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Pivotal Ravens Draft Class Must Start With One-Two Punch

March 16, 2016
Any football team's draft can only be fairly evaluated in totality, from first round to last.

But with the Ravens' upcoming selections sure to be the most heavily scrutinized in the team's recent history, it's more incumbent than ever that the cream rises right to the top.

A series of high-profile first- and second-round misses this decade -- one that featured the ill-fated Sergio Kindle/Terrence Cody 2010 tandem and the Matt Elam/Arthur Brown 2013 duo that immediately followed Super Bowl XLVII -- has placed an even bigger spotlight on the April 28-30 selection meeting.

The conventional wisdom is that the picks have to be of the superstar quality usually mined by general manager Ozzie Newsome and his staff to not only burnish their reputation as top talent evaluators, but to help the Ravens recover from a rare 5-11 season, their first losing campaign since 2007. The kind of haul the team pulled off at the top of the 2008 draft -- quarterback Joe Flacco (first round, 18th overall) and running back Ray Rice (second round, 55th overall) -- comes immediately to mind.

Besides the aforementioned miscues, other recent top-two picks have either underachieved or played so far beyond their rookie contracts that they didn't get a chance to re-sign with the team and establish their career as Ravens cornerstones.

In 2011, second-round pick and Maryland grad Torrey Smith exploded onto the scene as a needed downfield presence, but he priced himself out of the team's range and departed for San Francisco in free agency in 2015.  

The jury is still out on last year's top pair, injured receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams, who showed occasional flashes of what he could be.

As the draft approaches, are there any standouts who could possibly fit on the top two spots on the Ravens' marquee, despite the team's many needs? Is there a one-two punch that can help Baltimore slug its way back to the top?

Here are some candidates:

First Round
(sixth overall pick)
DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
Ronnie Stanley, T, Notre Dame

Anyone drafted this high -- thanks to mostly good seasons, the Ravens haven't taken anyone in the top 10 since linebacker Terrell Suggs in 2003 -- had better be prepared to make an immediate impact. 

NFL Draft 2016: DeForest Buckner (Oregon)
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Oregon Athletics

Addressing the team's spotty secondary play has been a big talking point, with cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey of Florida State and Vernon Hargreaves III of Florida being the most frequently mentioned names. But any secondary usually finds its job can be done a lot more easily with a good pass rush in front of it, and that's where Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner comes in.

In many ways, Buckner fits a template already set by Ravens 2006 first-round selection Haloti Ngata: they attended the same school, they both have light-on-their-feet athleticism born from other sports (Ngata in rugby, Buckner in basketball) and they both have a Pacific Rim/Hawaiian background, one that has given rise to many dominant NFL linemen before them.

Buckner has already posted a 32-inch vertical leap, an eye-popping 9-foot-, 8-inch broad jump and a respectable time of 5.05 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He was the Pacific-12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American pick last season.

On the surface, defensive line doesn't seem to be one of the Ravens' most pressing needs, especially with young trenchmen like Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan already having arrived since 2013. But in football's salary cap world, being able to play more than one role can be a big help to any team, to increase a player's own value as well as to complicate offensive coordinator's game plans.

Many draft analysts have already stated that this year's class is rich in defensive back talent, so while Hargreaves, Ramsey and their ilk may not be tabbed by the Ravens, many other high-quality cover men could be had in later rounds, increasing their value highly. Offensive tackle Stanley would not be the sizzling, big-name pick fans would look for at No. 6, but even with him hailing from Las Vegas, his selection wouldn't be much of a gamble.

With left guard Kelechi Osemele leaving for Oakland and, if rumored, left tackle Eugene Monroe does not return, Stanley -- who played through his senior season with the Fighting Irish -- could be the long-term fit the Ravens have been searching for since Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden retired after 2007. 

At 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, Stanley has played both right and left tackle, moving to the latter position for his final two years in South Bend, Ind. He sports a 35-inch wingspan and a 5.2-second 40-yard dash time. 

Issue 219: NFL Draft 2016: Will Fuller
Photo Creidit: Courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics

Second Round
(fifth pick of round, 36th overall)
Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame

With Perriman yet to prove his worth as a first-round pick, it really shouldn't be necessary for the Ravens to spend another initial-round selection on a pass-catcher, given the team's spotty-at-best draft record. They can afford to wait for a quality receiver, and Fuller could fit the bill.

But if Perriman does blossom and a pick like Fuller comes through, it could prove to be quite a Baltimore bonanza.

The 6-foot, 184-pound Fuller doesn't look impressive at first blush, but he began making plays all over the field as a Fighting Irish sophomore, catching 76 passes and tying current NFL veteran receiver Golden Tate's school record. He scored 15 touchdowns and notched an honorable mention All-American berth.

During Fuller's final season -- he is an early entry junior -- he caught 14 more touchdowns and averaged nearly 100 receiving yards per game as he rose to second-team All-American status, putting his name alongside those of Tate and Michael Floyd as among the best in Notre Dame history.

It's important to remember that this pick could be even more pivotal to the Ravens than their first-round selection, as it comes one precious slot higher than it could have.

The New England Patriots had to forfeit their first-round pick due to the "Deflategate" scandal, leaving the first round with 31 slots instead of 32. In turn, that gives the Ravens and teams picking in that neighborhood one golden opportunity to get a player they might have not have had a chance to select earlier.

Joe Platania has been covering professional football since 1994.  

Issue 219: March 2016