Ravens grab a potential defensive star as offense dominates first round of NFL draft

OWINGS MILLS — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was texting Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta throughout the first round of the NFL draft asking him to select Tigers cornerback Nate Wiggins.

DeCosta did not think there was any way that Wiggins would fall to them with the 30th overall pick on Thursday night.

But with a heavy emphasis on offense in the first round, coach John Harbaugh talked to his defensive coaches about the possibility of selecting Wiggins.

“What if Wiggins falls to us? Wouldn’t that be something?” Harbaugh said to his scouts.

When the first 13 picks were offensive players, including six quarterbacks, DeCosta was able to select Wiggins, whom he called the best cover cornerback in this year’s draft. ESPN analyst Louis Riddick said the Ravens hit a home run.

DeCosta had several inquiries about trading the 30th pick, but Wiggins was a top-20 player on the Ravens’ draft board and the chance to get him was more valuable than potential extra draft picks.

“We just think that he is a ridiculous athlete – very, very quick-footed, efficient. He’s fast. He’s tough. He’s competitive” DeCosta said. “In our division, we play a lot of really good receivers, and you have to get off the field on third downs. And, we were blessed last year to have a lot of depth in the secondary, and it really helped us quite a bit. And this is a guy that can come in here and play meaningful football right away for us. We’re excited about that.” 

Wiggins has a slender build at 6 feet 1, 173 pounds, but DeCosta expects him to add some weight before the beginning of next season. He is a playmaker, with 24 pass breakups, and three interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns in 34 games at Clemson. Wiggins also had two forced fumbles, a sack, and a blocked field goal.

Wiggins ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash, 4.28 seconds, at the NFL scouting combine. Harbaugh is confident he can play outside or inside cornerback. He has the versatility that the Ravens value.

The Ravens invited Wiggins to Owings Mills for a pre-draft visit and were impressed by his demeanor. He was not surprised that the Ravens selected him when their turn finally came.

“[It’s] just my speed and my instincts and my physicality,” Wiggins said in a conference call with reporters. “Just being on that island … It’s man-to-man. I feel like I’m the best man-to-man corner. I’m the best corner in the draft, so yes. The tape speaks for itself.” 

Even though the Ravens need an offensive tackle, DeCosta said there was more value in taking a cornerback because that position is not as deep as the linemen in this year’s draft.

The Ravens and DeCosta have had luck with players they rated highly falling to them in the first round.

In 2018, they selected quarterback Lamar Jackson, a two-time NFL MVP, with the 32nd overall pick. Safety Kyle Hamilton was projected in some mock drafts to be the first overall pick in 2o21, but he fell to the Ravens at No. 14 in 2022 and has already become one of the NFL’s top playmakers.

The Ravens think Wiggins can make a similar impact.

“He has to come in and prove it and do it and all that, but we expect him to do it,” Harbaugh said. “We were excited.”


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