Even though they only made one pick and didn’t make a trade to move up, down, or acquire an established player, the Baltimore Ravens were arguably the biggest winners on the first day of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Before the first team was even on the clock, they ended their multi-year negotiating saga with franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson by inking the former unanimous league MVP to a long-term deal to make him the highest-paid player in league history.
With their first-round pick, they selected electric Boston College star wide receiver Zay Flowers at No. 22 overall, making him the third player at the position that they’ve taken on opening night since 2019.
These moves were the latest in a series of transactions and upgrades that the team has made on offense this offseason that received rave reviews from across the league including from three-time first-team All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
He has been a long-time supporter of Jackson and not only likes what general manager Eric DeCosta and Co. are “cooking up” in Baltimore but believes that the “offense can be DANGEROUS!” he exclaimed in a tweet following the announcement of Flowers’ selection.
The six-time Pro Bowler was traded to the Miami Dolphins from the Los Angeles Rams in March and will get to face the Ravens’ new-look unit later this year since he and his team will travel to Charm City for a road game sometime in the 2023 season.
At the onset of the offseason, DeCosta expressed that the front office’s mission would be to remodel their wide receiver depth chart as aggressively as they addressed offensive tackle last year.
They’ve delivered on that vow and then some as Flowers joins a revamped unit that brought three-time Pro Bowler Odell Beckham Jr. and former first-rounder Nelson Agholor on one-year deals to go along with 2021 first-round selection Rashod Bateman and two-time Pro Bowler Devin Duvernay.
Despite his lack of size at 5’9″ and 182 pounds, the Ravens are excited and confident that they are adding a dynamic weapon to their offense capable of making an impact in a multitude of ways.
“He catches it all three levels,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He goes deep. He runs intermediate routes. And then his run-after-catch is special. He can catch it, take two or three steps, and really accelerate away. We’ve got a versatile receiving group.”
Flowers is an explosive playmaker who is capable of creating big plays from anywhere on the field with the ball in his hands, can play both in the slot as well as outwide, and can contribute on special teams as a returner.
“Receivers sometimes have a specific fit maybe but with Zay, we see a guy that can do multiple things,” DeCosta said. ”
Former Ravens Standout Give Stamps of Approval
Almost every compact and dynamic undersized receiver prospect to come out in the last decade and a half-plus have been compared to retired former Ravens and Carolina Panthers legendary wideout Steve Smith Sr. He defied the odds and made his critics pay for every doubting his ability by playing and dominating in the league for 16 seasons between the two teams.
Throughout this year’s pre-draft process, the same annual comparison was being used for Flowers except this time around, Smith Sr. himself went on record at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine by proclaiming that he wasn’t just similar to him but was a “bigger dog” than him.
Smith Sr. has been singing Flowers’ praises for months and after the Ravens made him the third straight wide receiver off the board, the future Hall of Famer gave his stamp of approval via a tweet in which he congratulated the youngster and commended his former team for picking him.
In the press conference that followed the selection, DeCosta talked about how he and Smith had several conversations about Flowers leading up to the draft and that he trusted the insight from a player that knows what it takes to thrive regardless of size at the pro level.
“I have a lot of respect for Steve. One of the best competitors we’ve ever had here I think,” DeCosta said. “We talk about receivers, he’s got strong opinions, and he loves Zay too so it’s mutual…If Steve Smith has that much love for a receiver, you better pay attention.”
Smith Sr. is not only someone that Flowers is regularly compared to but was also a player that he looked up to and drew inspiration from growing up.
“I’ve been watching his tape since I was 6 or 7 years old,” he said. “My dad always told me, it doesn’t matter about size. It’s about what’s in your chest. He always kept me motivated and said you got to be like Steve Smith. Steve Smith was a dog.”
Ravens Will Likely Address Biggest Need With Veteran Signing
By using their first-round pick on Flowers and bypassing cornerback, adding a starting caliber talent at the position remains their most glaring need. They opted not to take Maryland’s Deonte Banks who was a popular projection for them and he went two picks later to the New York Giants.
Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. fell out of the first round entirely but will likely be among the first to hear his name called on day two if not the first. The Pittsburgh Steelers, his father’s former team, is first up at No. 32 overall and also have a hole to fill the position.
Given that the team doesn’t currently have a pick in the second round, they will most likely turn to a surprisingly saturated veteran free-agent market following the draft to either bring back or find their next starter opposite three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey.
The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec “fully expects” the signing of a veteran next week when doing so no longer counts against the compensatory pick formula. With the expected increase in available cap space following signing Jackson to an extension, the Ravens should have enough to make a rather notable splash for an experienced starter.
The most obvious candidate that they could sign before the weekend is even out and still wouldn’t cost them a compensatory pick would be to bring back three-time Pro Bowler Marcus Peters. He has spent the past three and half seasons with the Ravens where he has made 36 starts and recorded eight interceptions despite missing the entire 2021 season with a torn ACL.
DeCosta had expressed optimism about potentially bringing him back even before they locked up Jackson and it would be a smart move from both schematic and financial standpoints.
“He’s a guy that I hold in very, very high regard,” DeCosta said in his Combine press conference. “That’s a guy that when you talk about ‘true Ravens,’ guys who have done a lot for your team, for me, for the Ravens over the past four years – Marcus is on that list.”
If they wait until next week, another viable veteran option could be former second-rounder Rock Ya-Sin who isn’t anywhere near the same playmaking ballhawk as a healthy Peters but has 38 career starts under his belt. The team brought him in for a visit in March and he possesses the length and skillset they value in their perimeter corners.
This year’s draft is especially deep at cornerback and there will likely be a run on the position at some point in the second round and perhaps early on. However, there still might be capable starting caliber talent when they’re on the clock for the first time on day two in the third round at No. 86 overall. Some promising corner prospects that might still be available in that range include South Carolina’s Darius Rush, Kansas State’s Julius Brents, and Iowa’s Riley Moss.