Gino

Ravens strive for “deep depth” with late round Draft selections…

No big headlines for the Ravens’ picks in rounds 4 through 7… nothing to merit or mimic Herman Edwards calling of their pick of Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw in the 2nd round “the steal of the Draft”…

Just some solid, roster-building picks which had Ozzie Newsome’s signature on each one…

Gino Gradkowski… something tells me if this kid makes it, Baltimore fans will end up loving him… a great personality.

4th round: Baltimore selected Delaware Blue Hen center/guard Gino Gradkowski with the 98th-overall pick in the fourth round on Day 3 of the NFL Draft.

The Ravens re-signed center Matt Birk this offseason, but he’s in the final stages of his career. Gradkowski is slated to back him up while further learning the position from the former Pro Bowler. For now, Gradkowski envisions himself entering the competition with Jah Reid and second-round pick Kelechi Osemele at left guard.

“Come in and maybe play guard my first year and eventually take over at center,” Gradkowski said. “That’s what I’m looking to do. Being behind a veteran like Matt Birk, I’m excited to meet him and pick his brain about football. It’s the perfect scenario and I couldn’t be happier.”

The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Gradkowski is a two-time All-Colonial Athletic Association selection after transferring from West Virginia where he spent his first two years. Gradkowski is known for his blocking technique, grittiness and leadership, a player that stresses the fundamentals of the game. He’s a blue-collar player.

“I’m elated right now because Baltimore plays football the way it’s supposed to be played,” Gradkowski said.

The Pittsburgh native prides himself on being athletic too. He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.25 seconds at his campus pro day workout and put up 29 bench press reps. Gradkowski is the younger brother of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, so he’s got football in his veins.

Next, the Ravens selected safety Christian Thompson (South Carolina State) in the fourth round (130th-overall pick) of the draft, adding to him to a secondary that was looking for depth at safety.

“We are extremely excited,” Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said Saturday. “We had him very high on our board on defense and are really kind of shocked that he was still there in the fourth round. To get a guy that we had ranked as high as we had him ranked, I wanted to hug Ozzie. That was a great pick.”

Thompson (6-foot-0, 211 pounds), an Auburn transfer, will likely serve as a backup behind Reed and strong safety Bernard Pollard. He played both free and strong safety in college and was an All-Mid Eastern Athletic Conference selection last season, finishing the year with 66 tackles, two interceptions, a fumble recovery and two pass deflections. The Ravens needed help at the safety spot after losing veterans Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura to free agency this offseason.  Bringing in Thompson fills an immediate need on the defense and he will also likely be expected to play on special teams.

“We always talk about taking the best available, but he wasn’t only the best available, but you get a two-run homer when you also get a need filled,” Pees said.

Thompson has solid speed and a reputation as a big hitter. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds at the NFL scouting combine, where he was one of just two players invited from the HBCU (historically black colleges and universities). “He’s big, physical,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s a hard hitter. He really gets after people.”

Next pick: Baltimore once again went to a small school to select cornerback Asa “Ace” Jackson out of Cal Poly with the 169th pick in the fifth round Saturday afternoon. Jackson is a smooth, sudden athlete who has major speed. He ran a 4.44-second, 40-yard dash at the combine.

“He’ll be a guy that can go out there and compete,” Ravens Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta said. “We’re not going to anoint him as the punt and kick returner, but we think he has a chance to compete.”

Jackson averaged 14.06 yards per punt return, the third-best among active college players in the FCS. He is just the second player in Cal Poly history to get an invitation to the Senior Bowl, and in many ways carried his team last season.

“He doesn’t have extensive experience doing [kick and punt return], but he’s pretty good,” DeCosta said. “He’s a quick-footed guy, he’s got some suddenness … you can see some burst and some twitch.”

Baltimore’s main punt returner last year was cornerback Lardarius Webb, but Head Coach John Harbaugh has said he would prefer to take him off main return duties considering he’s the team’s top cornerback. The Ravens’ kick returner, wide receiver David Reed, is coming off a season-ending knee injury. His replacement, Tom Zbikowski, departed via free agency.

The 5-foot-10, 193-pound Jackson can also provide more depth in the secondary. He is a four-time first team All Great West Conference cornerback. A four-year starter, he never allowed a touchdown reception in man coverage while lining up at “boundary” cornerback.

6th Round: Baltimore selected Miami’s Tommy Streeter in the sixth round (198th-overall pick), adding a big target for quarterback Joe Flacco.

“At the time he was the best player on our board,” Ravens Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta said. “We were excited about him. It’s unusual to get a receiver with that kind of size who can run like that.” Streeter (6-foot-5, 210 pounds) had eight touchdowns and 811 yards on 46 receptions last season.

Some draft pundits had the redshirt junior graded as a second-round prospect, mostly because of his physical stature, but he ended up sliding to the back of the sixth round after having just one year of big-time production. Streeter had six combined catches during his first two seasons before breaking out last year. In addition to being a tall target, Streeter also showed good speed at the NFL scouting combine, running the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds.

“He’s a size, speed receiver,” Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome said. “You get someone like that, our coaches are really, really happy to work with that guy.”

He has the size and speed to stretch the field as a vertical threat, but the knock on him is that he’s still raw and runs unpolished routes. Miami capitalized on his size, using him as a red-zone threat where he could take advantage of his ability to win jump balls over smaller defensive backs. That jump-ball ability in the red zone is something that could likely make an immediate impact on the Ravens offense because they currently don’t have a receiver as big as Streeter. 

He will likely compete for the No. 3 wide receiver spot behind Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. The other candidates for that position are Tandon Doss, Laquan Williams and David Reed. Putting Streeter on the edge opposite Smith could give the Ravens another dynamic deep threat, especially if Streeter develops the way that Smith did last season. 

Adding a weapon to the receiving corps is something that Ozzie Newsome set out to do at the start of the offseason. The Ravens had veteran Lee Evans as the No. 3 receiver last year, but he was hobbled by an ankle injury and finished the season with just four catches. Outside of Boldin and Smith, no other receiver had more than four catches.

7th round: Baltimore selected defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson out of Georgia with the 236th -overall pick in the seventh round.

He can step into a defensive line mix that lost defensive tackle Brandon McKinney and defensive end Cory Redding to free agency in the offseason. The 6-foot-2, 315 pound senior is an interior run-stuffer. “The [defensive line] is another area where you can’t have too many players,” Newsome said.

He has the size to play in both the three and five technique. He sheds blocks well and is strong against offensive linemen. Tyson is a high-effort player who is also good in the open field, which means he could be a strong special teams player.

Tyson was selected to play in the East-West Shrine Game and was honored with one of Georgia’s Coaches Leadership Awards. He started all 11 games in which he appeared, making 20 tackles with 3.5 for loss and 11 quarterback pressures.

Put it all together— I give this draft a B+….  and Courtney Upshaw is the icing on the cake.

Thomas Jackson

About Thomas Jackson

Jax Sports Media has been reporting on NFL teams in the mid-Atlantic region since 2006. Thomas Jackson is its senior writer. Tom started covering the Philadelphia Eagles for the MVN Network in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Bloguin Network. He now also covers the Baltimore Ravens.

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