Ravens select eight players in 2021 NFL draft

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With the Ravens completing their 26th draft in Baltimore, general manager Eric DeCosta aimed to improve a roster poised to take the next step after three straight trips to the playoffs and back-to-back exits in the divisional round.

Having traded two-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to Kansas City last week, the Ravens had the opportunity to make two selections in the first round for just the fifth time, also doing so in 1996, 2000, 2003, and 2018. Of course, Baltimore will never top selecting two Hall of Famers in left tackle Jonathan Ogden and middle linebacker Ray Lewis with the first two picks in franchise history, but those other first rounds netted 2,000-yard running back and 2003 AP Offensive Player of the Year Jamal Lewis, seven-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker and 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs, and 2019 NFL MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson.

In other words, expectations are high for Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman and Penn State outside linebacker Odafe Oweh.

With a major need after the free-agent departures of Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue, the Ravens drafted an outside linebacker in the first round for the first time since selecting Suggs in 2003. They also grabbed a wide receiver in the opening round for the second time in three years and fifth time in team history as DeCosta continued to take early swings at a position that’s been problematic for much of the organization’s history.

Lacking a second-round pick on the second night of the draft, Baltimore waited more than four hours to address the interior offensive line and add another defensive back to the mix with the selections of Georgia guard Ben Cleveland and SMU cornerback Brandon Stephens late in the third round.

After selecting Oklahoma State wide receiver Tylan Wallace to begin their Day 3 activity, the Ravens traded their 136th and 210th picks to Arizona for the 160th overall pick and a fourth-round choice in next year’s draft. Baltimore finished the day drafting Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade, Notre Dame outside linebacker Daelin Hayes, and Michigan fullback and tight end Ben Mason in the fifth round.

It was interesting to note that the Ravens didn’t select an offensive tackle despite having traded Brown, leaving a significant question mark going into May.

Below is a look at where the Ravens’ draft class stood by the conclusion of Saturday:

WR RASHOD BATEMAN, Minnesota
First round, 27th overall
Last Raven selected in this spot: CB Jimmy Smith (2011)
Skinny: Regarded by some as the draft’s best wide receiver after the top-10 trio of Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith, Bateman was hampered by a COVID-19 infection over the summer and played in only five games as a junior in 2020, but his sophomore season with the Golden Gophers included 60 catches for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns in 13 games. The 6-foot, 190-pound Bateman is viewed as an NFL-ready route runner and an outside receiver with the versatility to also play from the slot and led the nation in yards per route run from an outside alignment in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus. Bateman may not have elite speed, but his ability to beat press coverage and make contested catches should be a valuable weapon for a low-volume Baltimore passing game that regressed in 2020.

OLB ODAFE OWEH, Penn State
First round, 31st overall
Last Raven selected in this spot: TE Todd Heap (2001)
Skinny: Having not begun playing football until his junior year of high school in 2016, Oweh fits the easy description of a boom-or-bust prospect with the freakish physical tools to blossom into a high-impact and versatile edge defender at the next level, but much was made about the 6-foot-5, 257-pound junior not recording a sack in seven games for the Nittany Lions last season despite showing growth as a run defender. The Ravens have a longstanding reputation for developing raw edge rushers, but their current lack of depth at outside linebacker and desire to beef up a blitz-dependent pass rush creates more urgency for an accelerated learning curve. After going by his middle name Jayson at the collegiate level, Oweh prefers people to use his first name (pronounced O-dah-FAY) moving forward.

G BEN CLEVELAND, Georgia
Third round, 94th overall
Last Raven selected in this spot: DT Brandon Williams (2013)
Skinny: The quirkiness of Baltimore taking a player with the last name Cleveland and drafting a guard named Ben for the third straight year aside, this 6-foot-6, 357-pound offensive lineman is a monster of a man and figures to step right into the crowded competition at left guard if veteran Bradley Bozeman indeed moves over to center. Cleveland’s size and physicality figure to fit very nicely in Greg Roman’s run-first offense, but his pass blocking is highly regarded as well with only 13 pressures allowed in 600 pass-blocking snaps over the last three seasons, according to PFF. With only one full year starting for the Bulldogs and some technique to refine, Cleveland shouldn’t be viewed as a finished product, leaving much to like about his potential.

