Don’t buy the hype…
It’s another year, another draft season, and you know what that means! Hype, hype, and more hype! The Baltimore Ravens currently sit at pick 22 in the first round of the NFL Draft, and much like previous years, Baltimore is being linked with one specific position. That’s right, the Ravens are yet again rumored to take a receiver in the first round. Déjà vu? You’re not alone.
The Baltimore Ravens go through the same rumors every year. In 2015, the Ravens were rumored to be in the hunt for a new receiver to replace Torrey Smith. The Ravens drafted Breshad Perriman. In 2017, the Ravens were again supposedly interested in a receiver. But all three first-round caliber receivers were gone by the time Baltimore selected Marlon Humphrey with the 16th overall pick. Last year, in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Ravens were constantly linked to Calvin Ridley but passed on him to select tight end Hayden Hurst after trading back. By picking Hurst, the Ravens technically selected a receiver, just a tight end and not wideout. Not only did the Ravens select Hurst in the first round, but Baltimore also picked Mark Andrews in the third round. Andrews starred for the Ravens in his first year while Hurst took a back seat playing through injury.
After drafting two tight ends last year, and re-signing one this offseason, you expect me to believe that the Ravens will jump to pick another this year?
I don’t buy it, and you shouldn’t either.
Adam Bonaccorsi over at RussellStreetReport.com was the first to suggest that the Baltimore Ravens should draft a tight end, specifically Noah Fant. Although I disagree with his conclusion, he makes a compelling argument. Not only does Noah Fant check all the boxes as a tight end prospect, but he has the measurables to play as a wide receiver. Fant is 6’4″, 249 lbs, and runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. Not only that but he can bench 20 reps of 225 lbs and jump 39.5 inches in the air.
Bonaccorsi makes the point that transitioning Fant to tight end should not be very difficult, because the tight end position is already very similar to wide receiver:
“In their traditional roles, the differences were clear, but the modern day version of a Tight End isn’t that far off from a Wide Receiver. If anything, I think the Tight End position is actually two positions under one title, much like the Wide Receiver position can be broken into X, Y, and Z. You have your traditional in-line blocking tight end, then you have a more elusive, pass catching tight end. Even more rare is the player that can handle both roles, and do it well.”
Bonaccorsi isn’t wrong about the two positions being close to each other in the family tree of football positions, but he ignores one crucial question.
What if Noah Fant cannot convert to wide receiver?
Just like all things in the NFL Draft, there is no guarantee that a prospect as athletic, as talented, and as well built as Fant will be able to transition from one position to the next. There is no question that Fant is an excellent receiver, but would he see the same success he had as a tight end if he played on the outside? Tight ends traditionally benefit from creating mismatches in the middle of the field. They are bigger than cornerbacks and faster than linebackers.
But what happens when you take a tight end, who has lined up in the same position, and used the same general strategy for his entire career, and change everything? Will it work? Will he succeed? What routes is he even acquainted with already? Can he beat a cornerback off the edge?
The answer is that there are no answers. If the Ravens draft Noah Fant with the intention of transitioning him to wide receiver, the stakes will be extremely high.
Selecting a prospect in the first round is a risky business in its own right. Drafting a player with intentions to change him to another position is even riskier. When drafting in the first round, teams must be sure a selection is going to work out. This is not always the case, of course, as players frequently bust, but teams must have the utmost confidence in who they select. Although a transition from tight end to wide receiver may seem insignificant, a slight alteration in position, scheme, strategy, or matchup could make or break a player.
If Hayden Hurst was not on the roster, I would be fine with the suggestion that the Ravens should draft Noah Fant. Both players are very similar, as each is a sizable receiver with blocking capabilities. The Ravens drafted two tight ends in 2018, one in the first round. To draft another in the first round in the very next year would overcrowd an already crowded group.
If the Baltimore Ravens want to draft a receiver to develop alongside quarterback, Lamar Jackson, the team should stick to wide receivers by trade. The last thing Jackson needs in his sophomore season is an underperforming starting wideout, generated as the result of an unnecessary front office gamble.
I suggest that the Ravens draft N’Keal Harry of Arizona State. Harry impressed me beyond all expectations when I reviewed him. He has similar physical traits to Noah Fant but played as an actual wide receiver in college. In his three years with the Sun Devils, Harry accumulated 2,889 receiving yards and 22 receiving touchdowns. He only ever missed one game.
Harry may not be the most flashy receiver on the market this April, but I believe he is the most likely to succeed in the NFL. Adding him to the Lamar Jackson offense of 2019 and beyond would improve the overall quality of the air attack, and give Lamar Jackson a young and reliable pass-catching companion.