PLEASE NOTE: The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on BaltimoreRavens.com represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the Baltimore Ravens' organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Ravens officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
It’s still early, but the 2012 draft class looks awfully similar to last year.
Defensive line and quarterbacks dominated the top of last year’s draft, and Ravens Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz could once again see that being the case.
In his early analysis of this year’s crop, Hortiz identified three positions (in no particular order) that appear to be the strengths of the 2012 class:
2. Defensive line
3. Wide receivers
The talk about the quarterback position has primarily focused on Stanford’s Andrew Luck, who is regarded as the consensus No. 1 overall selection. Right behind him is reigning Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III out of Baylor, who is also likely to go in the top five picks.
But this year’s quarterback’s class is more than just top heavy. For teams that won’t have an opportunity to nab Luck or Griffin, there will still be quality options on the board because the group runs deep, according to Hortiz.
Last season, six quarterbacks were taken in the first 36 picks, but Hortiz thinks this year’s class could be even better.
“Last year was looked at as a good year, and I think this year’s quarterback group is a better overall group of quarterbacks,” Hortiz said. “It may not go off the same way as it did last year, but that doesn’t mean they’re not better than the guys that were drafted in the first round and/or high second round.”
As teams go through the combine and private workouts, quarterbacks have a tendency to move up teams’ draft boards, meaning that when draft time rolls around there could likely be more quarterbacks getting taken in the first round or early second.
“I think there will be a run on quarterbacks” Hortiz said.
Pass rushers are a valuable commodity in the NFL, making defensive linemen some of the most popular picks in recent drafts. There were 12 defensive linemen taken in the first round last year, more than any other position, and they could again dominate the top of the draft this April.
“This year, D-line is strong,” Hortiz said.
That could be good news for the Ravens, who said at the season-review press conference that adding a pass rusher will be one of the priorities this offseason.
The strength in this year’s defensive line group is that a number of the players could fit in either 4-3 or 3-4 defensive schemes. These “tweener” guys, as Hortiz calls them, could be defensive ends or pass-rushing outside linebackers, depending on the team that drafts them.
Some of the players who fit that mold are South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw and Southern California’s Nick Perry.
“You’re probably going to see a lot of defensive lineman go in the first round again,” Hortiz said.
The top-flight wideouts of last year’s class lived up to their hype as top-10 picks A.J. Green and Julio Jones turned out to be two of the league’s top offensive rookies. Ravens second-round pick Torrey Smith was also one of the top rookie receivers and the success of last year’s class has teams looking for this year’s playmaking receivers.
The 2012 wide receiver corps has talent at the top – Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon is expected to be a top five pick – and Hortiz believes the group is also deep.
“I think receivers are a strong group,” he said. “It’s helped because the seniors are a strong group.”
Coincidentally, building the receiver corps in Baltimore is also an offseason priority.
Beyond Blackmon, Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd, Baylor’s Kendall Wright and South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery are prospects that several mock drafts have as first-round picks. Floyd and Wright are both seniors.
Hortiz also thinks that some other receivers could jump on the scene before the draft.
“Wideouts will start emerging through the process,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of time to figure that out.”