Ravens Target Dynamic WRs, Ball-Hawking CB in Early 2023 Mock Drafts

Tennessee WR Jalin Hyatt

Getty Tennessee WR Jalin Hyatt is being tabbed as potential target for the Ravens in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

With the college football bowl season and NFL regular season coming to an end, early projections for how the first round of the 2023 NFL draft will shake out are rolling in.

In the initial rounds of mock drafts, analysts foresee the Baltimore Ravens putting an emphasis on upgrading and adding more talent at three premium positions and one devalued position where they already have a pair of studs already on the roster.

Ravens Find Replacement for Three-Time Pro Bowl CB

The team currently has one of the best tandems at the position in the whole league with Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, both of which are three-time Pro Bowlers. Unfortunately, Humphrey is the only one under contract after this season while Peters is set to become a free agent this spring.

He’ll be 30 years old on January 9, 2023, and hasn’t quite been the same consistently disruptive playmaker in his first year back from suffering a torn ACL that sidelined him for all of 2021. Given Peter’s age and other looming contracts for younger cornerstone pieces, most notably quarterback Lamar Jackson and inside linebacker Roquan Smith, many analysts believe they might look for Humphrey’s new other half in the first round of the draft.

The most popular prospects at the position being projected to land in their laps somewhere in the early to mid-20s include Clark Phillips of Utah, DJ Turner of Michigan, Cam Smith of South Carolina, and Devon Whitherspoon of Illinois. Even though he’s the only sub-six-foot of the listed defensive backs, both Trevor Sikkema of Pro Football Focus and Joe Broback of Pro Football Network believe he’d be an ideal fit with the Ravens.

“The undersized yet ball-hawking outside cornerback from Utah who feels like a great rookie option to play on the outside opposite Marlon Humphrey,” Sikkema wrote. “Phillips tallied six interceptions, five forced incompletions, and four defensive touchdowns in 2022.”

“Any team that takes Clark Phillips is getting an ultra competitor,” Broback wrote. “He’ll fit in almost any scheme because of his heart, which will win over his future fans. He’s not the biggest corner, but he has the ball skills and work ethic to be good at the next level — even if that means sliding in to cover the slot.

Ravens Go Back to SMU to Find More Help at WR

A pair of analysts suggest that the team goes back to the Southern Method University well and drafts their third Mustang in the last four years and for the second time at the same position. They selected James Proche in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft out of the school but he has been underwhelming through his first three seasons. Glynn Morgan of NBC Sports Chicago and Kent Platte of Pro Football Network believe that taking Rashee Rice in the first round this year would yield much better results.

“Rice is a smooth operator on the field, running crisp routes with an elegance that mirrors the (Dallas) Cowboys‘ leading receiver, CeeDee Lamb,” Morgan wrote. “Sporting a solid 78-inch wingspan, his ability to extend past or over defenders’ outstretched arms makes Rice a reoccurring red zone threat. The Ravens must provide superstar quarterback Lamar Jackson with a healthy productive receiving option if Baltimore is ever to become a true Super Bowl contender.

After three years of decent production, Rice broke during his senior season and finished with career highs in receptions (96), receiving yards (1,355), touchdowns (10), and averaged 14.1 yards per catch according to Sports Reference.

“At over 6’2″ and 200 pounds, Rashee Rice is an imposing figure on the field,” Platte wrote. “He’s struggled a bit with drops, but his size and athletic profile, particularly his acceleration off the line and speed down the field, make him a problem for defenders. The (Green Bay) Packers took a similar risk with Christian Watson in 2022, so why not go with something that has been shown to work?”

The Ravens will get a great chance for another extended look at him next month during the 2023 Reese’s Senior Bowl week of practice and All-Star game down in Mobile, Alabama. They have drafted one or more players that have attended the event almost every year.

Ravens Target Deep Threat From SEC

Another top wide receiver prospect that is being mocked to be a perfect fit in Charm City franchise is soon-to-be-former University of Tennessee breakout star, Jalin Hyatt. After a breakout junior campaign with the Vols where he showcased his elite speed and explosive playmaking ability both Kevin Hanson of Sports Illustrated and Walter Cherepinsky of walterfootball.com believe that he could be the missing ingredient to a struggling Ravens’ passing attack that sorely missed the consistent down the field presence of Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown this year.

