It has been 11 years since the Baltimore Ravens traded up from their original spot to draft a player. That might change in the 2020 NFL draft.
In 2009, Baltimore moved up three spots for offensive tackle Michael Oher. This year, if Baltimore wants a highly rated pass-rusher, a well-regarded “tackling machine” or a record-setting pass-catcher, the chances that LSU outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson, Oklahoma middle linebacker Kenneth Murray or LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson will be available when Baltimore is on the clock with the No. 28 overall pick is less than 20 percent, according to ESPN’s NFL Draft Predictor.
But there’s a reason the Ravens have been more apt to stay put or trade back in the first round.
“In general, trading up is dangerous, it’s a little bit risky,” general manager Eric DeCosta said. “I understand people love the idea of trading up to get a guy. But in general, historically if you look at all those trade ups, it’s 50-50.”
The Ravens have fared better than that. In their 24-year history, they’ve traded up from their original selection in the first round three times and landed an immediate, long-term starter each time. Baltimore moved up to get five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in 2006 and Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Joe Flacco in 2008. The Ravens didn’t get the same value out of jumping up for Oher in 2009, but he is arguably the best right tackle in team history.
DeCosta’s approach to the first round is one area where he has shown patience, which he acknowledges isn’t his strong suit. In his 15 months as general manager, DeCosta has been aggressive with eight player trades (fifth-most in the league over that span) and the signing of 10 players to contract extensions.
When it comes to the draft, it’s more about hedging bets for DeCosta. In the last two drafts, Baltimore has traded back in the first round three times (dropping back a total of 12 spots) to gain an additional third-round pick, two fourth-rounders and a sixth-rounder. One of those picks was packaged by the Ravens to move up to select quarterback Lamar Jackson, and the others resulted in the drafting of starting left guard Bradley Bozeman, cornerback Iman Marshall and quarterback Trace McSorley.
“… The draft in and of itself, there’s definitely a luck component,” DeCosta said. “From that standpoint, you’re always better off having more picks than less picks. If you trade up, you give up picks. So you better get a guy that’s going to be a difference-maker if you trade up.”
There are difference-makers who are projected to fall into the second half of the first round, but will the Ravens be lucky enough for one to be there at No. 28?
Chaisson, who had 9.5 sacks in 24 games at LSU, is considered by some analysts to be the second-best pass-rusher in the draft behind Ohio State’s Chase Young. The buzz is the Dallas Cowboys are eyeing him at No. 17.
Murray, a three-year starter at Oklahoma, has been described as a “tackling machine” by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and would fill Baltimore’s biggest need at middle linebacker. There’s talk that the Las Vegas Raiders (No. 19) and New Orleans Saints (No. 24) could take him. In Kiper’s latest mock draft, he has the Jacksonville Jaguars taking Murray.
Jefferson, who is considered the fourth-best receiver in this loaded draft class, was presumptive No. 1 pick Joe Burrow’s favorite target last season, catching 111 passes and scoring 18 touchdowns. Many believe Jefferson won’t make it past the Philadelphia Eagles (No. 21).
According to ESPN’s NFL Draft Predictor, here are the chances for each of these players to be there at No. 28: Chaisson (16 percent), Murray (19 percent) and Jefferson (15 percent).
What would it take to vault past some of these teams? In 2018, the Green Bay Packers jumped nine spots from No. 27 to No. 18, giving up picks in the third and sixth rounds to do so. This year, the Ravens have nine picks (the eighth-most in this draft), including two third-round selections.
Baltimore has tried to trade up in recent drafts. In 2016, the Ravens spoke with Dallas about swapping the No. 6 overall pick for the No. 4 one to get cornerback Jalen Ramsey but the Cowboys didn’t want to risk missing out on running back Ezekiel Elliott. Baltimore selected offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, who was a first-team All-Pro last season. In 2017, Baltimore attempted to move from No. 16 to No. 11 for cornerback Marshon Lattimore, but the New Orleans Saints declined because they wanted Lattimore. The Ravens ended up with cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who reached his first Pro Bowl last season.
“I think back to a couple years ago, we tried to make a trade for a guy who was falling a little bit, and we didn’t get him,” DeCosta said. “And, fortunately, the guy we got ended up being really good, so it worked out. Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.”
If the Ravens choose to remain at No. 28 or trade back, there will be players available who can improve the team. LSU’s Patrick Queen would be an immediate starter at middle linebacker, and Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz would step in for injured center Matt Skura or retired right guard Marshal Yanda. Wide receivers Tee Higgins, Brandon Aiyuk, Michael Pittman Jr. and Denzel Mims would give more weapons for Lamar Jackson. The Ravens have also been linked to pass-rushers A.J. Epenesa and Terrell Lewis along with running back D’Andre Swift and defensive tackle Ross Blacklock.
But the Ravens are coming off a 14-2 season and have only two more seasons with Jackson under a cap-friendly rookie deal. This seems like the time for Baltimore to take a gamble and do what it takes to get a playmaker like Chaisson, Murray or Jefferson.
“This year, we do have a lot of [picks]. We have the opportunity to maybe go up and get a guy,” DeCosta said. “Normally, when a guy starts to fall, what you find is other teams are trying to trade for him, too, and they’re usually willing to give up more than you’re willing to give up. We just assess case by case and see what we can do.”