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Q&A with NFL Draft Analysts

The calendar has turned to April, and the final countdown to the 30th and the beginning of the 2015 NFL Draft has begun. As of today, the Baltimore Ravens have 10 draft picks, including the 26th overall selection of the 1st round.

To help preview the draft, and review some of the options the Ravens may consider; Baltimore Sports and Life (BSL) has reached out to several draft analysts across the web for their thoughts.

Those who participated in this Q&A are:
Dan Kadar, Mocking the Draft
Lou Pickney, Draft King
Brent Sobleski, Bleacher Report

BSL thanks each of these analysts for taking the time to provide their thoughts.

(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)

Baltimore Sports and Life: In was recently announced that Nebraska DE Randy Gregory failed a drug test at the NFL Combine. How will that failed test impact Gregory in the Draft? (The Ravens currently have the 26th overall selection in the 1st. Chances Gregory drops into the 20s?) How does Gregory compare and contrast to UCLA DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa?

Kadar: Personally, I don’t think that Gregory will last into the 20s. He’s too skilled of a player at a high-end position. There are a lot of teams in the top 15 that need pass rushers and it’s one of the three or four most sought-after positions in the NFL. Of course, teams will be figuring out if Gregory is dependent on drugs or if he just made a dumb mistake. If teams think he’s dependent on drugs, then he could slide. If teams think he made a dumb mistake – albeit at least three times considering he tested positive twice at Nebraska – it shouldn’t hurt him too much. I don’ think he’s a top five pick, but it’s still feasible that he gets taken in the top eight picks.Gregory and Odighizuwa are a little tough to compare. Gregory projects more as an outside linebacker and Odighizuwa is likely a 4-3 end. Gregory is the better athlete, Odighizuwa plays with more power. One of the things they do have in common is their versatility. They also both have red flags. For Gregory, it’s the drug stuff. For Odighizuwa, it’s an injury past that includes pretty severe hip issues.

Pickney: I suspect the failed test will cause Gregory to slide out of the top ten of the draft. Particularly with so little separating the elite DE/OLB prospects in this draft, this could be enough to cause him to fall, perhaps all the way to New Orleans at #13. The problem isn’t so much with the drug use itself — attitudes nationwide are shifting strongly against cannabis prohibition. But the reality is that marijuana remains a banned substance in the NFL and Gregory knew for months that he was going to be tested at the Combine. He showed poor decision-making on that choice, which isn’t an encouraging sign for teams.Durability is also a concern, as Gregory suffered a broken wrist playing basketball in junior college and later a broken leg before transferring to Nebraska. He missed two games last season for Nebraska due to knee/leg injuries, a nail biter of a win against McNeese State and a double-overtime victory at Iowa. That Cornhuskers defense wasn’t the same without him. However, Gregory remains one of the top 3-4 OLB pass-rushing threats in this draft. He’s a dynamic playmaker who should be able to have an immediate impact in the NFL.Odighizuwa has had injury problems of his own, and he’s had to have surgery done on both hips, a problem that waylaid his 2013 season. But he checked out medically at the Combine and could very easily end up hearing his name called on the first night of the draft. In contrast to Gregory at 235 pounds, the 267 pound Odighizuwa projects much stronger as a 4-3 defensive end. That’s not to say that Odighizuwa couldn’t play 3-4 OLB — look at what Pernell McPhee did for the Ravens at that spot at an estimated 280 pounds. But unlike Gregory, Odighizuwa is not seen as a major pass rushing threat; however, he is exceptional in stopping the run. But with his particular skill set in mind, I don’t see Baltimore as being an ideal destination for him.

Sobleski: Gregory’s draft status will depend on a team’s comfort level with him as a person. The Nebraska product already visited Baltimore. Thus, there is obvious interest in him as a prospect. However, pass-rushers with Gregory’s length, athleticism and flexibility off the edge are rare commodities. Eventually his talent will trump trepidation (unless something else comes up along the way). It’s hard to see him making it out of the top 20 based on what we currently know.

