Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of rookie minicamp

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As Ravens draft picks and undrafted free agents convene in Owings Mills for rookie minicamp later this week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Though Alejandro Villanueva downplayed the challenge of transitioning to right tackle in a new offense as he turns 33 in September, his presence as an insurance policy behind Ronnie Stanley is critical, especially as the sixth-year left tackle returns from two ankle surgeries. Giving Villanueva $8 million guaranteed reflected that.

2. The potential Week 1 offensive line of Stanley at left tackle, Ben Cleveland at left guard, Bradley Bozeman at center, Kevin Zeitler at right guard, and Villanueva at right tackle would give the Ravens a different player at every position compared to the playoff loss to Buffalo. Change comes quickly.

3. Villanueva referencing receivers not having as much fun in a run-heavy offense and making TikToks was viewed by many as a dig at JuJu Smith-Schuster. Coupling that with Smith-Schuster turning down Baltimore’s offer in free agency should add a couple logs to the Ravens-Steelers rivalry fire.

4. That said, Baltimore-Cleveland could usurp the AFC North’s longstanding best rivalry this season as Pittsburgh clings to the December of the Ben Roethlisberger era. Might we see the first Ravens-Browns meeting on Sunday Night Football since 2004 when it was on ESPN and still playing second fiddle to Mondays?

5. The Ravens typically don’t announce their undrafted signings until the start of rookie camp, but TCU safety Ar’Darius Washington should be worth watching this summer. His combination of size (5-foot-8, 178 pounds) and speed (4.61 40-yard dash time) doesn’t impress, but his instincts make him an interesting developmental candidate.

6. Much has been made about the NFL Players Association’s stance against players attending in-person voluntary workouts this spring, but there’s little reason to think rookies and young players trying to establish themselves in the league will stay away. The NFLPA isn’t doing much for fringe guys who may get cut.

7. From 2008-18, the Ravens selected six wide receivers in the first four rounds of the draft with four of those coming in the fourth round. Over his first three drafts as general manager, Eric DeCosta took five wide receivers in the first four rounds of the draft. He’s swinging away.

8. With Gus Edwards entering a contract year, the Ravens not taking a Day 3 running back appeared to be good news for Justice Hill. Meanwhile, fellow 2019 draft picks Miles Boykin and Jaylon Ferguson couldn’t have felt great about Baltimore drafting two players each at their positions.

9. Much was made about the tight end position not being featured as prominently last year, but drafting two more wide receivers and fullback Ben Mason doesn’t figure to create an easy path to a roster spot for another true tight end. Is there room behind Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle?

10. I understand how popular post-draft grades are, but is there a more pointless exercise of confirmation bias? Pundits give high marks to the teams who took players they like and have a history of drafting well. Now, excuse me as I get back to my not-too-early 2023 power rankings.

11. For all the hype about the NFL loosening jersey number guidelines, none of the Baltimore draft picks really stepped outside the old rules for their number. We’ll see in the coming weeks if any Ravens veterans take advantage.

12. Team president Dick Cass said last week that the organization is “optimistic” about hosting a full stadium of fans for 2021 games. Though difficult to quantify, even partial capacity makes an incredible difference during games. Not counting Ravens family members, M&T Bank Stadium hosted fans just once last season.