We’ve discussed the Ravens’ needs from the moment they fell to Buffalo in January’s divisional round to conclude their 2020 season.
The free-agent signing of veteran Kevin Zeitler addressed the right guard spot that was problematic in the wake of Marshal Yanda’s retirement, but the rest of the list only grew last week with the trade of two-time Pro Bowl right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to Kansas City. How general manager Eric DeCosta attacks outside linebacker, the offensive line, and wide receiver in this week’s draft will go a long way in determining Baltimore’s immediate Super Bowl chances and long-term roster outlook with star quarterback Lamar Jackson likely to receive a monster nine-figure contract at some point in the near future.
With the Brown deal netting the Ravens the 31st pick in addition to their own 27th overall selection, Thursday could mark just the fifth time the organization has made two first-round selections in one draft. Or, DeCosta could make a trade to move up or down the board with the latter appearing more likely since he’s never shied away from expressing his preference to have more draft picks.
Below is a fun — or not so enjoyable in a couple cases — look back at the Ravens’ first-round history taking players at their current positions of need:
LT Jonathan Ogden (1996 — fourth overall)
General manager Ozzie Newsome would draft the most iconic player in franchise history 22 spots later in future Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis, but the first pick in franchise history set the tone for the popular “best player available” mantra and two-plus decades as one of the NFL’s best organizations. The 1996 team already had a pair of good offensive tackles in Tony Jones and Orlando Brown and owner Art Modell was pushing for troubled but talented Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips to both address a need and make a splash in a new city. However, Newsome stood his ground and selected one of the best left tackles in league history in Ogden — who played left guard as a rookie before Jones was traded to Denver — while Phillips was an awful story on and off the field, eventually taking his own life in prison in 2016. Do the Ravens become the same elite organization we know today if they badly botch that first pick in Baltimore and pass on such a reliable future Hall of Famer?
OLB Peter Boulware (1997 — fourth overall)
Injuries often prevented the 6-foot-4, 255-pound pass rusher from playing at full strength, but Boulware was a force on the edge with four Pro Bowl selections, three double-digit sack seasons, and four other campaigns with at least seven sacks. He also missed just one game over his first seven seasons, which is remarkable considering the various ailments through which he played. A serious knee injury derailed his career late in the 2003 season as he wasn’t the same upon returning to the field in 2005. Despite Terrell Suggs shattering his franchise career sacks record and having a more decorated career at outside linebacker, Boulware easily remains one of the best defensive players in franchise history.
WR Travis Taylor (2000 — 10th overall)
One of the rare first-round busts in franchise history, Taylor would probably be remembered a little more fondly if not for the fact that he was taken in the top 10 of a first round that included 14 future Pro Bowl players. The former Florida Gator had his moments with a two-touchdown showing in the 2001 postseason win at Miami and an 869-yard, six-touchdown campaign in 2002, but Taylor never showed enough consistency catching the football or gaining separation to consider him as anything but a big disappointment. Perhaps more stability at quarterback would have aided his early development, but he started 61 games over five years with the Ravens, which was more than enough time to try to establish himself as a quality NFL receiver.
OLB Terrell Suggs (2003 — 10th overall)
A botched attempt to trade up and select Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich sparked quite a butterfly effect in which the Ravens settled for the standout defensive end from Arizona State and later traded back into the first round to select Cal quarterback Kyle Boller. Suggs would become one of the best players in Ravens history, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year, and the franchise’s all-time sacks leader, but how might the fate of the franchise been altered by grabbing Leftwich and not taking Suggs and Boller? Leftwich never lived up to big expectations in Jacksonville, but he was certainly better than Boller, making you wonder how he might have impacted those last few Ravens teams under Brian Billick. Suggs stands pretty comfortably behind Lewis and Ed Reed as the third-best defensive player in team history, and you’ll gladly take that even with the continuation of quarterback pains stemming from that 2003 first round.