Baltimore Sports and Life: Despite trading Ngata, the Ravens are in good shape at the DT position with Brandon Williams, and Timmy Jernigan. Still, we have seen Jordan Phillips (Oklahoma) occasionally linked to Baltimore.  How do you grade the Sooner?

Kadar: Phillips is a solid to good player. He’s probably in that late first- to mid-second area. He’s a good nose tackle prospect because he can occupy multiple blockers and still generate pressure. He’s had some back issues, though, which is troubling.

Pickney: At 6’5″ 330, Phillips is a physically gifted player. There’s a reason he was so highly touted coming out of high school. But with injury concerns after suffering from back problems in 2013 and questions about the effort he gives on every play, Phillips has the look of a boom-or-bust type prospect.

You might see him sneak into the end of the first round, but at this point he looks most likely to go in the mid-second round range. Phillips has a rare mix of athleticism and size that should make him very appealing for a wide variety of teams, even if he’s not in the top tier of the defensive tackle prospects in this draft. But he’s hardly a can’t miss prospect.

Sobleski: Phillips is one of the most intriguing prospects in this year’s class. If there weren’t concerns about a previous back injury that required surgery in 2013, we might be talking about him as the top nose tackle prospect instead of Washington’s Danny Shelton. Phillips is nearly impossible to move when he’s not tired. He gets proper arm extension, dips his outside shoulder and can consistently split double-teams. From that perspective, he’s more of a traditional two-gap 0-technique. But when you already have the best young nose tackle in the game, why spend a first round pick on the position?

Baltimore Sports and Life: Baltimore lost Torrey Smith in Free Agency, and could use an addition to their WR corps. At 26 some potential WR options could be Devante Parker (Louisville), Jaelen Strong (Arizona State), Devin Smith (Ohio State), Dorial Green-Beckham (Missouri), and Breshad Perriman (Central Florida). How do you rate this group (either in-terms of reaching their ceiling, or ability to produce quickly)? Who do you like best, who do you question the most?

Kadar: It’s hard to see Parker being there at 26, so lets leave him out of the discussion. After that, I love Green-Beckham’s pure talent and potential, so he’s the top guy in that group. He can do some special things on the field and has a rare skill set. For him, it’s all the off-field issues, the fact that he hasn’t played in more than a year and needs to be in the right exact spot to succeed. I’m not sure the Ravens go after a character-question player like DGB. Strong is next up for me. He’s a really good player who also might not be on the board at 26. He’s a good vertical threat, has good size and really goes up after the ball. Smith is a wide receiver practically built for Joe Flacco. He excels in the deep-passing offense and could be a good big-play threat there. Perriman is good, but I think he’s getting a little overrated at this point. I’m not a big fan of his hands, but it’s hard to ignore that size and speed.

Pickney: Strong was one of the most enjoyable players to watch in college football last season. He’s a dynamic playmaker with a flair for the dramatic, with his game-winning reception at USC standing out as one of the top highlights of the 2014 season. The biggest wild card arguably in the entire draft is Green-Beckham. An elite prospect out of high school, Green-Beckham has ideal modern NFL size to go with tremendous athletic ability. While he led Missouri to an SEC East division title in 2013, he also made some poor off-the-field choices, which prompted his transfer to Oklahoma. And while NCAA transfer rules prohibited him from playing last fall, he was able to improve there as an athlete as part of a strong program while also rehabbing his image.The sky is the limit for Green-Beckham. If he lives up to his potential, he could end up as the best NFL wide receiver to come along since Calvin Johnson. But there are plenty of unknowns surrounding him, perhaps the biggest risk/reward prospect in the entire draft at any position.Overall, the second-tier receiver group (below Amari Cooper and Kevin White) is solid — this is a good year for teams needing a wideout. Perriman posted a remarkable 40-yard-dash time at UCF’s pro day, estimated in the sub 4.3 range. Though, with enough wide receiver talent in this draft, even an incredible showing like that might not be enough to keep him from sliding to round three.

