After a 24-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night in the AFC wild-card round, the Ravens enter one of the most important offseasons in franchise history.
While questions about quarterback Lamar Jackson’s contract, pending free agents and the team’s salary cap are expected to linger for months, one piece of business has been finalized: where the Ravens will pick in the 2023 NFL draft.
Baltimore owns the No. 22 overall selection in the first round, which begins April 27 in Kansas City. For the first time since 2010, the Ravens are not expected to receive a compensatory draft pick. That means, pending any additional moves, they have just five selections: No. 22 (first round) and No. 86 (third round), plus to-be-determined selections in fourth, fifth and sixth rounds. They traded their second-round selection and one of their fifth-round picks to the Chicago Bears for linebacker Roquan Smith, who last week agreed to a five-year contract extension worth a reported $100 million. Their seventh-round pick is also heading to the New York Giants as part of the deal for guard Ben Bredeson in August 2021. The Ravens’ fifth-round selection came from the New England Patriots, who acquired cornerback Shaun Wade in a 2021 trade.
With a potential extension or franchise tag coming for Jackson, the Ravens will need to rely on the draft more than ever to fill out their roster. That puts even more scrutiny on their first-round selection, especially after safety Kyle Hamilton (No. 14 overall pick) and center Tyler Linderbaum (No. 25) contributed immediately this season.
Here are five players at positions of need who could be targets at No. 22.
Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba
It wouldn’t be a proper Ravens offseason without discussing wide receivers. Even with Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay returning next season, the Ravens need another weapon to boost one of the league’s worst passing attacks. Early 2023 mock drafts had the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Smith-Njigba comfortably in the top 10 after his record-breaking Rose Bowl performance, but a disappointing 2022 season might push him toward the bottom of the first round. A hamstring injury limited the junior to just five catches for 43 yards in three games a year after he led the Buckeyes’ receiving corps — including future first-round draft picks Garett Wilson and Chris Olave — with 1,606 yards.
Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers
After trading away Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, the Ravens could use another deep threat to complement Bateman. The 5-10, 172-pound Flowers flashed game-breaking speed for the Eagles, catching 78 passes for 1,077 yards and a school-record 12 touchdowns to become a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver. Although he’s undersized and has struggled with drops throughout his college career, he’d give the Ravens’ offense the run-after-the-catch threat it desperately needs.
Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon
With veteran cornerback Marcus Peters hitting free agency, the Ravens could have a glaring hole opposite three-time Pro Bowl selection Marlon Humphrey. The 6-foot, 180-pound Witherspoon became a star in his junior season, earning first-team All-America honors from the Associated Press and finishing as the No. 2 graded cornerback in the country according to Pro Football Focus. While lining up against the opposing team’s top receiver, he allowed fewer than 35 receiving yards in 11 of 12 games this season.
Iowa defensive end Lukas Van Ness
With Calais Campbell potentially retiring and Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul entering free agency, the Ravens need to bolster their defensive line. The 6-5, 275-pound Van Ness, one of the draft’s most intriguing prospects, could be the right fit. The redshirt sophomore stood out on one of the nation’s best defenses despite never making a start, totaling 18 1/2 tackles for loss and 12 sacks over two seasons. A converted defensive tackle, Van Ness is also a powerful run defender, making him an attractive Ravens target.
Florida guard O’Cyrus Torrence
The Ravens have two reliable tackles in Ronnie Stanley and Morgan Moses and a budding star at center in rookie Tyler Linderbaum, but the interior of the offensive line has a few question marks. Right guard Kevin Zeitler is entering the final year of his deal, while left guard Ben Powers is entering unrestricted free agency. There’s still hope for 2021 third-round pick Ben Cleveland to grab a starting role, but he’s been inconsistent in his first two seasons. The Ravens could use a better pass blocker on the interior, and the 6-5, 347-pound Torrence fits the bill. The Louisiana transfer dominated against SEC competition, not allowing a sack or a hit all season. According to ESPN, he’s allowed just two sacks over nearly 3,000 career snaps.