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Every week during the 2021 NFL season, we’re going to — just being honest here — overreact to what we’ve seen on the field for a different NFL team and begin projecting NFL draft prospects at positions of concerning need.
Think of it as a mini one-team mock draft, with early (Rounds 1-2), middle (Rounds 3-4) and late (Rounds 5-7) prospects at each team’s respective position of concern.
This week’s NFL draft makeover is for the Baltimore Ravens.
It's difficult for us to top the recent words of our colleague, Frank Schwab, when it comes to the Ravens in his weekly "Winners and Losers" column. So please allow us to reprint them in all their anti-splendor:
The Baltimore Ravens sum up the 2021 NFL season. It all looked so good not long ago. Then injuries and COVID-19 ruined everything.
It's really true. After beating the Cleveland Browns in Week 12, the then 8-3 Ravens sat atop the division and, even better, the entire AFC. It was a sloppy game, one with four Lamar Jackson interceptions, but the result put Baltimore in a spot where the playoffs looked nearly assured.
Since 1990, 95 teams have started the season with a record of 8-3 — and 88 of them (92.6%) made the postseason. Even with the NFL expanding the regular season to 17 games in 2021, it was hard to imagine an 8-3 team tumbling out of the playoff picture so quickly.
Now, after four straight losses, the Ravens and their fans are forced to imagine it. The team currently sits on the outside looking in, with two games remaining against teams at .500 or better. John Harbaugh has had some brilliant coaching moments this season but has had to be highly aggressive at times, which has cost them.
Some of the team's issues, such as the health of the quarterback position, are most likely short-term concerns. Other worries are more chronic. The team's depth, which has been tested severely at certain positions going back to August, is most certainly one of those.
The good news for the Ravens — whether they make the playoffs or not — is that their concerns feel fixable. They're in respectable salary-cap shape, currently around $26 million under for 2022, although Jackson's likely extension figures to eat up a big chunk of that.
But they also have a strong allotment of draft capital, with an expected surplus of draft picks (extra selections on Day 3 via prior trades and compensatory picks). If Baltimore misses the playoffs, it could land the team's highest first-round pick since selecting Marlon Humphrey 16th overall in 2017. Plus, the strengths of the 2022 NFL draft appear to match up with the Ravens' most concerning needs.
So let's take a shot at solving some of those issues through the draft and how the Ravens can rebound next year.
Early round prospect
Minnesota OT Daniel Faalele
In our mock draft posted last week, we projected the Ravens a cornerback: Andrew Booth Jr. from Clemson. Let's work off that template and drop down to their second-round choice for this story.
If they can address a defensive issue — DB or defensive line — in Round 1, coming back in Round 2 with an offensive tackle could be a smart approach. And if Faalele is still on the board around the 50th overall pick or so, his pairing with the Ravens feels almost too perfect.
The Ravens have long sought mass and length in their offensive linemen (think Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Ben Cleveland, Tyre Phillips, David Sharpe, et al) and absolutely will take a long, hard look at the 6-foot-8, 380-pound Faalele. Along with his sheer mass, Faalele boasts 35-inch arm length and some of the biggest hands (11 1/8 inches) and one of the longest wingspans (86 inches) you'll ever see in an NFL prospect.
That's the stuff you can't teach. Faalele remains raw as a player, so it's tricky to project what he might be able to offer in Year 1. But if we follow his growth over the Australian's three years of organized football with the Gophers, it's easy to see how good Faalele could be in a few years from now.
He's a natural fit at right tackle, and the drawback is that it's the only position he's played in college. But Faalele could be tried as a hulking guard as well, we think. Although he's not exceptionally athletic (compared to 325-pounders, anyway), Faalele moves pretty darned well for a man his size, with some impressive flexibility and at least passable lateral quickness.
With strong testing, he could work into the first-round range. But if Faalele is in range of the Ravens' second-round pick, they'd be massive favorites to vie for his services.
Arkansas DL John Ridgeway
At some point the defensive line must be addressed. Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams and/or Justin Ellis could be free to walk, assuming the team is a bit cap-tight. Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington Jr. can help fill those voids, but more would be needed if one or more of those veterans do not return.
Ridgeway is a high-floor prospect who perhaps has somewhat limited upside. But his final season with the Razorbacks, following four years of high-level play at Illinois State, showed he can handle the rigors of the SEC, earning a Senior Bowl bid.
Less than two weeks after having an appendectomy, Ridgeway suited up against Texas and logged six tackles and a sack in 24 snaps. That's toughness, and he was a starter for the remainder of the season at nose tackle, also taking snaps as a 5-technique.
It's easy to project the Ravens liking Ridgeway's length at 6-foot-5, with 34-inch arms and an 80-inch wingspan. His high-school wrestling background shows up on tape in his ability to press out blockers and leverage them quickly. Ridgeway possesses limited pass-rush ability but has surprising quickness off the snap and profiles as an interior disruptor who can short-circuit blocking schemes and hold up well vs. power.
We believe Ridgeway will end up as a borderline top-100 prospect, but he has the earmarks of a very useful pro in a DL rotation, both inside on the nose and able to play over the offensive tackle.
Coastal Carolina EDGE Jeffrey Gunter
Gunter is a prototypical 3-4 edge rusher who seems to fit the Ravens' mold. He's been accused of being somewhat of a dirty player — or at least one who plays through the whistle often — thanks to highly aggressive hits against BYU QB Zach Wilson and Liberty QB Malik Willis, among others.
But we're guessing the Ravens wouldn't mind adding a dash of vinegar to their EDGE rotation. They've gotten quality reps from Tyus Bowser and 2021 first-rounder Odafe Oweh this season but must plan for life after Justin Houston and Pernell McPhee.
Adding a fiery competitor such as Gunter makes sense. The East-West Shrine Game selection is believed to be a Day 3 prospect because of some stiffness, athletic limitations and one-note pass-rush technique, which could limit his mass appeal a bit.
Yet he's got the build (6-foot-4, 261 pounds, 33 1/8-inch arms, 81 7/8-inch wingspan) to fit the Ravens' outside rush spot, brings a white-hot motor to the party and can be disruptive in limited snaps. Watch both of his games vs. Kansas and Arkansas State the past two seasons, and you can see how Gunter can go from being a later pick to a productive pro.