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Speaking At Combine, DeCosta Lauds Draft Depth At Areas Of Need For Ravens

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Sizing up this year's NFL Draft class, Baltimore Ravens executive vice president and general manager Eric DeCosta said he sees a lot of good prospects along the offensive line, at cornerback and at outside linebacker, which functions as a traditional edge rusher in the team's defense.

It just so happens those are some of the biggest areas of need for the Ravens.

Outside linebacker is a strong position group, DeCosta said Wednesday from the NFL Combine, where the nation's top college players are gathered to perform physical and mental tests for pro football's 32 teams. And in his estimation, a good corner can be found in just about any round of the draft.

Perhaps prophetically, he said "[t]eams picking in the Top 15, I think they have a chance to get themselves a really good offensive lineman."

The Ravens currently hold the 14th overall pick.

Even in the pass-heavy modern era of the NFL, fundamentals like blocking, controlling the line of scrimmage, stout defense and great special teams are still needed to win, DeCosta said.

"It's definitely a quarterback league, it will continue to be a quarterback league," he said. "But you can't just have a quarterback standing alone, you've got to have really good pieces behind him to be the best possible team."

Team officials met on Tuesday night with Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal, a projected top pick.

"Extremely impressive, what he did at Alabama," DeCosta said. "Imposing, physical, strong, run-blocker, [he] has a chance to be an outstanding pro."

He almost mentioned Charles Cross, a tackle out of Mississippi State who's been mocked to the Ravens by multiple outlets, likening him to a basketball power forward on the field.

Center Tyler Linderbaum, out of Iowa, reminds DeCosta of another Hawkeye selected by the Ravens, guard Marshal Yanda.

"When we look at a guy like Tyler Linderbaum, we see a lot of the same qualities -- tough, gritty, very athletic, very intelligent, smart," he said. "The type of guy that could really be the centerpiece of your offensive line."

Addressing the media last month during his end-of-the-year press conference, DeCosta made clear that improving the line is a top priority, and it's not hard to see why.

The Ravens surrendered 57 sacks, the second most in the league and 25 more than the season before, and were near the bottom of the league for average time in the pocket, per Pro Football Reference.

Pro Football Focus ranked the 2021 group at 21st.

Speaking last month, DeCosta conceded he miscalculated by expecting All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley to fully recover from ankle surgery. Instead, Stanley played in the season opener against the Las Vegas Raiders, didn't feel right, and decided to get surgery on the ankle a second time.

"My understanding and belief was that Ronnie would come back this year and play really good football for us, be healthy, be strong and be ready to go, and he wasn't," DeCosta said in early February. "That was a big setback, and I'm proud of the way the guys fought through."

Late in the offseason, the Ravens signed right tackle Ja'Wuan James, who was rehabbing a torn Achilles. There was only a slim chance he would play in 2021, and he didn't recover in time to see the field.

Of course, injuries impacted multiple units during the 2021 season, so it wouldn't be surprising to see the Ravens use an early-round pick to build depth at another position, such as cornerback.

Marcus Peters was lost in the preseason with an ACL tear. Marlon Humphrey missed the last five games after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in December.

One of the players who started in their stead, Anthony Averett, is an unrestricted free agent.

As for outside linebacker, one of the last major injuries in a season defined by them was to Tyus Bowser, who tore his Achilles tendon in the season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium, head coach John Harbaugh confirmed in January.

Even with Bowser healthy and the addition of Odafe Oweh, a 2021 first-round pick out of Penn State, the team's pass rush struggled.

The Ravens blitzed on 31.1% of passing plays, good for sixth in the league, but ranked 22nd in sacks and 24th in pressuring the quarterback.

Compounding the issues on the defensive line: veterans Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams are also unrestricted free agents.

The Combine provides the front office and coaching staff an opportunity to meet with prospects to assess certain intangibles, such as motivation and resiliency, and to watch players compete against their peers, DeCosta said.

While his remarks on Wednesday may seem like something of a tell, he said the Ravens will continue to rely on their own scouting and the input of their coaches when they make their draft picks in April.

"The biggest thing, I think, as an organization is having conviction in the player, and not necessarily being swayed by the public opinion or by the media rankings or draft prognosticators and different things like that," he said. "And just really believing in what you do and what you see."

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