Ravens director of player personnel Hortiz dishes on 2021 rookie class

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On Monday, Ravens director of player personnel Joe Hortiz conducted a film session with local reporters to take a deeper dive on the 2021 rookie class.

The virtual event was an informative and entertaining opportunity to hear what Hortiz and the scouting department thought about Baltimore’s eight draft picks and undrafted rookie signings after an unprecedented evaluation year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Below is a sampling of what Hortiz had to say about the rookie class that may not have been covered during the draft weekend or rookie minicamp press conferences:

Rashod Bateman

The Minnesota product became the fifth wide receiver selected in the first round in Ravens history, but Hortiz acknowledged how the challenges of the evaluation process applied to even well-known talents like Bateman, who was widely regarded as a high-floor, lower-risk prospect at 27th overall.

Despite Bateman’s production over three seasons with the Golden Gophers, there was uncertainty about his explosiveness when Hortiz attended Minnesota’s Pro Day in early April and reported back to general manager Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh.

“Scouting was different this year. We’re so used to going to schools, going to games, watching a player at practice, seeing and feeling the speed early in the process,” Hortiz said. “And with Rashod, [we] really didn’t see it, didn’t get a chance to experience it until then. When I came out of the Pro Day, I called Eric and I called John, and I’m like, ‘Hey man, you’ve got to watch his Pro Day. You can definitely feel the speed.’ Because John will ask that question, ‘Could you feel the guys’ speed? Could you feel his power?’ And there are times where you really didn’t see it, you didn’t feel it. And with him, you really felt it — his ability to really just get in and out and show that twitch and strength that can transition into the burst and explosion.”

You rarely hear teams talk about the flaws and weaknesses of their draft picks as they try to “sell” them to both media and fans, but Hortiz acknowledged Bateman not being a perfect prospect despite his advanced route-running ability.

“He does drop the ball occasionally. Not a lot, but he’s got a couple of drops,” Hortiz said. “There are things he can clean up about his game, but what you love is the temperament and the work ethic that he’s showing right now. He is polished as an athlete and feel. … The other thing with Rashod, I think [his bout with] COVID-19 was tough for him as it was for a lot of players, and his yards per catch may have been down a little bit this year or just the explosiveness was down a little bit. You saw that back at the Pro Day, which is really exciting. That’s why I’d say you could say there’s a little bit [of] a higher ceiling as well.”

Odafe Oweh

So much has been made about the first-round edge defender collecting zero sacks in 2020 and having a reputation as a boom-or-bust prospect, but the Ravens have repeatedly pointed to his underrated floor as a run defender and the traits that made the 6-foot-5, 251-pound Oweh so attractive despite the lack of conventional numbers.

“He has speed, but his rush is really a power, bend, hands, just core. He’s got the speed. That’s where we’ve got to develop with him — using that speed and developing it even further,” Hortiz said. “The way Penn State plays, they do a lot of read run, [then] convert to pass, which we do, and that fits us. Set the edge, come off, convert to pass, and get to the quarterback. He can do that.”

Hortiz showed several examples of how disruptive Oweh was against Indiana last year, noting on one occasion “if he was literally not even a fraction of a second sooner, it’s a sack, forced fumble” instead of “a floating interception.”

Ben Cleveland

The third-round pick from Georgia will be transitioning from one side of the offensive line to another, a process that can be tricky for even seasoned veterans. Hortiz recalled the Ravens doing that with another former SEC guard who started 12 games as a rookie in 2007 and 70 games over five seasons in Baltimore.

“Ben Grubbs we did it with if you remember. We drafted Ben in the first round, and he went from right guard to left guard his rookie year — right guard in college to left guard,” Hortiz said. “When he made the transition, I asked him, ‘How’s it going?’ He said, ‘It’s similar to going from writing with your right hand to writing with your left hand. It’s not as difficult, but your body has always been … in that stance. It’s just changing your feet, muscle memory, and things like that.’ Certainly, many players have done it.”

