When a team comes so close to winning a championship, it's hard to know where to go next. Although its obvious that the Baltimore Ravens were close to getting to the Super Bowl, their AFC Championship loss to the New England Patriots was a huge blow to their confidence. Now the offseason is here and the Ravens have a lot of decisions to make in a short amount of time.
First up is free agency which will inevitably bring some changes. While that is extremely important, most attention will instead be directed to the draft. This is where the future of the team shall be made because drafting the right prospect could bring stability to a position for a decade or more.
It's impossible to fully predict the complex moves of the NFL Draft. However, it's not too early to look at the possible prospects that the Ravens could draft.
Here are some of the prospects that could help the Ravens out.
Alabama junior linebacker Dont'a Hightower has declared his eligibility for the NFL Draft a year early. He is now considered to be one of the best linebacker prospects in the draft. However some doubts could have Hightower dropping towards later in the first round.
One of these doubts is simply his durability, as he isn't a sideline to sideline type of guy. He sat out as a medical redshirt for the entirety of his sophomore season thanks to a knee injury.
Yet, when healthy, there's no doubting his athletic versatility. His best fit is as a 3-4 outside linebacker, though he also has the ability to play inside linebacker or even as a defensive end. Known as an excellent pass rusher, Hightower has incredible ball instincts and reacts with good speed.
As a Raven, Hightower could potentially be an answer should either Jarrett Johnson or Jameel McClain walk away in free agency. It might even be possible that Hightower could be groomed as the eventual heir to the legend himself, Ray Lewis. Regardless of what role he'd be asked to play, Hightower could be a good pick if he's still available when the Ravens draft 29th overall.
It's never the sexy or popular choice to draft an offensive lineman with your first pick. Yet many teams often have to make that pick while rebuilding their offensive lines. It helps ease the burden when this offensive lineman is both a really big man and also an All-American.
Peter Conz is both. Regarded as the best center prospect in the draft, the junior out of Wisconsin has made many teams happy by announcing his decision to enter the draft. However, it is because of other teams wanting him that Ravens fans may not want to get their hearts set on Conz being around late in the first round.
Conz is known for being a do-it-all center who plays with strength and athleticism. His size is great for the position, as is his ability to run block (see video). With three Wisconsin running backs almost getting 1,000 yards, Conz would be a good fit on a run-heavy offense like the Ravens.
A major reason that the Ravens would be interested in Conz is upcoming instability at the center position. Matt Birk is contemplating retirement, and his backup Andre Gurode is a free agent this year. Even if either Birk or Gurode stays, the Ravens could still help on the offensive line should Ben Grubbs get a big pay day and leave via free agency.
Another linebacker that could go towards the end of the first round is Zach Brown. The senior from North Carolina is another highly rated linebacker with a lot of promise.
His speed is his single greatest asset. Able to easily remove himself from blocks, Brown uses his speed to get after the ball carrier even if he is on the other side of the field. Brown's speed also makes him an excellent choice for coverage, as he can keep up with most tight ends and even some running backs.
Unfortunately like so many other Tar Heels, there are questions about Brown's work habits. Even with his speed, he still has an unfortunate tendency to disappear for plays at a time. With his instincts being hot and cold, Brown needs to get better at reacting.
It seems most likely that Brown will play as a weak side linebacker on the outside. This could potentially be to replace Jarrett Johnson if he leaves in free agency. However, it seems more likely that Brown would play sparingly his first year and instead try to learn as much as he can from the Ravens veteran defenders.
Another offensive lineman that's projected to go early on is Georgia guard Cordy Glenn. The senior was named to First Team All-SEC as well as the All-America Third Team. He also helped to anchor an offensive line that ranked third in the SEC in total offense this year, averaging 413.85 yards a game.
Having started 50 games in his collegiate career, Glenn is tied for the most starts by an offensive lineman in Georgia history. During this span he started at left guard, right guard and left tackle. Glenn is expected to play as a guard in the NFL.
At 6'5" and 338 pounds, he is also one of the biggest linemen available in this year's draft class. His power is undeniable, as he can provide impressive pancake blocks against even talented opponents. One of his only real red flags is a tendency to get fundamentally lazy and play too high.
It's a bit of a stretch to think that a prospect like Glenn would slip all the way to 29th. If either Matt Birk retires or Ben Grubbs leaves in free agency, the need would definitely have arisen for someone like Glenn. Even if both players return, it could be hard to pass him up because he could possibly be the best player left on the board.
As shown in the video above, Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe is possibly one of the strongest football players in the entire NCAA. The strength that he shows while weightlifting is definitely impressive and gives valid reason to believe he will be a beast defensive tackle in the NFL.
Poe will be trying to overcome long odds in the draft as only the third Memphis Tiger to be taken in the first round. Running back Deangelo Williams and safety Jerome Woods are the other two, which is definitely not bad company at all. Working in Poe's favor is a lack of top senior defensive tackles available this year.
There are plenty of reasons Poe would make a great Raven (he shares the last name of "The Raven" writer Edgar Allen Poe). Poe could also be a project that eventually steps in to replace someone like Corey Redding, who could possibly leave in free agency this year. A line with Poe, Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody would have to be one of the scariest defensive lines out there.
The common theme of linebacker continues for players that the Ravens could use. Vontaze Burfict is another one that would make a lot of sense to see in a Ravens uniform. The Arizona State linebacker has quite a reputation for being mean—something that also fits in with the Ravens defense.
He is a violent hitter that delivers possibly the most destructive hits in the entire NCAA. His athleticism is impressive but he lacks discipline and control. In a stable locker room environment, Burfict could really thrive under the guidance of players like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
He could possibly become the successor to Lewis even though he would likely need some time. This year he would probably be more of a backup as he attempts to become more disciplined.