The picks are in for the 2021 draft, so what can we expect from the Ravens’ eight selections?
With general manager Eric DeCosta picking eight players over the first 184 selections — four on each side of the ball — Baltimore didn’t draft a player after the fifth round for the first time in the 26-year history of the franchise.
Below is an early look at how each rookie fits now and in the future:
WR Rashod Bateman
Drafted: First round (27th overall) from Minnesota
2021 projected role: The most well-rounded and productive wide receiver the Ravens have ever drafted in the first round, Bateman will probably defer some to veteran Sammy Watkins to begin training camp and the regular season, but there’s no reason to think the 6-foot, 190-pound wideout won’t play extensively whether he officially starts or not.
Long-term outlook: With no disrespect intended toward the speedy Marquise Brown, Bateman has the all-around skills and potential to blossom into the young No. 1 wide receiver the Ravens have never had, so it will be interesting to see what his production looks like playing in a low-volume passing game. DeCosta said the play-making wideout was “a very easy pick to make,” only reinforcing how high the expectations are for the former Golden Gopher.
OLB Odafe Oweh
Drafted: First round (31st overall) from Penn State
2021 projected role: Oweh should see extensive snaps, but defensive coordinator Wink Martindale hinted that the talented and raw edge rusher could be brought along slowly from a positional responsibility standpoint, which isn’t surprising with Pernell McPhee and Jaylon Ferguson still in the mix at the rush linebacker position.
Long-term outlook: Martindale noted that the 6-foot-5, 257-pound Oweh is “so much further ahead than most guys that you watch coming out of college” when it comes to setting the edge, a good sign for his potential to become a full-time starter and every-down player in the Baltimore defense. Of course, his ceiling will be determined by the development of his pass-rushing moves, which is a question that makes you take pause about such an otherwise impressive physical specimen who registered only seven sacks over three seasons.
G Ben Cleveland
Drafted: Third round (94th overall) from Georgia
2021 projected role: With most signs indicating a move to center for veteran Bradley Bozeman, the 6-foot-6, 357-pound Cleveland is expected to compete with the likes of Ben Powers and Ben Bredeson for the starting left guard job.
Long-term outlook: Refining his technique and improving his feet will determine how quickly Cleveland becomes a starter as the Ravens have invested a number of mid-round picks in their offensive line in recent years. That head coach John Harbaugh made no secret about how much he liked the former SEC guard won’t hurt Cleveland in his quest to become a dependable NFL starter, but he faces competition from others with more experience in the system.
DB Brandon Stephens
Drafted: Third round (104th overall) from SMU
2021 projected role: Whether at corner or safety, a rookie who began his collegiate career as a running back at UCLA seems like a long shot to see defensive action in this secondary, making special teams his path to a game-day role.
Long-term outlook: Most draft pundits weren’t nearly as high on Stephens as the Ravens, so it will be fascinating to see how his development unfolds and what kind of role the organization envisions for the 6-foot, 213-pound defensive back. The early indication is that Stephens will work at safety, which is noteworthy with starter DeShon Elliott entering the final year of his rookie contract and this roster not getting any cheaper.
WR Tylan Wallace
Drafted: Fourth round (131st overall) from Oklahoma State
2021 projected role: Wallace may have a tough time finding much playing time as a rookie, but DeCosta describing the 5-foot-11, 193-pound receiver as “just too good of a player for us not to take” says plenty about his potential.
Long-term outlook: With Watkins only signed through 2021, Wallace should have every opportunity to carve out a meaningful offensive role and develop chemistry with 24-year-old star quarterback Lamar Jackson over the next few years. How effectively he develops in running short and intermediate routes will determine whether he blossoms into a starting-caliber receiver at the next level, but his talent and college production make Wallace an intriguing pick.
CB Shaun Wade
Drafted: Fifth round (160th overall) from Ohio State
2021 projected role: Earning playing time in such a crowded cornerback group will be difficult, but nickel corner Tavon Young’s inability to stay on the field is no secret, giving Wade an outside chance to see some defensive snaps as a rookie.
Long-term outlook: One of the better values of the draft with extensive experience in an elite program, Wade was on his way to becoming an early draft pick before shifting to the outside for the Buckeyes in a strange 2020 season and struggling considerably. At 6-foot-1 and 196 pounds, Wade has good size to defend the slot and could be the nickel corner of the future, especially if Young can’t bounce back from the second serious knee injury of his NFL career.
OLB Daelin Hayes
Drafted: Fifth round (171st overall) from Notre Dame
2021 projected role: You normally don’t give a fifth-round pick with so-so production much of a chance to see defensive snaps as a rookie, but the lack of a clear backup to starting strong-side outside linebacker Tyus Bowser gives Hayes a chance to see some action if he can effectively play in coverage, something he flashed at Notre Dame.
Long-term outlook: While the pressure will be on Oweh to become a high-impact edge rusher much sooner than later, Hayes will have the luxury of developing on a slower timeline like past Day 3 picks such as Za’Darius Smith and Matthew Judon, who didn’t play extensively as rookies and eventually blossomed into impact edge defenders. At 6-foot-3 and 253 pounds, Hayes has the build and sufficient traits to become a rotational contributor at the very least.
TE/FB Ben Mason
Drafted: Fifth round (184th overall) from Michigan
2021 projected role: Already drawing comparisons to two-time Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard, Mason will probably have a tough time finding a game-day role as a rookie if Ricard and top blocking tight end Nick Boyle are both healthy.
Long-term outlook: Few teams in today’s NFL would consider a fullback to be particularly good positional value in the fifth round, so it’s difficult not to look at Ricard’s contract expiring at the end of 2021 and wonder if Mason will be groomed as his replacement to save salary cap dollars. Of course, the 256-pound rookie will need to show he belongs before being anointed the next “Project Pat” — Blueprint Ben? — in the Ravens offense.