HOT TAKE ALERT: Zaven Collins Should Start from Day 1

If you would have polled Cards fans on what position the team should take with their 1st pick, inside linebacker would have finished close to last.

Top teams take the talent that falls to them, regardless of position. Arizona took who they thought was the best player available and you can’t really knock them for that (rumor is New England would have taken Collins at 15 had Mac Jones not fallen).

I think most have come to grips with the pick, now it’s the handling of him that many have a problem with.

Wanting to keep Hicks for depth at the very least, makes sense. In fact I think it was likely the team’s plan, since they didn’t trade him during the draft. Based on the timing, and Ian Rapoport’s verbiage, it seems Jordan Hicks is the one pushing for the trade. 

So why aren’t teams lining up to get one of the cheapest starting linebackers in the league then? Because he’s just not very good.

Considering the way Simmons was handled I understand the head scratching, but you have to consider the circumstances. Not only was it a shortened offseason due to Covid, we’ve seen a steady decline from Hicks play over his past 3 seasons. Earning PFF grades of 75 in 2018, 61 in 2019, and an abysmal 50 last year.

Some have asked, “How was Simmons not an upgrade then??”

Simmons is an athletic freak and no doubt a physical upgrade over Hicks. The difference is the team had more faith in Hicks going into last year, and Collins has years of experience calling the defense and getting guys lined up. Simmons did not.

Let’s not pretend like this move is completely uncharted territory. Zaven will have to learn to run the defense as a rookie, like Kyler had to learn to run the offense as a 21 year old. There’s already reports of Vance Joseph spending extra time with Zaven at rookie mini camp, like Kliff did with Kyler his 1st offseason.

Zaven will also have the benefit of an abundance of elite talent around him (Chandler, JJ, Budda). While Kyler definitely did not in 2019.

We shouldn’t be so emotionally tied to a player that’s clearly upgradeable. This team has added 3 wins each season for the past 3 years, and with the upgrades they’ve made I expect that trend to continue.

Let me know your thoughts and share if you agree.

Diamond in the Rough: Ravens UDFA Class

While the Ravens are lauded for their ability to find talent throughout the draft, the team’s track record for finding gems after the draft has been equally as impressive. Throughout its history, the Ravens have found a plethora of starters and difference makers in the large pool of undrafted rookies immediately following the NFL Draft. Stars such as Priest Holmes, Bart Scott, Justin Tucker, and Michael Pierce have all made their names with the Ravens and other teams despite not being selected on draft day. Thus, Baltimore’s annual class of undrafted rookies always sparks some interest among fans and pundits alike. This year, unlike years past, may carry more intrigue. With the pandemic clouding up the draft process, several players that were expected to be taken during the draft did not hear their name called but instead will get a chance to latch onto a team as a free agent.

This year’s class for the Ravens is loaded with talent. The list of names is impressive: RB Nate McCrary, WR Donte Sylencieux, TE Tony Poljan, OT Adrian Ealy, OT Foster Sarell, G Sam Cooper, DT Xavier Kelly, LB Blake Gallagher, S Ar’Darius Washington are all players who were assumed to be drafted at some point. Each player can carve out a special niche on the team but others will be looked at a little more closely than others.

One such player is TCU safety Ar’Darius Washington. Assumed to be a third round pick, Washington fell completely out of the draft due to concerns over his size. Despite a smaller frame (5’8, 178 lbs), there should be no denying his talent. He is a rangy playmaker that packs a punch when it comes to tackling. The Ravens need safety depth and could use the range that Washington offers. Washington should have been drafted and the fact that Baltimore got him without using a draft pick is a coup.

Another area of concern was the offensive line. Following an up and down season from the group as a whole due to injuries, and the eventual trade of starting offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., most had assumed the Ravens would add talent during the draft. While the Ravens did select interior offensive lineman Ben Cleveland, they opted to no add a tackle. That is why Adrian Ealy comes in with substantial intrigue. The former Sooner started a total of 23 games at both tackle spots and the Ravens have had tremendous luck in recent seasons with former players from Oklahoma. There is hope that Ealy can be groomed to be a productive swing tackle for the team.