Sobleski: If the Ravens are searching for a similar talent to Smith at that juncture, Perriman would be the best option. With his size and 4.26-second 40-yard dash speed, the UCF product can take the top off of any defense. When Joe Flacco is your quarterback, the ability to stretch the field is essential to the success of the offense. Parker will almost certainly be off the board. Strong is more in the mold of Anquan Boldin. And the value of Green-Beckham, like Gregory, is based on how the team views him as a person after multiple incidents in college.

Baltimore Sports and Life: Dennis Pitta has dislocated his hip in each of the last two seasons, and it is unknown if he will be able to return to action this year. Even if he does, his ability to stay on the field will remain a question. As is, the Ravens will be depending on 2014 selection Crockett Gilmore to produce after the loss of Owen Daniels to the Broncos. Assuming Maxx Williams (Minnesota), and Clive Walford (Miami) are both off the board – are Devin Funchess, and Rory Anderson legitimate 2nd and 3rd round options? If Baltimore waits to address TE until the 4th round (the Ravens have three 4th round picks), who do you like best in that range? Nick O’Leary (FSU), Jesse James (Penn State), other?

Kadar: Personally, Jesse James is one of my favorite mid-round players in the draft this year. I’d take him over guys like O’Leary and Anderson. He’s a really good athlete and has size. If he’s developed properly, he should be the third-best tight end out of this year’s draft. I wouldn’t hate it if he came off the board late in the second round, but the third is more appropriate. Anderson is mid Day 3 choice for me. He’s solid, but doesn’t really stand out in any area. O’Leary is someone who seems like he’s going to find a way to stick on a roster, whether that’s playing tight end, H-back and working on special teams. Funchess is more a big wide receiver than a tight end.

Pickney: Funchess is an interesting case since he’s as much wide receiver as he is tight end. And there is value to be found in that. Look at what Jacksonville paid to acquire former Broncos TE Julius Thomas in free agency as proof of that. Anderson is also a viable receiving threat, though his injury history could cause him to drop. If the Ravens can land O’Leary in round four, that’s a steal in my book. He’s also faced his share of injuries, and his disappointing performance at the Combine will work against him. But he showed at Florida State that he is a legitimate talent, and I think he would fit quite nicely with the Ravens. James is intriguing, a huge target with good hands. He has also been durable, which in some ways may give him an edge over O’Leary and other mid-round prospects.

Sobleski: With a player of Crockett’s ability already on the roster, the Ravens should be searching for a more athletic move tight end. If Ohio State’s Jeff Heuerman slides, he is maybe the best kept secret at the position this year. Otherwise, a pair of small-school products, South Alabama’s Wes Saxton and Southern Illinois’ MyCole Pruitt, are tremendous athletes with the potential to fill the H-back role. 

Baltimore Sports and Life: Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson seems to be moving up the draft boards. Between him, Marcus Peters (Washington), P.J. Williams (FSU), and Quinten Rollins (Miami, OH) – will there be a CB available to Baltimore at 26? Do you have a clear preference out of this group?

Kadar: I think Williams, Rollins and maybe Johnson will be there at 26. Out of them, Peters is my guy. He’s the best cornerback in the draft and would be a top 10 or 12 pick if he didn’t have some issues with Washington’s coaches.

Pickney: Peters is one of my favorite prospects in the draft. Things didn’t work out so well for him in Washington last season, but the administration that recruited him skipped town and he clashed with their replacements. That happens sometimes, and it’s too bad as it has overshadowed his tremendous talent. But if the Ravens find him to be a good fit with their organization, he could be a huge steal at #26. Williams intrigues me as well. He’s very physical, better than most as a tackler, though his slightly below prototype speed will likely hinder his draft prospects, at least among the top-tier guys. But I like his chances in the NFL.As for Rollins, he is still very raw at the position, which makes me think he wouldn’t be a good fit for Baltimore. He’s a tremendous athlete though, and he has the potential to develop into a solid NFL player. But Rollins is not ideal for a team that needs to get immediate production from him.The concern I have for Baltimore if they are hoping to go with a cornerback in round one is the need for CB for several teams drafting before them, including Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Arizona. There could easily be a run on corners there, and if that happens it might be smarter to address that need on day two.

