady. Obviuosly, a wrench in my thinking here is free agency, as the Ravens could certainly bring in a #2 guy in that manner. At the same time, Baltimore typically does not make such signings, especially at cornerback. They’ll have more cap space than they’ve had in years, but DeCosta should find that the money would be better spent addressing the pass rush or the receiving core. To that point, he’ll want to provide reliable backup through the draft, and for me, that insurance should be given a year to develop, meaning the player should be taken now, rather than later.
As I mentioned previously, by no means do I think this selection should happen with the teams first three selections, as the holes at WR, OL, and EDGE are far more important at this point. However, if the Ravens are able to trade back from pick-22 to get additional selections, I would not be surprised to see a CB taken late in the 3rd-round, where value can be found. At that point, the Ravens may not get a Humphrey-caliber talent, but could get a long, athletic corner who could play opposite of him and produce better than Averett and Canady. As I’m writing, I feel it’s very important to note that I still do really like both Averett and Canady, and I think they could be important players in the years to come. I don’t think either of them could be relied on to play #2, but I think they could be extremely strong rotational cover men. In reality, though, the Ravens will eventually need more than rotational backs, or else they may fall back into the issues they struggled with the last time they were a Super Bowl contender.