Takeaways from the NFL Scouting Combine
The Ravens have long been considered one of the better drafting teams in the NFL, and likewise, the Ravens as an organization put an emphasis on building the roster through the draft while supplementing via free agency. However, recent years have resulted in some uncharacteristic draft classes that failed to pan out as expected. Early returns from the 2016 draft looks extremely promising, and if Ozzie Newsome can follow it up with another strong class in 2017, the future outlook of the team will be extremely promising. With NFL Scouting Combine now in the rear view mirror, we have a better understanding of the strength and depth of the incoming player pool. There are a lot of headlines and stories that can be taken away from the Combine and here are a few takeaways that feel particularly relevant to the Ravens.
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Speed and athleticism on the defensive side of the ball:
When asked about the upcoming draft, Ravens Assistant GM Eric DeCosta described this class as a “defensive draft” and the prospects certainly did not disappoint at the Combine. From probable #1 overall pick Myles Garrett on down, the talent in this group of prospects was readily apparent. Perhaps more than any other position group, the defensive backs stood out in terms of speed and athleticism. 22 defensive backs ran the 40 under 4.50 seconds and 25 were able to perform the three cone drill in under 7 seconds, demonstrating that not only are these players fast, but they are also quick and agile. Garrett had a monster performance across the board, posting one of the best athletic profiles we have ever seen at the Combine while Stanford DL Solomon Thomas also showed exceptional athleticism likely solidifying himself as a top 10 draft pick. Several other Edge defenders including Haason Reddick, Jordan Willis, T.J. Watt (yes, J.J.’s little brother) and Derek Rivers also had excellent workouts.
Lots of offensive playmakers:
One of the highlights of the Combine was the scintillating 4.22 40 ran by Washington WR John Ross, a new Combine record, but he was not the only offensive player to impress over the weekend. ECU product Zay Jones had a fantastic Combine to headline a strong WR group that didn’t even get full workouts from top prospects Mike Williams and Corey Davis. Similar to defensive backs, speed was plentiful at the WR position with 18 prospects running sub 4.5 times. Perhaps even more impressive than the WRs was the TE group which may be the deepest and most athletic we have ever seen. Alabama product O.J. Howard ran a 4.51 40 at 251 pounds while also posting a 6.85 3 cone drill showing off his speed and agility. The RB group did not disappoint either, with top prospects Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette posting 4.49 and 4.51 40s, respectively. Christian McCaffery was perhaps most impressive with a 4.48 40 and one of the fastest 3 cone times ever posted at the Combine at 6.57 seconds.
There was a lot of talk heading into the Combine that the University of Alabama could potentially break an NFL draft record by having 8 players selected in the first round. Unfortunately, a few problems arose for several Alabama prospects making the likelihood of a new record look very slim. LB Reuben Foster, who many think is a top 5 talent in this class, was unceremoniously dismissed from the Combine before he even stepped onto the turf due to an altercation while awaiting his medical check. Foster has since apologized for his behavior, and while it is unlikely he falls out of the first round, his behavior may have cost him several draft positions and potentially millions of dollars. Another player who may have lost some money is DL Jonathan Allen who has been one of the premier defenders in college football. Reports arose that Allen has had both shoulders surgically repaired and are now moderately arthritic. While the extent of the damage is not known, reports like these can have devastating effects on a prospect’s draft status. To worsen matters, Allen did not test well athletically, raising further questions about how early he should be drafted. Finally, both Bama edge rushers Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams tested very poorly, casting significant doubt on their draft stock. While these 4 defenders did not impress, it wasn’t all bad for Alabama. CB Marlon Humphrey had an excellent workout running the 40 yard dash in 4.41 seconds while posting a 6.75 3 cone drill, very impressive numbers for the 6’0, 197 pound CB. OT Cam Robinson also showed off his athleticism and the previously mentioned O.J. Howard was dynamic.
So what does all of this mean for the Ravens? Obviously, the Ravens needs align very well with the strength of this draft which is always a very good thing. The Ravens need to get younger and faster in the secondary and there are numerous players that can help immediately. There is impressive depth among pass-rushers making it possible to find a contributor in the 2nd , 3rd or even 4th round. With the talent available at TE, RB and WR, the Ravens could find a playmaker or two that would cost a lot less than a pricy free agent. There also might be some unexpected options available to the Ravens in the first round like Reuben Foster and Jonathan Allen, two players who were once considered top 10 locks that could slide further than expected. From a strategic standpoint, the Ravens already have 4 picks in the top 100, but the depth of this class could make Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta and company look to trade back if possible and accumulate even more picks. We are still almost two months away from the Draft and a lot can change between now and then, but the Combine answered a lot of questions and helps to bring the whole picture into focus.