“The 2018 NFL Draft is officially open. The Cleveland Browns are on the clock.”
In a matter of three short days, on April 26, commissioner Roger Goodell will speak these words at the podium inside of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. It’s an exciting time for fans, and a crucial one for GMs and coaches of the 32 teams taking place in the event. It’s an opportunity to fill glaring roster holes for the upcoming season and, with good fortune, find roster mainstays for the next decade or so.
Speaking to the former, the Baltimore Ravens aren’t without their share of needs at several positions. But what is their biggest need in this years draft? This offseason has seen the likes of Austin Howard(unsigned), Ryan Jensen(TB), Mike Wallace(PHI), Benjamin Watson(NO), and Lardarius Webb(unsigned) all depart for other opportunities. This has left the Ravens with a lot of needs, specifically on the offensive side of the ball.
James Hurst was re-signed to a four year, $17,5M deal, with $8M in guarantees. John Harbaugh has recently said that the plan is for Hurst to replace Howard at right tackle. Hurst played well last year, starting all 16 games at left guard. When asked to play tackle, he hasn’t fared so well. Matt Skura, who started 12 games at right guard for injured All Pro Marshal Yanda, will be given the first shot at replacing Jensen at center. It’s anyone’s guess how that experiment goes. Expect Baltimore to select an offensive lineman at some point in the draft.
As for wide receiver, out is Mike Wallace and in is both John Brown(one year, $5M) and Michael Crabtree(three years, $21M) and likely Willie Snead. Both have proven to be capable receivers when healthy, which has been a problem for Brown. Still, the receiver room leaves a lot to be desired. Chris Moore, Breshad Perriman, Tim White, Quincy Adeboyjo, and DeVier Posey round out the group. Moore has shown some promise, and Tim White looked the part last preseason before injuries cut his season short. I expect the Ravens to select a couple receivers in the draft.
But when it comes to the biggest need on this roster, tight end sticks out like a sore thumb in my eyes. Joe Flacco is at his best when he has a tight end that can get open on the middle of the field and convert third downs. Currently on the roster are Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle and Darren Waller. Williams, a 2015 second round pick, has not lived up to his draft position after a decent rookie season. Boyle and Waller have had trouble with injuries and suspensions. Waller received a one year suspension on June 30, 2017 for violating the leagues substance abuse policy. He has yet to be reinstated. The free agency tight end pool offers little in the way of relief. The Ravens were reported to have interest in Jimmy Graham and Eric Ebron, but they signed with the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts, respectively. The list of names still available are old and underwhelming: Julius Thomas, Martellus Bennett, Antonio Gates, Marcedes Lewis and Anthony Fasano. A trade would be the teams best option for finding a reliable veteran at the position. With that said, I believe the draft offers some excellent options for the Ravens. This years tight end class is pretty deep. I can’t say that there’s a true consensus number one guy that’s worthy of pick 16, but that doesn’t mean that a starting quality tight end cannot be found later, whether that be by trading back in round one (while gaining an extra day two pick, an option I like), or looking at the position in round two or three. Here are three prospects that I like for Baltimore:
Hayden Hurst, South Carolina
My personal favorite in this draft class, Hurst might be the most complete TE in the draft. Listed at 6’5” and 250 lbs, he would be a huge target for Flacco and he is a very willing blocker. After a failed attempt at professional baseball, Hurst started his football career late and will be 25 at the start of the season. For this reason, coupled with only 2 years experience at the position, he should be available in round 2.
Mike Gesicki, Penn St.
A physical freak that teams covet. He showed off his athleticism at the combine, winning 6 of 7 drills among TEs (he ran a 4.54 40 and was first among ALL positions with a 41.5” vertical jump!) I expect him to go in the first round.
Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin
A former walk-on, Fumagallis production doesn’t jump off the page. But he is very well rounded. Good blocker and his 6’6” frame make a nice target. Should be available day 3 of draft. Could be a steal.