On this week’s podcast, Jerry and Jason had the privilege of speaking with UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin, the inspirational star of this year’s NFL Combine. Griffin, who lost his left hand at age 4, has persevered through unimaginable circumstances throughout his life, continually finding himself undervalued and overlooked as he pursues his goal of playing football in the NFL. Now, Griffin’s dream appears likely to become a reality. After shocking scouts by bench-pressing 20 reps despite a prosthetic hand, Griffin ran the fastest 40-yard dash of any linebacker in Combine history, posting a 4.38 mark. Further, Griffin exhibited tremendous character in team interviews. No doubt, his draft stock has risen significantly. Griffin’s success has me thinking about the Ravens, who have a somewhat under-the-radar need at linebacker.
While defense will surely come second in this year’s draft, Baltimore could use both a pass-rusher and a counterpart to CJ Mosley inside. And, despite heavy attention being paid to offensive playmakers, the Ravens have a number of options at different points in the draft. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised – or frustrated, for that matter – if Ozzie Newsome grabbed a stud at one of these positions in the first round.
At pick 16, it appears increasingly unlikely that a skill-position offensive player will make sense. Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley may not be available, and Maryland wideout DJ Moore is likely more of a second-round prospect. While an offensive lineman could certainly be in play, there are a few players that would be quite intriguing if available. First, if the Ravens want to pair Mosley with a fast, athletic linebacker and create a scary duo in the middle of the defense, Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith fits the bill. A sideline-to-sideline defender, Smith would be an excellent complement to Mosley and would fill what is likely the defense’s largest hole. Other options at ILB are Alabama’s Rashaan Evans and Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch. Both are similarly exciting talents, and Vander Esch continues to see his stock climb, though neither are receiving quite as much praise as Georgia’s Smith.
At EDGE, Baltimore would have to seriously consider pouncing on UTSA lineman Marcus Davenport if he were available. Davenport has a rare blend of size and speed, and could immediately provide an heir to Terrell Suggs’ throne. However, because of his immense potential, Davenport is probably the least likely of these prospects to be on the board at pick 16. So, Baltimore could look to bolster their pass rush by selecting Boston College standout Harold Landry. After an outstanding 2016-17 season, Landry took a step back this past year and suffered an injury that left some wondering if his NFL potential was declining. But, after an impressive Combine and a seemingly successful recovery, Landry is firmly planted as a first-round selection and has rejuvenated the excitement that was following him the year prior. What’s more, it is very likely that Landry will be available when the Ravens pick, and though many think he is more fit for a back-end selection, if Baltimore feels that he is a strong choice, don’t be surprised if his name is on their card.
Beyond the first-round of the draft, Baltimore has a few options to solve the pass rush (this year’s draft is somewhat dry in that area), and a plethora of options at ILB. The most obvious choice if Baltimore elects to take an EDGE player is LSU’s Arden Key. Key, an extremely talented player with a first-round grade, has seen his stock drop because of off-the-field issues. He reminds me a lot of last year’s pick Tim Williams, and if he fell to Baltimore in the third-round, I would support his selection. Another option on day two is Oklahoma’s Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. Undersized for his position, Okoronkwo has seen his draft stock slide despite impressive numbers in 2017-18. However, the pass-rusher could follow in the footsteps of a former Raven and Bronco, the similarly undersized Elvis Dumervil; his productivity makes him worth a mid-round pick.
At inside linebacker, the Ravens could find multiple mid-to-late-round names appealing. In rounds 2 or 3, Vanderbilt’s Oren Burks possesses impressive coverage and ball skills that would make him an intriguing option alongside Mosley. Other day-two names include Iowa’s Josey Jewell, whose production overshadows his physical gifts, and South Carolina State’s Darius Leonard, a Senior Bowl player who has a knack for getting behind the line of scrimmage. In the later rounds, the most intriguing name – in my opinion – is Virginia’s Micah Kiser. A 6’0” linebacker, Kiser is a hometown product of Gilman. While he doesn’t possess the speed of some other ILB prospects, Kiser is an instinctive and willing tackler that would improve the Ravens run defense. Another option at ILB is a more developmental player: Florida State’s Matthew Thomas. A player with special physical gifts, Thomas is 6’4” and fast. Unfortunately, his first-round potential is dampened by his apparent lack of awareness, which will likely make him a day three selection. Still, the Ravens have a track record of producing successful linebackers seemingly out of nowhere, and Thomas’ physical traits would leave the defensive coaches with a lot to work with.
However, despite all the names I just listed, the most intriguing prospect – and one who could possibly play either position – is this week’s guest Shaquem Griffin. At Central Florida, Griffin produced consistently impressive numbers that were backed by his awe-inspiring Combine performance. Aside from his on-the-field potential, though, Griffin would be a surefire leader in a Ravens locker room that – as many fans have discussed before – has lacked one since the departure of Ed Reed and retirement of Ray Lewis. Griffin’s story is inspiring, his play on the field is exciting, his potential is immense, and I would love to see him wearing purple come September.