Sobleski: One of the names not included in the list is LSU’s Jalen Collins, who has all the physical tools to be the best cornerback in this year’s class if he every puts it all together. Connecticut’s Byron Jones also sits in that late first-round range. Peters should go higher based purely on his film despite previous off-the-field concerns. Johnson is the most polished and experienced in man-coverage principles. And Florida State’s P.J. Williams was arrested for a D.U.I. Friday, which certainly won’t help his draft status.

Baltimore Sports and Life:
Justin Forsett had an excellent 2014 season, and recently agreed to a 3 year $9M extension. Still, he will be 30 in October, and there is a sense you would like to add additional depth to backfield to team with him and Taliaferro. New Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman will continue to run the Ravens zone-blocking scheme, and likes RB’s who can catch. BSL Ravens Analyst Mike Randall profiled David Johnson (Northern Iowa) as a potential 3rd to 4th round option. Are you a fan of Johnson, do you think he would be good value in that range? I’ve seen Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon listed anywhere from the 2nd to the 5th round. Where do you have him? The two RB’s currently projected by most to go in the 1st round are Todd Gurley (Georgia), and Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin). If you were going to take a RB, and either was available, which one do you like better?

Kadar: The third would be a little early for a player like Johnson. He’s solid, but is he really a running back in the NFL? I have Yeldon in the third round. He’s a good, shifty runner with some power. But his issue is holding onto the ball. I like Gurley, but the concern is his ACL. If you want someone who is going to do better as a rookie, take Gordon. If you want someone who will be better in two years, take Gurley.

Pickney: Running back has been devalued to a degree in the NFL with rules made for safety reasons tilting the game strongly in favor of strong passing attacks. This is also a solid draft for RBs, with perhaps a dozen guys who could end up going in the first three rounds of the draft.For now I’m still holding with the thought that there won’t be a running back taken in round one — a far cry from ten years ago, where three of the first five overall picks were RBs. I personally like Todd Gurley over Melvin Gordon, as Gurley is a truly special player who I expect to see bounce back from ACL surgery and perform well when given the opportunity. But with so much RB talent in the draft, supply-and-demand will likely come into play. Johnson is a great prospect, very much an under-the-radar guy at UNI. But he’s built like a linebacker and possesses excellent receiving skills, and he could fit in quite nicely with Trestman’s offensive approach. Yeldon is surprisingly enigmatic for having played at such a high-profile school. He had injury issues last year and seemed to regress, perhaps as a result of those injuries. It’s hard to know for sure, which makes his projection particularly difficult. Yeldon has NFL quality talent and outstanding size, but health concerns will likely cause some teams to drop him down on their draft boards. I expect him to be gone by the end of round three. Anything beyond that and he becomes a bargain pickup for whichever team lands him.

Sobleski: Let’s start this answer by stating this is a tremendously deep running back class. So much so, teams should have a difficult time using a first-round pick on the position. Johnson is one of the legit sleepers in this class, because he should make an immediate impact in the professional ranks as a third-down back. In fact, he may be more comfortable in the passing game than as a natural runner. Two more names to mention in that mold South Carolina’s Mike Davis and LSU’s Terrance Magee. Davis played the Gamecocks’ inside-zone scheme, while Magee converted from running back to wide receiver and back to running back. Overall, this is the perfect year to be looking for a developmental running back in the mid rounds to eventually develop as the team’s starter.

Baltimore Sports and Life: Ravens fans are well aware of the play-making ability of Maryland WR Stefon Diggs. How far in the draft is Diggs currently likely to fall?

