It’s been a few weeks since the 2023 NFL draft concluded and all the grades are out and the hype trains for certain prospects are already moving full steam ahead.
Unlike last year when they tied for the most picks made in the 2022 NFL draft with 11, the Baltimore Ravens barely made half as many this time around with just six selections after entering the three-day event with just five, the second-fewest in franchise history.
Often overly optimistic and sometimes unfair projections are placed on first-year players entering the league before they even take a snap in their first preseason game. With that in mind, here are realistic expectations for each of the team’s draft picks for their inaugural seasons.
WR Zay Flowers
The Ravens used their first-round pick to select the former Boston College standout at No. 22 overall on the first night of the draft. He was the third prospect at his position to come off the board in consecutive selections although some analysts and experts made an argument during the pre-draft process that he should’ve been the first.
Afterward, head coach John Harbaugh told reporters during a post-draft press conference that Flowers was their top-rated receiver in this entire class. While some may chalk it up to typical coach speak, the Ravens have been linked to having had a strong interest in him for months dating back to the East-West Shrine game practices when they had members of the team personnel following him closely.
Unlike the vast majority of wideouts taken in the first round or relatively high in the second, Flowers doesn’t have the pressure of having to be the Ravens ‘No. 1’ receiver as a rookie.
Thanks to the other notable investments that the team has made at the position this offseason with former first-rounders Nelson Agholor and Odell Beckham Jr. as well as the return of 2021 first-rounder Rashod Bateman and two-time Pro Bowler Devin Duvernay, he will likely be third in the pecking order on the depth chart to open the season.
Flowers has the kind of dynamic playmaking ability in space to thrive in first-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s scheme and could carve out an even larger role for himself as the season goes on.
Also, expect to see him get some consistent snaps at punt returner as well given that Duvernay is entering the final year of his contract and the rookie’s similarly diverse skill set will make keeping him at a higher price a luxury more than a necessity.
LB Trenton Simpson
The Ravens used their third-round pick to select the former Clemson standout at No. 86 overall on the second night of the draft. While adding another off-ball linebacker was far from their biggest need by the time they were on the clock for the first time on Day 2 as a result of not having a second-rounder, the value Simpson presented at that point was too great for them to pass up on.
Much like is the case with Flowers, he possesses a versatile skill set that will allow him to see the field regularly but thanks to having more experienced and established players on the depth chart ahead of him, he won’t be thrust into a full-time starting role as a rookie.
Simpson will have an opportunity to be groomed by arguably the best inside linebacker tandem in the league in Baltimore with First-Team All-Pro Roquan Smith and former first-rounder Patrick Queen entrenched at the MIKE and WILL starter spots.
Barring an injury to a starter, Simpson’s primary role on defense will be to either play downhill from sideline to sideline and generate or help disguise pressure as blitzer. In college, he lined up and brought the heat from all over the place for the Tigers where he showed he can lineup in the slot, off the edge, over guards, or come crashing in from the second level but has solid coverage skills as well.
The phase of the game where he will be the most active and impactful will be on special teams where Harbaugh, special team coordinator Chris Horton, and Simpson himself are excited to see him play and dominate in.
EDGE Tavius Robinson
The Ravens used their fourth-round pick to select the former Ole Miss standout at No. 124 overall on the draft’s third day. They came into the draft in need of more depth at outside linebacker and defensive end and might have potentially found a solution for both with this selection given his athleticism and physical dimensions at 6-foof-6 and 258 pounds.
With six-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell now a member of the Atlanta Falcons and 2022 sack leader Justin Houston still unsigned on the free agent market, the Ravens need more help generating pressure off the edge as well as from the interior of their defensive end. Robinson has the size, length, and explosive quickness to beat tackles on the outside and guards from the inside.
General Manager Eric DeCosta said that he reminds him of a former Raven that provided the team with the same schematic flexibility in three-time Pro Bowler Za’Darius Smith who is back in the AFC North after being traded from the Minnesota Vikings to the Cleveland Browns on Friday, May 12, 2023.
While he will play his fair share of snaps on special teams, his primary and most impactful contributions will likely be as a rotational pass rusher that can stay on the field and move inside on obvious passing downs to allow another edge rusher to come onto the field.
CB Kyu Blu Kelly
The Ravens used their fifth-round pick to select the former Stanford standout at No. 157 overall on the draft’s third day. With the free agent addition of veteran Rock Ya-Sin following the draft, the path to a starting role will be more difficult for Kelly and his fellow recently-drafted reserves at the position on the roster.
Unfortunately, if the history of this particular team has shown anything, it is that the young cornerbacks can be thrust into prominent rotational and even full-time starting roles on any given week and in any given game as a result of one or more injuries.
Kelly primarily played on the outside in college but has the willingness and mentality to move into the slot if needed. If everyone in front of him stays healthy all year, he’ll likely see the most consistent action on special teams but the likelihood of absolutely no injuries occurring isn’t high.
He’ll need to show out in training camp and the preseason to claim one of the primary backup spots behind Ya-Sin and three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey. His top competition includes 2022 fourth-rounders Jalyn Armour-Davis and Damarion Williams as well as veterans Treyvon Mullen, Kevon Seymour, and Daryl Worley.
OL Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu
The Ravens used their sixth-round pick to select the former Oregon standout at No. 199 overall on the third day of the draft. Since the only vacancy in the starting offensive line is at left guard and Harbaugh told reporters at rookie minicamp that they plan to keep training him exclusively on the right side, there isn’t a clear path to consistent playing time for Aumavae-Laulu in year one unless one or more injuries were to occur.
However, his positional flexibility to play both guard and tackle will allow him to develop at his own pace without being forced to see the field before the coaches’ believe he is ready. It will also create one extra roster spot on game day by having a player serve as the backup at two spots so that they can activate another player at a deeper position of need depending on the week’s game plan.
If regularly activated on game days, Aumavae-Laulu could also see some snaps on special teams on field goal and extra point blocking units. Ben Cleveland who was a third-rounder in 2021, played that exact role for the vast majority of last season before getting his lone start of the year in the regular season finale when the team sat several starters.
With veteran Kevin Zeitler heading into the final year of his current contract, Aumavae-Laulu could be getting groomed to be his eventual replacement as the starting right guard in 2024 and beyond.
Now that they’re paying their MVP-winning quarterback, Lamar Jackson, a top-of-the-market contract, being able to reload and replace veteran starters at certain devalued positions by drafting and developing is more important and paramount to their sustained success than ever.
OG Andrew Vorhees
The Ravens traded a sixth-rounder in next year’s draft to the Cleveland Browns to get back into the seventh round to select the former USC standout at No. 124 overall on the third day of the draft. He could prove to be one of the biggest steals of the entire draft but he won’t get a chance to prove it until 2024 as he will spend his rookie season recovering from a torn ACL he suffered at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.
Even though Harbaugh didn’t rule out a miraculously swift recovery that could allow him to perhaps be available for a couple of games late in the season as they did with 2022 second-rounder David Ojabo last year, he confirmed that the expectation is to have Vorhees essentially medically redshirt in his first year in the league.
The cautious course of action makes the most sense given that he would’ve likely been a Day 2 pick had he not gotten hurt and he could be a prime contender for a starting job heading into his second season next year.