CB BRANDON STEPHENS, SMU
Third round, 104th overall
Last Raven selected in this spot: CB Tavon Young (2016)
Skinny: Having now selected a cornerback in the fourth round or earlier in six of the last seven drafts, the Ravens may view Stephens as a better fit at safety and as a hybrid defensive back after he began his collegiate career as a running back at UCLA before transferring and changing positions. Stephens is being described as a reach by some pundits who didn’t have him on their pre-draft radar, but the Ravens were intrigued by his 22 pass breakups in two seasons at a new position. At 6-foot and 213 pounds, Stephens joins former SMU teammate James Proche in Baltimore and should have time to develop in a very deep secondary, which will allow coaches to experiment with his best positional fit.

WR TYLAN WALLACE, Oklahoma State
Fourth round, 131st overall
Last Raven selected in this spot: FB Kyle Juszczyk (130th overall, 2013)
Skinny: The fifth wide receiver selected in the first four rounds of the draft since DeCosta became general manager in 2019, Wallace was an explosive and productive outside receiver who caught at least 53 passes, 903 yards, and six touchdowns in each of the last three seasons. The 5-foot-11, 193-pound vertical threat isn’t considered as proficient running routes as Bateman, but those two along with Alabama’s DeVonta Smith were the only wide receivers in this draft class to average 3.0 yards per route run in each of the past two seasons, according to PFF. Though a torn ACL cut his 2019 season short, Wallace returned to make 59 catches for 922 yards and six touchdowns in 10 games last season.

CB SHAUN WADE
Fifth round, 160th overall
Last Raven selected in this spot: DT Daylon Mack (2019)
Skinny: The 6-foot-1, 196-pound defensive back returned to the Buckeyes in 2020 to try to win a national championship and prove he could play on the outside, but he dealt with some nagging injuries and struggled mightily away from the nickel corner spot at which he previously excelled, causing his draft stock to plummet. Registering six interceptions and three forced fumbles over three seasons for the Buckeyes, Wade figures to profile best as a slot cornerback and hybrid safety with the Ravens, who could maximize his strong ability to tackle and blitz. Considering the major injury concerns with veteran Tavon Young, the Ravens selecting a viable nickel corner option was always a distinct possibility, making Wade a good value selection later in the draft.

OLB DAELIN HAYES, Notre Dame
Fifth round, 171st overall
Last Raven selected in this spot: TE Nick Boyle (2015)
Skinny: The 6-foot-3, 253-pound edge defender and former team captain won’t stand out from a traits standpoint in the way Oweh does, but he brings a respectable floor as a fifth-round pick who took his game to a higher level in 2020 with three sacks, six tackles for a loss, an interception, two forced fumbles, and 17 tackles in nine games for the Fighting Irish. Growing up admiring those vaunted Ravens defenses led by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, Hayes has the ability to set the edge and drop effectively into coverage, versatility that should help make up for the limited production and pass-rush ability he showed over most of his collegiate career.

TE/FB BEN MASON, Michigan
Fifth round, 184th overall
Last Raven selected in this spot: RB Cedric Peerman (185th overall, 2009)
Skinny: You won’t find a better NFL fit for the former Wolverines fullback as Mason sounds like a lighter version of two-time Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard, who is under contract only through the 2021 season. A former team captain and a 2021 Senior Bowl participant, the 6-foot-3, 256-pound fullback came highly recommended by Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and gives the run-heavy Ravens another blocking option at tight end and fullback. In his four years as Michigan, Mason caught three passes for 32 yards and a touchdown and ran 37 times for 87 yards and nine touchdowns.