Tight end Tony Poljan is an interesting pick up as well. While the tight end room in Baltimore is crowded with a mix of veterans and young players so there may not be much space for the former Virginia Tech tight end but he has plenty of intrigue. At 6’7, he has plenty of size and plays with enough strength to be an above average blocker. It is that kind of all around functionality the Ravens love in their third tight end. He may have difficulty making the main roster but would be a solid stash to their practice squad.

Overall, this entire undrafted free agent rookie haul has the chance to contribute right away. The Ravens are perhaps the best team at finding contributors that hadn’t been drafted so the dearth of talent added is truly intriguing. Depth is needed in key areas, especially along both sides of the trenches, and Baltimore did a fantastic job of filling those spots post draft. The Ravens can usually be counted on to keep at least one undrafted rookie on their roster so it shouldn’t be a surprise if the team carries on that tradition. A great rookie free agent haul to pair with an already stout draft class.

Summer Scouting: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

There aren’t many players who can draw comparisons to Derwin James of the Los Angeles Chargers, but Kyle Hamilton is one of those guys. In his sophomore season, Hamilton flashed his versatility and ability to play all over the back half of the field for the Fighting Irish; whether it be the deep safety position or in the nickel covering the slot, Hamilton was able to find success in any role Notre Dame put him in. Standing 6-foot-4 and 219 pounds, you’d think he was built in a lab, especially with the athleticism he possesses. Again, not many players can draw the Derwin James comparison, but Hamilton has the skillset to bring a similar impact to the NFL that James does.

Pros:

  • Takes read-step, attacks downhill v. the run.
  • Frame
  • Plays w/ a good bend in his lower half, solid balance.
  • Smooth transitions, click-n-close looks easy.
  • Athlete, phenomenal range as a deep safety.
  • Vision as a depth defender.
  • Makes several plays at/around the LOS from deep.
  • Trustworthy tackler.
  • Not afraid to lay the wood.
  • Motor is always running.
  • Purpose behind everything he does.
  • Backpedal.
  • Versatile, true chess piece who can play all over.

Cons:

  • Has a tendency to approach his tackles high, around the ball carriers shoulders.
  • Can be indecisive at times.
  • Overestimates his athletic ability and can cut his tackle angles short.

2021 Season Statistics:

51 solo tackles, 12 assisted tackles, 63 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, and 4 pass deflections

Preliminary Grade:

8.38 – Top-10 Grade

Baltimore Ravens Draft Grades

The 2021 NFL Draft is almost two weeks behind us and that has given the NFL world plenty to discuss. Numerous draft pundits have torn apart every aspect of every draft class, dissecting the most minute of details in order to discern which teams had a great haul and which teams didn’t. The Baltimore Ravens, being an NFL team that made selections, were not exempt from being placed under the microscope. After three days of drafting, the general consensus of Baltimore’s draft class is that the Ravens faired well and came out a better team. Now that we have all had a chance to simmer down and absorb the picks that have been made, let’s take a deep dive into the 2021 Baltimore Ravens Draft Class to get a better understanding of how this team did.

Round 1 (27): Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

The Ravens needed a number one wide receiver and they somehow managed to have one fall to them near the end of the first round. Bateman doesn’t come in as big as he had been listed in college (6’0, 190 lbs) but he’s a route running technician that can work at all levels of the field. Whether he is lined up in the slot or outside the numbers, Bateman is a sure-handed receiver that can help open up Baltimore’s passing game in ways not seen in quite some time. In a sense, this pick was the perfect marriage of team need and player value. The Ravens hit a first round home run yet again.

Grade: A

Round 1 (31): Odafe Oweh, EDGE, Penn State

There perhaps wasn’t a more athletically gifted player in this draft than Odafe Oweh. The Penn State pass rusher ran a blistering 4.39 in the 40 yard dash at 6’5, 257 lbs. That shouldn’t be possible. Thus, it’s easy to see why the Ravens were so enamored with Oweh. The EDGE situation in Baltimore going into draft weekend was bleak to say the least. The Ravens lost a plethora of pass rushers in free agency and had a few spots to fill at that position. The biggest knock on Oweh is his lack of production. With only seven career sacks, including zero in his final year at Penn State, it’s clear that Oweh needs to add much more polish to his game in order to be a consistent contributor. Fortunately for Oweh, the Ravens have a phenomenal track record at developing pass rushers. With all of the physical attributes a team can ask for, it’s up to Baltimore’s coaching staff to build up Oweh into a fearsome quarterback hunter.