The Ravens are trusting veteran offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva to make a similar switch as he goes from protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside for years in Pittsburgh to right tackle in Baltimore.

Brandon Stephens

The former SMU defensive back began his collegiate career as a running back and was regarded by many as a surprising third-round selection, making him one of the more interesting picks to track over the next few years.

“He wanted to play corner. He actually asked to do it at UCLA. They didn’t want to do it, [and] that’s why he transferred,” Hortiz said. “But the fact that he has the desire to play on defense is awesome. Then, when you watch his physicality and then you just watch his natural athleticism and ball skills and ball production and strength, yes, there is some work that’s going to need to be done because of limited time on the job. But the work that he has done and what he’s shown us is exciting.

“Yes, there’s a risk-reward for every player, but he’s not a raw, fundamentally raw player. He just lacks the experience. And then just the temperament and the effort which he plays and the production he’s put out there on film, that kind of makes it exciting. We feel like there’s going to be a process of him developing, but a process of him developing into a good player.”

Shaun Wade

Many viewed the former Ohio State cornerback as a potential Day 1 or Day 2 pick entering the 2020 season, but Wade’s struggles on the outside hurt his stock, allowing the Ravens to grab him in the fifth round.

“He didn’t have a great year to Ohio State’s standards and certainly to his standards. He didn’t have a bad year either,” Hortiz said. “He had a couple bad games while he was dealing with [an] injury. What we’re excited about is you look at his film as a nickel. You look at the size and the speed and the potential of the player and the ball skills, and you say, ‘Hey, this is a guy that has talent that we can work with and develop, and he has inside-outside flexibility.’ That’s what gets you excited.”

Even if the 6-foot-1, 191-pound Wade never develops as a formidable outside corner, his length defending the slot makes him an attractive option, especially with Tavon Young having played just one full game over the last two seasons due to injuries.

Daelin Hayes

Hayes isn’t the same physical specimen as Oweh, but the former Notre Dame edge defender has received similar criticism for his lack of production with just nine sacks in 43 career games for the Fighting Irish.

“With any player that you can keep track of stats and you see big grades on a player — and it happens all the time — you’re like, ‘Ugh, what are our scouts looking at? What is this person looking at?'” said Hortiz about the lack of traditional numbers. “And then you put the film on and you’re like, ‘Holy cow, I see what he’s seeing.’ But you can have it the other way. You can go out and do it and say, ‘You know what? I’m not going to like this guy because he doesn’t have sacks.’ You can just ignore him knocking the tackle or the tight end back or driving it back for a hit on the quarterback, and it’s like, ‘Yep, couldn’t get there again.’

“As I mentioned with Daelin Hayes, he misses some sacks. It’s like, ‘Alright, if we can figure out how to finish, that sack total is going to go up.’ There’s so much versatility he shows, so you don’t want to just ignore it and just, ‘Well, he doesn’t have enough sacks.'”

Ultimately, both Oweh and Hayes will be judged by their production at the next level, but it was interesting to see the Ravens focus so much on projection with these two prospects after having a longstanding reputation for valuing college production at the position.

Ar’Darius Washington

One of the more popular undrafted free agents at the conclusion of the draft, the former TCU safety is just 5-foot-8 and 176 pounds and lacks blazing speed despite a good reputation for making plays in college.

So, how does a team go about evaluating someone who is such an outlier from a physical standpoint?

“You’re trying to find the right spot for him. Is he big enough to be a safety? I don’t know. Is he fast enough to be a corner? I don’t know. Is he a good football player? Yes. Is he instinctive? Yes. Does he make plays? Yes. Alright, well, he’s a good football player,” Hortiz said. “Let’s get him here and see what he is. Frankly, that’s how we evaluated him as a draft pick — a potential draft pick — and he was a potential draft pick for us. We just didn’t draft him; that doesn’t mean we didn’t have draftable grades on him. Our scouts really liked him. Everyone to a man talked about how tough he was.”