Kadar: I think he’s a fifth- or sixth-round pick. He never seemed to put it together consistently at Maryland.

Pickney: Much like running back, wide receiver is a strong position in this draft. That will work against Diggs, as will his smaller frame. He has an incomplete body of work from college based on his broken leg in 2013 and lacerated kidney last season. But he’s explosive and a huge special teams threat, and that could help boost him into the fourth or perhaps even the third round. Not every team has the luxury of targeting the long-term with its wide receiver prospects, but for those that do Diggs could be an excellent pickup.

Sobleski: Diggs didn’t live up to expectations this season. It’s not entirely his fault. Maryland’s offensive game plans didn’t revolve around him nearly enough. He then suffered the lacerated kidney. By itself the injury wouldn’t be a concern, but he didn’t finish either of the past two seasons. Diggs is also more of a play-maker instead of a polished wide receiver. He is still displays some of the best body control in the class and adds value on special teams. He could come off the board in the fifth or sixth round depending on how comfortable teams are with his medical history and work ethic.

Baltimore Sports and Life: Based on the Ravens needs, and who you think will be available, who do you think Baltimore will be choosing from if they stay at 26? Who would be your choice? What percentage chance do you give of the Ravens moving back into the 2nd round? (With the 3 awarded compensatory picks, the Ravens currently have 10 selections.)

Kadar: I see Baltimore staying at 26, unless they’re just completely blown away and get a high pick in next year’s draft. I see the Ravens choosing from the wide receivers mentioned above. If Strong is there, he’d be a great pick. Smith wouldn’t be a bad consolation choice. Gordon would be a good choice, but I’m not sure Ozzie Newsome will have a running back graded out that highly.

Pickney: I could see the Ravens going with a wide receiver like Jaelen Strong at #26. If there is a particular cornerback or two that they covet, they might have to trade up to ensure they get who they want. Baltimore clearly isn’t afraid to trade back, as they did so in both 2010 and 2012. But they’ve also managed their draft picks well and delayed signing free agent QB Matt Schaub until after the compensatory picks were handed out, which was a rather savvy move. There’s probably a 10-15% chance at best that they trade back.

 

Sobleski: Based on the Ravens slotting, players such as Perriman, Strong, Collins and Jones are all strong possibilities. Cornerback obviously holds more value, but I like the idea of Perriman learning under a veteran like Steve Smith, Sr. I also wouldn’t rule out any type of trade late in the first round, because the real first-round break for talent in this class will occur around the 20th selection. Essentially, a late first-round pick and second-round pick will be comprised of prospects with similar grades.

Baltimore Sports and Life: Please plug your site and coverage, letting readers know what you have on tap these next few weeks.

Kadar: Over at SB Nation, we’re going to be running through the rest of the writers mock draft that involves our 32 team sites, so that’s fun. I’m doing a mock draft every week, we have a couple of great podcasts, former NFL player Stephen White is doing some great (and unique) player reports. We also have some great writers like Danny Kelly and Louis Bien who are putting out some really great and original draft-related stuff.

Pickney: I’ve been running DraftKing.com now for a dozen years, and I’ve learned over time that the last few weeks leading up to a draft can get crazy, even after the first few waves of free agency signings have happened. It’s also misdirection season — and I’ll be doing my best to sort reality from spin. In addition, Draft King now has video content available thanks to the site’s new partnership with CineSport. As always, it should be fun.

Sobleski: My work can be found on Bleacher Report, and my Twitter handle is @brentsobleski. In the coming weeks, I expect to finish a few player interviews/features as well as a mock draft or two. 

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Chris Stoner

Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, CBS 1300, Q1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. He has also been interviewed by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Business Journal, and PressBox (TV). As Owner, his responsibilities include serving as the Managing Editor, Publicist, & Sales Director. You can reach him via email at Chris.Stoner@baltimoresportsandlife.com.

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