WR Mark Clayton (2005 — 22nd overall)
Because he was selected later in the first round, Clayton probably fits better in the “disappointment” than “bust” category like Taylor, but he continued the organization’s difficulties drafting wide receivers. The former Oklahoma standout appeared to have a breakout 2006 season with 939 receiving yards and five touchdowns with Steve McNair at quarterback, but Clayton never came close to those numbers again over his final three years with the Ravens. Like with Taylor, more quarterback stability likely would have helped his development, but he had already settled into a complementary role behind Derrick Mason when Joe Flacco was drafted in 2008. Clayton just wasn’t as good as advertised, finishing with under 700 receiving yards in four of his five seasons with the Ravens, all of those as a starter.
G Ben Grubbs (2007 — 29th overall)
It doesn’t get less exciting than drafting a guard with a first-round pick, but Grubbs started 70 of his 74 games with the Ravens and very well may have received a second contract to stay in Baltimore if not for the 2007 third-round selection of Yanda, one of the best picks in team history. Grubbs was a standout performer on the offensive line for four playoff teams and a quality draft pick even if Yanda’s Hall of Fame-caliber career prompted many to forget his contributions from 2007-11.
OT Michael Oher (2009 — 23rd overall)
The hype and attention stemming from “The Blind Side” left many underwhelmed by Oher’s tenure in Baltimore, but he started and played in every game over his five seasons, sometimes flipping between the tackle spots at a moment’s notice. Perhaps he would have developed into a better left tackle if he’d been allowed to focus on that position from the start of his career, but he was ultimately better on the right side, which wasn’t what the Ravens had in mind upon trading up in the first round to draft him. Still, a mostly reliable and versatile five-year starter — even one who commits a few too many penalties — isn’t something to take for granted even if he wasn’t a home run of a first-round pick. A player of Oher’s caliber immediately stepping in at right tackle wouldn’t be the worst draft outcome for the current Ravens.
WR Breshad Perriman (2015 — 26th overall)
Maybe Perriman’s NFL fate would have been different had he not hurt his knee on the first full day of training camp in his rookie year, but the injuries still don’t forgive how poorly he played when he did get on the field for the Ravens. Despite a clear need at wide receiver, Perriman caught just 10 passes for 77 yards on 35 targets in 2017 and was frequently a healthy scratch in the second half of that campaign. The speedy 6-foot-2, 215-pound receiver has found very modest success elsewhere, but he’s now on his fifth different organization since being cut by the Ravens at the end of the 2018 preseason, cementing his fate as one of the biggest busts in team history.
LT Ronnie Stanley (2016 — sixth overall)
While many clamored for the Ravens to draft cornerback Jalen Ramsey with their first top 10 pick since 2003, Stanley immediately corrected the awful contract the organization had handed the oft-injured Eugene Monroe two years earlier and gave the organization long-term stability at left tackle for the first time since Ogden’s retirement after the 2007 season. The Notre Dame product missed most of the 2020 campaign due to a serious ankle injury and has never played all 16 games in a season due to various nagging ailments, but Stanley is widely regarded as one of the best left tackles in today’s game. The Ravens told you exactly what they thought of their 2016 first-round pick by awarding him a five-year, $98.75 million extension last October.
WR Marquise Brown (2019 — 25th overall)
As we’ve discussed in this space, the Ravens’ first-round bar is very low for wide receivers, but the speedy Brown’s 147-yard, two-touchdown NFL debut put him on the right track as Jackson’s top wide receiver in a run-heavy offense that doesn’t produce much passing volume. His struggles catching the football in the middle portion of the 2020 season were concerning, but Brown finished his second season on a strong note, recorded 15 touchdown receptions over his first two years, and has now caught 18 passes for 322 yards in three postseason contests, the kind of production you want to see in January. This figures to be a pivotal season in determining whether Brown was a good pick or merely an OK one with the Ravens needing to improve their passing attack to take the next step.