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For Ravens, Priority In 2019 NFL Draft Was Adding Speed

April 27, 2019
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- From their first pick to the last in this year's draft, the Ravens made clear that speed was a priority. They took blazing wide receiver Marquise Brown with their first pick at No. 25 overall, then took the fastest running back at the NFL Scouting Combine in the fourth round (Oklahoma State's Justice Hill) and concluded their draft by selecting the fastest quarterback at the combine, Penn State's Trace McSorley. 

In his first draft as Ravens general manager, Eric DeCosta addressed several needs facing a Ravens roster that is coming off an AFC North title but lost five defensive starters and is rebuilding their offense around second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson. 

They selected a pair of wide receivers in their first three picks -- something they have never done before -- then added a pass rusher, a speedy running back, offensive and defensive linemen, a cornerback and McSorley, who could morph into a special teams role or allow the Ravens to unveil two-quarterback sets as they did last year. 

The defining look of this draft, though -- other than DeCosta being the one making the final calls rather than longtime GM Ozzie Newsome -- is speed. 

"It's a challenge for a team to face speed," DeCosta said at his post-draft news conference April 27, "when you've got multiple guys on the field at the same time who can run and make explosive plays. … We got a chance to see what Lamar could do this past year, and I think our collective vision for the offense is to add more guys like that to make it really challenging on the defense."

Head coach John Harbaugh noted that, "Our quarterbacks are even fast. And the other thing is there's a special teams role for guys, too. It's just going to be really fun to create opportunities for all these guys to get on the field in different ways."

With their first of three fourth-round picks – which came from the Denver Broncos in the Joe Flacco trade -- the Ravens selected Hill, a breakaway threat whose 40-yard dash time at this year's combine (4.40) was the fastest of any running back. He ran for 971 yards in an injury-shortened season this past year after leading the Big 12 in rushing as a sophomore in 2017 with 1,467 yards. 

At 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, Hill provides a change-of-pace in a lineup featuring bigger backs Gus Edwards, Mark Ingram and Kenneth Dixon.  The Ravens have made it clear they are looking for a back with home-run potential; last year, no running back had a touchdown run of longer than 15 yards.

"He is an athletic kid who can fly," director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. "[He] hits the hole hard and he can finish runs both inside and outside. Just a lot of fun to watch. ... He makes guys look bad in space."

The Ravens checked another area of need later in the fourth round by selecting Oklahoma guard Ben Powers, a 6-foot-4, 310-pounder whom Hortiz said could challenge right away for the starting job at left guard, his primary position at Oklahoma. 

Powers could end up starting alongside his former teammate Orlando Brown, the Ravens' starting right tackle who happened to be at Powers' draft watch party. 

"I'm elated for him and the opportunity he has," Brown said.

With their third fourth-round pick, the Ravens selected cornerback Iman Marshall from USC, adding to one of the deepest positions on the team. But with Brandon Carr and Jimmy Smith both in their 30s, and with the Ravens painfully aware of how costly the lack of depth at cornerback can be, they are never hesitant about adding cornerback depth.

Hortiz said Marshall (6-foot-1, 210) is a physical player and strong tackler, and that should translate well on special teams, which is his likely role early in his career. 

The Ravens added Texas A&M defensive tackle Daylon Mack in the fifth round, the 10th straight year that the Ravens have drafted a defensive lineman. 

Then they closed out their eight-member draft class by selecting McSorley, whom DeCosta described as a "sleeper" who impressed the Ravens at their local pro day. 

With Jackson and Robert Griffin III already on the roster, the Ravens clearly see a potential hybrid role for McSorley, who threw for 2,530 yards and ran 170 times for 798 yards this past season. 

Harbaugh said he told McSorley that they envision him first and foremost as a quarterback, but the Ravens saw firsthand how the New Orleans Saints used versatile backup quarterback Taysom Hill in multiple ways on offense and special teams, and "that's something that we'll have a chance to do too with Trace. … The more you can do."

As always, the roster remains a work in progress, and the Ravens will now look to sign undrafted rookie free agents and will monitor the free agency market. Toward that end, DeCosta said that the Ravens had a good visit with free agent defensive end Ziggy Ansah.

"He's very impressive, as you'd expect," DeCosta said. "We'll see where it leads."

One area of need the Ravens did not address was inside linebacker, but DeCosta said it was an underwhelming group overall in the draft, and their few potential targets were not available when the Ravens were on the clock. That puts more pressure on young linebackers Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young and Chris Board to compensate for the loss of Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley to the New York Jets. 

The Ravens could also look to veteran free agents and the undrafted pool, where they have historically had tremendous success with inside linebackers.

Overall, though, Harbaugh said, "I am really happy with the way our roster looks now compared to how it looked three days ago."

2019 RAVENS DRAFT CLASS

First round: WR Marquise Brown, Oklahoma
Third round: OLB Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech
Third round: WR Miles Boykin, Notre Dame
Fourth round: RB Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
Fourth round: G Ben Powers, Oklahoma
Fourth round: CB Iman Lewis-Marshall, USC
Fifth round: DT Daylon Mack, Texas A&M
Sixth round: QB Trace McSorley, Penn State

Follow Bo on Twitter @bsmolka

Photo Credit: Stan Charles/PressBox