Mike Preston: Ravens stick to script and come away with solid draft class

BALTIMORE -- On some days, boring is good.

The Ravens had a couple of those days during the NFL draft this past weekend, and that’s a good thing because everything seemed to fall into place.

There were no trades or reaches on selections, and the Ravens basically stayed with the script.

Will they challenge for a Super Bowl title in 2024? That remains to be seen, but they appeared to upgrade in the secondary with Clemson cornerback Nate Wiggins as their top pick and added much-needed depth on the offensive line with second-round selection Roger Rosengarten, a tackle out of Washington. Penn State outside linebacker Adisa Isaac, chosen in the third round, adds to the pass rush.

The Ravens might have a speedy outside threat in fourth-round selection Devontez Walker, a wide receiver from North Carolina. Other than adding more interior linemen on both sides of the ball, which could come later in free agency, the Ravens’ draft was solid.

“It was a productive three days,” general manager Eric DeCosta said. “There were no trades. We had a few opportunities, but in the end we stayed with what made the most sense for us. It takes a village to have a successful draft, and I’m very proud of the men and women upstairs.”

The Ravens went into the draft wanting to add offensive linemen, especially tackles, but nine came off the board before the team’s No. 30 overall selection in the first round. The Ravens then chose Wiggins, who was generally considered the No. 2 cover corner in the draft behind Toledo’s Quinyon Mitchell, who went 22nd to the Philadelphia Eagles.

It was a good move. Offensively, the Ravens can’t match quarterbacks such as the Kansas City ChiefsPatrick Mahomes, Buffalo BillsJosh Allen or maybe even the Houston TexansC.J. Stroud in the postseason, but they can at least slow them down, which is exactly what the Chiefs did to the Ravens in the AFC championship game with cornerbacks Trent McDuffie and L’Jarius Sneed.

With Brandon Stephens on the outside, Wiggins on the other side and Marlon Humphrey playing over the slot, the Ravens should have good nickel and dime packages. It still would have been interesting to see whether the Ravens would have taken Oklahoma offensive tackle Tyler Guyton if the Dallas Cowboys hadn’t selected him at No. 29.

The Ravens didn’t have much of a choice except to take Rosengarten with the No. 62 pick. He was ranked around where the Ravens selected him, and Baltimore needed a tackle after trading right tackle Morgan Moses to the New York Jets in exchange for draft picks and watching left tackle Ronnie Stanley struggle through an injury-hampered 2023 season.

Rosengarten ran the 40-yard dash in 4.92 seconds, which is impressive for a 6-foot-5, 308-pound tackle. He played on the right side in college, which was the blindside for left-handed quarterback Michael Penix Jr. Rosengarten has a strong initial punch and is a good finisher.

He fits into the Ravens’ scheme because he is versatile enough to play guard, so that works out well if Rosengarten can’t beat out Daniel Faalele for the starting right tackle job or if Ben Cleveland or Andrew Vorhees falters at guard. According to DeCosta, the Ravens are excited about both Cleveland and Vorhees. The hope here is that Rosengarten can pass block, an area in which the offensive line has struggled in recent years.

“Just coming from college, we were [a] pass-heavy offense, so obviously I feel very confident in a pass set, but also in my run blocking,” Rosengarten said. “I feel like my run blocking is underrated. We were kind of in that spread offense — spread offense, run-scheme, zone-scheme, but it doesn’t matter what scheme it is, I feel confident within run-pass screens, getting out in space. I just feel confident in it all.”

There was a lot of clamor among fans about the Ravens taking Isaac in the third round instead of a receiver or guard, and that’s understandable. DeCosta said a decision was partially made because of the recent contract extension negotiated with third-year receiver Rashod Bateman. That was a gamble, a big one.

The NFL is a bottom-line league and Bateman has only 93 catches for 1,167 yards and four touchdowns in four largely injury-filled seasons. He didn’t merit the extension, regardless of the situation.

Maybe another issue came into play. The Ravens traded receiver Marquise Brown on Day 1 of the 2022 draft, and they didn’t offer linebacker Patrick Queen an extension at the start of last season.

What do Brown, Queen and Bateman have in common? All three were first-round picks, respectively, in 2019, 2020, and 2021. It would look bad on the Ravens if all three left Baltimore without receiving contract extensions.

The Bateman deal practically had to be done, and the Ravens haven’t excelled in drafting receivers since moving to Baltimore from Cleveland in 1996.

As for guards, Kansas State’s Cooper Beebe and Conneticut’s Christian Haynes were already chosen before the Ravens selected Isaac. Most offensive lines have a weakness at guard, and that’s OK if a team has a quality center such as Tyler Linderbaum.

Edge rusher, though, was a problem. The Ravens have two young outside linebackers in David Ojabo and Odafe Oweh. The former has struggled with injuries and the latter is inconsistent.

The Ravens needed a young player who could join veteran Kyle Van Noy, but there might be one problem with Isaac. Despite the 37 tackles and 7 1/2 sacks he had last season, he appears to be one-dimensional like other former Nittany Lions pass rushers Oweh and Chop Robinson, who went to the Miami Dolphins 21st overall.

They are all speed rushers but don’t have any counter or change-of-direction moves. That sounds like another major job for assistant coach and pass-rushing “guru” Chuck Smith.

“I’ve heard a lot about him throughout my college career. I’ve always heard the name — Chuck Smith, Chuck Smith — and just never was able to put a face to it,” Isaac said. “So now, it all came full circle, and I’m able to work with him one-on-one. So, it’s just amazing, and I’m just excited to learn.

“There’s a lot of great coaches and a lot of experience, so I’m just excited to improve myself and meet all of these exciting coaches and players.”

Barring unforeseen circumstances, the top three draft picks should make the team, but the odds aren’t in favor of the remaining six.

Walker, the fourth-round pick, fits a Ravens need. He is exceptionally fast (4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and a long strider who specializes in vertical routes. He is not known for getting much separation going in and out of his breaks, but he can take the top off a defense.

“Definitely a vertical threat, but I feel like the speed, cuts at the top of the route and things like that, I feel like I’m very good in that aspect and running away from defenders,” Walker said. “Still need a little work at the top of the route, cleaning up steps and things like that, but I feel like releasing off the ball and being a vertical threat, those are the two strong points of my game.”

Because the Ravens have had so many injuries in the secondary, DeCosta chose Iowa State cornerback T.J. Tampa with the No. 130 pick in the fourth round. The Ravens picked up Marshall running back Rasheen Ali a round later, and he is a big back at 5-11 and 206 pounds. He rushed for 1,135 yards last season and also had 28 catches for 213 yards.

To finish off the picks, the Ravens took Kentucky quarterback Devin Leary in the sixth round, followed by Michigan State center Nick Samac and Purdue safety Sanoussi Kane with their last two selections in the seventh. Teams always bring in several quarterbacks to start training camp, and the Ravens are always looking for depth on the interior lines.

The final picks were basically a formality, but the Ravens followed DeCosta’s script before the draft.

He stayed with it to complete a boring but solid three days.