The Ravens wrecked the grading curve when it comes to the 2022 NFL Draft. It was a class so profoundly deep in value that I was left looking at it pondering if it was too cheesy to give them an “S” rank, as if they perfected a level in a video game. It wasn’t just the decision to take sliding players which made this class stand out, but all the smaller choices along the way that maximized their board and allowed Baltimore to come away not just with the best class in the NFL, but one of the best in the last decade.
There were a lot of teams who had amazing drafts. The Lions, Giants, and Jets to name a few – but each was afforded the opportunity to have a clear plan for their picks with top-10 selections before executing on them. The Ravens, on the other hand, didn’t have that luxury. Instead, Baltimore worked through their board and perfectly navigating not just which positions to draft, but when to pull the trigger.
If you wonder what it takes for a team to completely win the draft at every level, look no further that this team did in all seven rounds, but in particular rounds 1-3.
It starts with the No. 14 pick, which came right after the pivot following No. 10. That’s when we saw back-to-back trades from the Commanders and Vikings, moving back and allowing the Saints and Lions respectively to move up and get wide receivers. This was a critical turning point for Baltimore’s first round, as it cleared out the path for them to take a defensive player. Initially it might seem simple to take Kyle Hamilton, but it wasn’t so clear cut.
The Ravens were facing a tough decision between two sliding top 10 defensive players: There was Hamilton, the best safety in the class, but at a de-emphasized position, and Jermaine Johnson II, a sliding edge rusher who looked tailor made to fit the Ravens defense. Getting a pass rusher was critical, with the Ravens finishing in the bottom 10 in the NFL, and it seemed like the obvious decision. It would also have been understandable if they took the next-best cornerback in the class, Washington’s Trent McDuffie. However, the pass rushing and cornerback classes this year were far stronger than at safety, so Ravens went best player available, and locked down the position.
What we didn’t know at the time was that there was a wrinkle to the Ravens draft that had yet to be ironed out. Behind the scenes wide receiver Hollywood Brown had been asking the team for a trade. We don’t know the timing of how discussions progressed, or whether the Ravens waited for a certain player to leave the board before pulling the trigger – but the end result was Arizona sending the No. 23 pick to Baltimore.
There were a lot of different directions the Ravens could have gone when they were back on the board. Kaiir Elam would have made sense, George Karlaftis was a possibility – but once again, Jermaine Johnson II was available. Every draft expert expected him to be the pick, then Baltimore traded back. They rolled the dice on neither Buffalo, nor Dallas taking a player they wanted. In the end this paid off, but the Ravens stunned everyone again by passing over Johnson II, selection Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum.
What these two selections have in common was the shared DNA of taking the best players in weaker position groups. Rather than diving in to the mix of receivers and cornerbacks flying off the board, the Ravens took the two best players at their position before the group took a huge step back.
There was considerable risk to this tactic, because it meant the team wasn’t really addressing its needs, and keep in mind the Ravens were an 8-9 team. Going pure BPA is really nice where possible, and builds sustained success in the long run, but the pressure was on to push the pace, especially with Lamar Jackson in his prime. It’s here we get to the second and third rounds, because that’s where more magic happened.
We’ve established that the Ravens needed pass rush help in a major way, and they passed on Johnson II twice. When their second round pick rolled around the board was a bit of a mess. The Buccaneers took Logan Hall with the No. 33 pick, the Falcons took Arnold Ebiketie in a steal at 38, and it appeared there wasn’t really another great fit for the Ravens … emphasis on appeared.
Almost as if he was forgotten by the rest of the NFL, Baltimore took Michigan’s David Ojabo with the 45th pick. Ojabo was an absolute ideal fit in the Ravens’ 3-4 defense, and would have been a top-20 pick if not for a torn achilles that happened during his pro day. It wouldn’t be the immediate impact of the Ravens hoped, but after what will be a medical redshirt season they will get an elite pass rush talent for almost no investment. Furthermore, the Achilles injury happening so late in the process was almost a blessing in disguise, because it now means the Ravens can oversee his rehabilitation.
If you’re keeping score: It’s round two, and the Ravens have added three first round talents to their roster. They weren’t done.
UConn defensive tackle Travis Jones was still on the board for Baltimore when they picked up again at No. 76. A traditional nose tackle, it was widely accepted that Jones would be at worst a second round pick, with many mocks projecting him to go to the Chiefs or Buccaneers at the end of the first round. Similar to their two first round choices, the Ravens took a player at a de-emphasized position. While the rest of the league was gobbling up pass rushing interior tackles, Baltimore was perfectly happy to take a nose tackle who had no business still being on the board.
Jones was without question the No. 2 nose tackle available after Devonte Wyatt. The Packers spent the No. 28 pick on Wyatt, who was given a grade of 6.35 by Lance Zierlein of NFL.com with a Next-Gen Stats rating of 77. Using the exact same metrics, Travis Jones received a grade of 6.34, with a Next-Gen rating of 74. It projects Jones as a “eventual plus starter,” and again solidified that the Ravens had now found FOUR first round talents with their first four picks.
This is how the Ravens attacked the draft and destroyed the rest of the league. Taking positions other teams ignored, instead of trying to compete in a rat race for players, while taking extremely promising players at coveted positions who were seen as “too risky” by other teams. That risk comes into play with Ojabo, and also fourth round pick Daniel Faale
le, a 6’8, 380 pound monster at offensive tackle – but who’s only been playing football since 2016 after moving to the United States from Australia. Seen as a second round pick, teams weren’t willing to risk an early selection on a player who was so raw, and their loss was Baltimore’s game.
Every single step of this draft was a masterclass. It will serve as the blueprint for the rest of the league. There is a very real chance we look at this in five years and see that the Ravens netted as many as seven starters (Kyle Hamilton, Tyler Linderbaum, David Ojabo, Travis Jones, Daniel Faalale, Jalyn Armor-Davis, and Jordan Stout) while only making one moderate trade-up, to take Faalale in the fourth round. If that holds, we will have seen the greatest team draft not just in the modern era, but of all time. Nobody else will come close.