Handing out superlatives for this Ravens draft class

Baltimore RavensFootballSportsCourtney UpshawTommy StreeterTerrell SuggsBernard Pierce

Now that I have had a couple of days to defragment my brain after a hectic NFL draft weekend, I figured I would hand out superlative style-evaluations of the Ravens’ eight-player draft class. These are just the opinions of one man (though it’s a man who spent much of the past two months researching draft prospects). Feel free to leave your assessments or reactions to mine in the comments section below.

Best value pick: Tommy Streeter. When I did my full Ravens mock draft last week, I really wanted to project this speedy Miami wideout to the Ravens in the later rounds, but many analysts had him being drafted in the fourth or fifth round. Yet there Streeter was late in the sixth round when the Ravens, who had missed out on other receivers earlier in the draft, finally took him off the board. Streeter is nearly 6-foot-5, and he ran one of the fastest 40-yard dash times at the NFL scouting combine. He is not very polished, but if the coaching staff can refine his skills, he might become a late-round steal.

Biggest head-scratcher: Gino Gradkowski. In hindsight, it doesn’t appear the Ravens wanted Wisconsin center Peter Konz as much as we all thought that they did. They passed on him twice and didn’t move up to select him later in the second round. Instead, they selected their potential center of the future early in the fourth. The Ravens had Gradkowski, who played center and guard at Delaware, in for a pre-draft visit, but most of Baltimore let out a collective “Who?!?” when his name was called. This looked like a reach at first, but it has been reported that other teams also thought highly of Gradkowski.

Most likely to contribute early: Kelechi Osemele. The Ravens waited until the second day of the draft to finally address their most pressing offseason need: the offensive line. They lost Ben Grubbs in free agency and missed out on Evan Mathis, who re-signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, leaving a big question mark at left guard. This versatile, athletic lineman will compete for a spot in the starting lineup right away, either battling Jah Reid for the left guard spot or getting in the mix at tackle (he would be a right tackle, but there are potentially moving parts there in Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher).

Biggest sleeper: Bernard Pierce. This bruising Temple running back was the seventh back selected, and while he won’t be pushing for Ray Rice’s job during training camp, he will play a large role on this team. Pierce is 6-foot, 220 pounds, but he plays bigger than that. He can contribute right away in short-yardage situations, and given where he was drafted, he looks to be the frontrunner to replace Ricky Williams as the No. 2, change-of-pace back. He is the kind of hard-nosed, physical runner that Ravens fans love and it wouldn’t be surprising if he developed into a starting-caliber back someday.

Most upside: Asa Jackson. Admittedly, I knew absolutely nothing about this Cal Poly cornerback -- the third FCS player the Ravens drafted Saturday -- when his name flashed up on the bottom line in the fifth round. But now that I’ve done a little digging, I like what I have learned. He has decent size and speed for the position, but he excelled in man-to-man coverage at Cal Poly, having not allowed a touchdown in man-to-man during his final three seasons there. Jackson has a lot of talent to pass up on the team’s stacked cornerback depth chart, but he might just be their next Lardarius Webb.

Favorite selection: Courtney Upshaw. Honestly, I could argue that Upshaw was the best value pick, the prospect with the most upside and the player most likely to contribute early, but what fun would that have been? So I’ll just give him his own category. He might not have been the Ravens’ top choice Thursday, but trading back to get him on Friday was a coup. The pass rush struggled down the stretch last season as teams keyed on Terrell Suggs, but Upshaw has a chance to be the LaMarr Woodley to Suggs’ James Harrison. He can help take the pass rush -- and the Baltimore defense -- to the next level.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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