“What their passing attack lacks, however, is the vertical threat that Hyatt would provide,” Hanson wrote. “The breakout Biletnikoff Award–winning receiver finished the year with 67 receptions for 1,267 yards and 15 touchdowns, eight of which were scores of at least 45 yards.”

A couple of other prospects at the position from other notable Power-5 conferences that have been linked to the team in the first round include Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba by The Draft Network and LSU’s Kayshon Boutte by Vinnie Iyer of The Sporting News.

Smith-Njigba was projected to be a top-15 lock heading into his junior season after he exploded onto the scene with over 1,600 receiving yards and nearly 100 catches as a sophomore. However, an injury limited him to just three games as a junior in which he only recorded 5 receptions for 43 yards per Sports Reference, calling his durability into question and his draft stock to fall in the eyes of some analysts.

“The Ravens do it again. They sit back, wait for a quality player to fall, and pounce,” The Draft Network wrote. “Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s 2022 season did not go as planned, to put it kindly. But it’s hard to get the highlights from 2021 out of your head. The Ravens need to improve their WR corps and Smith-Njigba is a strong route-runner and separator who can win quickly from the slot for Lamar Jackson.”

Boutte didn’t have a prolific production in college, never topping 600 receiving yards after a strong freshman campaign where he had 735 receiving yards and averaged 16.3 yards per catch in 2020 per Sports Reference. However, he possesses the size and athleticism to be a dangerous playmaker at the next level, especially after the catch.

“The Ravens have been lost in their wide receiver corps without 2021 first-rounder Rashod Bateman because they have lacked another dangerous outside threat without Marquise Brown,” Iyer wrote. “Boutte would give them a dangerous No. 2 who has superior quickness, hands, and route-running.”

Ravens Take Surprising Skill Player at Devalued Position 

The Athletic’s Dane Brugler was one of a handful of analysts that made an eyebrow-raising projection by mocking University of Texas star running back Bijan Robinson to Baltimore. He pointed out that injuries have somewhat derailed the career of 2020 second-round pick, J.K. Dobbins, who the Ravens drafted “be a difference-maker in their offense”. He has looked much better since returning from injured reserve but Brugler believes that the soon-to-be former Long Horn “can fill that void”.

“Using his vision and elusiveness, the Texas product can consistently force missed tackles and offer versatility as a detached wide receiver,” Brugler wrote. “Robinson and Lamar Jackson in the same backfield would be a nightmare for defensive coordinators.”

Robinson recorded his second straight 1,100-plus rushing yard season in 2022 by leading his team and ranking fifth in the nation with 1,580 on 258 attempts for a healthy 6.1 yards per carry average. His career-high 18 rushing touchdowns both led the Long Horns but also tied Michigan’s Blake Corum for the fourth most in the country.

USA Today Sports’ Luke Easterling, Pro Football Networks’ Oliver Hodgkinson, and The Ringer’s Danny Kelly also slotted Robinson to the Ravens in their most recent respective mock drafts.

They all brought up similar points and raised the point that their front office isn’t “afraid to scoop up high-end talent when the rest of the league lets it slip to them” which falls right in line with their ‘best player available’ approach to the draft each year.

“Robinson might be one of the best players in this entire class, but he could fall into the latter part of the round just based on how the league tends to value the running back position these days,” Kelly wrote. “That’s where the Ravens could pounce: The team’s run game (outside of Lamar Jackson) has been a mess of late, featuring a rotating cast of over-the-hill veterans and random no-namers. It’s been great to see J.K. Dobbins back out there over the past week, but his future remains cloudy following his major knee injury. With Robinson in the mix, Baltimore could get back to their familiarly explosive run game.”

Ravens Take Another Edge Defender Early

Even though the team has taken an outside linebacker in the first two rounds in each of the past two years, Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports and Arif Hasan of Pro Football Network believe that they’ll do so again in their latest projections by mocking Georgia’s Nolan Smith to land in Baltimore.

“They love super-athletes that they can mold, and they don’t mind when players like Smith are undersized if they have an instinct for how to use their talents. He should complement Odafe Oweh coming off the edge and allow the Ravens to rebuild the defense they’ve come to be known for.”

A pectoral injury he suffered in November ended his junior senior season after he recorded 3 sacks and 7 tackles for loss in eight games. He was the top overall recruit coming out of high school in 2019 and is projected to have a bright NFL future.

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