Grade: B

Round 3 (94): Ben Cleveland, IOL, Georgia

The Ravens sought to add a mountain with a mean streak to the interior of their offensive line and found the perfect fit in Ben Cleveland. His size and strength makes Cleveland virtually impossible to move while making him an ideal fit in Baltimore’s power run scheme. The Ravens offensive line was simply manhandled throughout the season last year as inquires and losing perennial Hall of Famer Marshall Yanda proved too much to overcome. Cleveland can come in right away and be plugged right into a starting spot. For a third round pick, there isn’t much more a team can ask for.

Grade: B+

Round 3 (104): Brandon Stephens, DB, SMU

This may have been Baltimore’s biggest reach of the draft but Stephens undeniably has some physical intangibles that the Ravens covet. Initially a running back at UCLA, Stephens transferred to SMU and moved over to the defensive backfield where he really began to shine. Stephens has great size for a defensive back that displays great range and ball skills while offering positional versatility. Even though the strength of the Ravens’ defense is their secondary, injuries have ravaged that area for the last several years. Adding an athletically gifted player with positional flexibility can only help insure the defensive backfield stays strong.

Grade: C+

Round 4 (131): Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State

Had Tylan Wallace gone two rounds before this spot, no one would have batted an eye. The fact that the Ravens got him here towards the end of the fourth round is a coup. While most didn’t think the Ravens would double dip at wide receiver due to limited roster space, Wallace was just too good of a prospect to pass up. Though he is only 5’11, 193 lbs, Wallace is one of the toughest receivers in this entire draft and plays much bigger than he actually is. He isn’t afraid to fight for contested balls and makes difficult catches look easy. Much like Bateman, Wallace offers versatility and toughness that Lamar Jackson should fall in love with very quickly.

Grade: A+

Round 5 (160): Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State

Say what you will about his final season at Ohio State but his two years prior to that had many convinced he was a first round talent. While he may have fallen off a bit after his move to the outside, Wade has all the trappings of a fifth round steal. Wade’s strength is at nickel and that’s where Baltimore needs him the most. Though Tavon Young is a highly talented slot cornerback, injuries have taken away each of his last few seasons. He simply cannot be relied upon to stay healthy and that is where Wade has his greatest value. Backing up Young while learning the nuances of the NFL, only being pressed into significant playing time if there is injury, is the best possible scenario for the former Ohio State defensive back. Wade has a wealth of potential and if used correctly can be an astounding NFL player and the Ravens have the ability to get the most out of him.

Grade: A

Round 5 (171): Daelin Hayes, EDGE, Notre Dame 

The Ravens double up on pass rushers to give the team some insurance just in case Oweh isn’t quite ready to contribute as much as hoped in Year 1. Hayes doesn’t quite have the same upside as his first round counterpart but he has the potential to outproduce Oweh. He is a big-bodied pass rusher with some surprising burst off the edge. Hayes can carve an early down role for himself and adds phenomenal depth to a position that the Ravens need bodies at.

Grade: B

Round 5 (184): Ben Mason, FB/TE, Michigan

If 31 other teams had drafted Mason this early, this would be a failing grade. But the Ravens simply use fullbacks in ways most other teams don’t and Mason fits the mold of a Baltimore fullback perfectly. The Ravens announced Mason as a tight end, indicating they want to use him in multiple different ways. Whether he is lining up in the backfield as a full back or on the line as the team’s coveted third tight end, Mason is multifunctional player that the Ravens can use all over the field. This is a Baltimore pick through and through and it’s clear John Harbaugh wanted to grab him before the Ravens wrapped up their draft.

Grade: C+

The Ravens hit on a majority of their biggest needs in the draft and added some high upside players on both sides of the ball. Due to the odd nature of the draft because of the global pandemic, teams simply could not evaluate players like they could in years past. Thus, the Ravens relied more on evaluating athletic intangibles rather than collegiate production. It was a bit concerning that Baltimore didn’t address the offensive or defensive lines more than they had but the Ravens still made out with a high upside class that has the potential to lift the franchise over its playoff hump.

Overall Grade: B+