To me, the day after the the NFL draft is similar to what the day after Christmas is like when you’re a kid. There’s so much anticipation the night before Christmas, you lie in bed, impatiently waiting for the time when you finally open your gifts. Christmas day comes, you get your new presents, it ends and the next day is just another day. That’s what the draft is for me. The draft is my favorite sporting event that doesn’t take place on a field or a court. In 2010, the draft became a three-day event, with the first, second and third rounds in prime time and the remaining four rounds Saturday afternoon. After Chandler Harnish, this year’s Mr. Irrelevant, was chosen yesterday, draft weekend ended and Sunday became another day.
Today also became a day to reflect on what the Ravens did over the past three days to strengthen their already powerful team. In one word, the Ravens draft was boring. They took two offensive lineman, a defensive lineman, two defensive backs from small schools, a running back, a wide receiver and two-time national champion outside linebacker, Courtney Upshaw. Upshaw is clearly the most well-known Baltimore draftee, but even the Ravens found a way to make their first pick of the 2012 draft monotonous.
The three players the Ravens were reportedly targeting in the first round, Dont’a Hightower, Whitney Mercilus and Kevin Zeitler, all were taken before the Baltimore was on the clock for the first time. With Upshaw available, the Ravens traded six spots back with the Vikings and picked up an extra fourth rounder in the process. Instead of taking Upshaw in the first round — which every NFL fan watches, or most of them at least — the Ravens took a chance and moved back. Classic Baltimore move. For whatever reason, taking a first-round talent in the second takes away some of the flare. I’m not really sure why. I was thrilled to get Upshaw where the Ravens did. Getting him in the second round A) saved the team some money and B) provided them with another pick. It’s a win-win.
The next five picks elicited a tepid response from most Ravens fans. At least those who were expressing their thoughts on Twitter. It wasn’t until the sixth round selection of Miami wide receiver Tommy Streeter that I noticed Ravens faithful were excited. Receiver was an area of need for Baltimore and nabbing a 6’5″ guy who ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at the Combine was great. A lot of fans, me included, wanted Georgia Tech wide out Stephen Hill, who has some of the same physical traits of Streeter. The Jets took Hill in the second round and immediately dwarfed his development. (Side note: Anytime I can take a shot at the Jets, I will. I’ll never forget the Hard Knocks episode in 2010 when a sloven, elephantine Rex Ryan was talking to Mark Sanchez about how Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were scared to call the plays during a Ravens preseason game when Ryan was still on the staff. We’ve seen how middling Ryan’s defense in New York has become without Lewis or Reed and I’m now ranting. Moving on …)
Based on Twitter reactions, Upshaw and Streeter seemed like the most popular picks among the fans. The other picks, with the exception of running back Bernard Pierce in the third round, seemed to leave most fans scratching their heads. It’s obviously a lot more entertaining for onlookers when their team to grabs a player at the skill position or someone who is well known. Aside from the aforementioned picks, the Ravens got neither.
Kelechi Osemele, an offensive tackle in college who will likely move inside to guard, was the Ravens’ second pick of the draft. Unless you’re an Iowa State fan or just happened to watch the Cyclones’ upset over Oklahoma State this past season or their bowl game against Rutgers, you’ve probably never heard of him. The Ravens had an obvious need on the interior part of the line and addressed it nicely with 6’5″, 333 pound mammoth.
The Ravens do have last year’s seventh round selection Anthony Allen and undrafted free agent Damien Berry on the running back depth chart. And with the offseason retirement of Ricky Williams, the Ravens made a good call by drafting Pierce from Temple in the third round. I still have night terrors about how Pierce eviscerated Maryland’s defense (32 carries, 149 yards, five TDs, to be exact) last season in the Owls’ 38-7 beat down of the Terps. He’s a bigger back of the Williams, Willis McGahee mold. At 6’0″, 218 pounds, Pierce possesses good speed, running a 4.49 40 at the Combine. He should compliment Ray Rice nicely. Another need filled.
Baltimore selected Gino Gradkowski from Joe Flacco’s alma mater in the fourth round, who’s a combo guard/center, bolstering the Ravens’ interior again. With the compensatory fourth round pick, the Ravens selected the fastest safety in the draft, Christian Thompson, from South Carolina State. A puzzling pick for some, but after I learned Thompson was mentored by Reed prior to the draft, the pick made plenty sense. Safety depth was a concern and Thompson could vie for some playing time this season with his mentor.
In the fifth round, with Streeter still available, the Ravens went defensive back again, selecting Asa Jackson. This pick made me go “huh?” until I read he had return ability. The return game has been an issue for the Ravens recently, so hopefully Jackson can provide a spark in that regard.
After the Streeter pick in the sixth round, which still blows my mind because I couldn’t believe he fell that far, the Ravens took Georgia defensive tackle DeAngelo Tyson in the seventh round to cap off their 2012 draft class.
It was a fairly boring draft weekend in terms of who the Ravens selected, but they filled all their needs. When a team is consistently drafting well and performing well in season, it makes it tough to have a draft class with panache year in and year out. Most of the Ravens’ needs were filled with in-house replacements and really only needed to add depth. And now the Ravens have a welcomed problem: position battles.
Jah Reid, Osemele and Gradkowski will all battle for the starting left guard spot. Pierce, Berry and Allen will be in competition to be Rice’s backup. Upshaw is going to contend with incumbents Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle — all second round selections — for the SAM backer position to fill the void left by Jarrett Johnson. Streeter, Tandon Doss and LaQuan Williams are going to be in contention for the no. 3 and 4 receiver spots.
Overall, I think the Ravens ensconced a solid draft class and there’s no reason for this team not to be in the hunt for a Super Bowl again this season. And, hey, if draft weekend is Christmas, there’s no reason we can’t make Cinco de Mayo our New Year. Arriba!