If there was one thing Joe Flacco showed in the AFC Championship, it's that he deserves to be the Baltimore Ravens' starting quarterback for the future.
He outdueled Tom Brady and put his team in a position where victory was possible. But a dropped pass and missed field goal ended all hope of advancing.
Flacco can't be faulted for that.
For the Ravens to take the next step forward, they need to give Flacco better offensive pieces to work with. Two years in a row, the Ravens' season has ended thanks to dropped passes from receivers. So that's an obvious area where changes need to be made.
Changes also need to be made at the center, guard and running back positions thanks to the loss of several key players.
Here are 10 players from this year's draft class that the Ravens can use to improve their offense.
Peter Konz is likely the best offensive player on the Ravens' radar right now. Their need is very real at the center position thanks to Matt Birk's talk of retirement and backup center Andre Gurode becoming a free agent.
Konz could be a more-than-capable replacement since he is widely regarded as the top center prospect in the draft.
The junior out of Wisconsin was impressive during his three seasons as a Badger. He anchored one of last season's top offensive lines in college football, which helped running back Montee Ball have a breakout season.
Although run-blocking is his primary strength, Konz also has skills as a pass-blocker. His strength and athleticism are what set him apart as the clear top center in his draft class.
Although Birk or Gurode could still be around to hold down the center position this season, Konz could be the Ravens' starting center for a long time.
Another top center prospect in the draft is William Vlachos from Alabama. The senior has been part of two national championship teams with the Crimson Tide.
The main strike against Vlachos during his career has been his small size. However, he has learned to use it to his advantage by easily gaining leverage on defenders. His technically sound play also stands out as a strength.
Vlachos will not be going to the NFL scouting combine which is unfortunately another strike against him. It's also disappointing since nine of his Alabama teammates made it to the combine. As a possible second or third-round pick, he could be a good consolation pickup if the Ravens miss out on Peter Konz or Ben Jones.
Offensive tackle may not seem like quite as much of a need since the Ravens have two capable starters in Michael Oher and Marshal Yanda. However, the Ravens could still use some depth at the tackle position. Getting Andrew Datko in the fourth or fifth round would serve as a good way of acquiring that depth.
The senior from Florida State has mostly been getting attention as a mid-round tackle prospect. Datko's biggest strength is his ability to engage and control his opponents. He also is effective at staying low and gaining leverage against his opponents.
Another reason the Ravens could have interest in Datko is his uncertainty as to whether he wants to play guard or tackle. This is usually viewed as a bad thing, but since the Ravens may have a guard position opening up, this could actually increase Datko's chances of starting.
J.B. Shugarts is another late-round tackle in whom the Ravens could have interest. Even though he weighs less than most offensive linemen, he's a huge man at 6'7", 300 pounds.
Currently, Shugarts is projected to go very late in the draft, possibly in the sixth or seventh round. The reason Shugarts is projected so low is actually his weight. It's crazy to say it but 300 pounds is underweight for today's NFL tackles.
For the Ravens he would likely be another low-risk/high-reward pick.
Like Andrew Datko, Cordy Glenn is one of those versatile players who can play guard or tackle. He has good lateral movement and has displayed quick feet in pass protection. The junior out of the University of Georgia is one of this year's top guard prospects thanks to his raw physical skills.
At a massive 346 pounds, it is impressive how fast Glenn can move. He can carry his weight well and has a great wingspan with his long arms. His upper-body strength causes him to knock down smaller pass-rushers with ease.
An area where Glenn has been known to struggle is with his balance, as he doesn't have a natural tackle stance. However, his strength seems to outweigh these concerns and keep him as a top guard prospect. The Ravens could definitely do well picking up Glenn late in the first round.
Kelechi Osemele is a huge offensive lineman at 6'6" and 347 pounds. Although he's currently projected as a guard, he could also play tackle. As one of the top guard prospects in the draft, the senior out of Iowa State is projected to go near the second round
What sets Osemele apart from other offensive linemen is his unquestioned mean streak. He looks to take out opposing players on every play.
Osemele is already loved by NFL scouts because he passes the eye-ball test with his elite size and strength. The eye-ball test is often crucial in getting offensive linemen to move up in the draft. Maybe with a good combine showing, Osemele could rise to the first round.
The Ravens' backup running back position is now in a state of flux following the retirement of Ricky Williams.
Actually, their starting running back isn't even set in stone yet since Ray Rice is a free agent, though there is no way the Ravens would consider letting him walk. Rice likely will get around 20 snaps a game, meaning someone else needs to come in and spell him every now and then.
A good candidate for that job could be Edwin Baker, a junior running back from Michigan State. Baker's draft value has dropped as he is coming off a season where he only had 170 carries for 665 yards. This was due to the emergence of Le'Veon Bell who had 948 rushing yards in his first season as a starter.
Baker may have made the better decision declaring for the draft now since memories of his 2010 season—when he had 1,201 rushing yards—are still fresh in some people's minds.
Scouts have compared Baker's build to Rice's although Baker is not nearly as good at contributing to the passing game. His strengths include patience, the ability to churn out extra yardage and above-average balance.
I am aware that Jeff Demps recently declared his intent to pursue a track career as opposed to declaring for the draft. However, like any NFL fan who loves speed, I just have trouble seeing a guy this fast not play in the NFL.
Demps is really fast, perhaps on the level to challenge Mike Wallace or Jacoby Ford for fastest player in the NFL.
This past season, he had 569 rushing yards with six touchdowns. He was also a dangerous returner during his four years at Florida, averaging 28.8 yards over his career.
But to truly realize the extent of Demps' speed, one needs to look at his track numbers. He has run 9.96 in the 100-meter dash and a 6.53 in the 60-meter dash. These are amazing numbers, especially considering that Demps spent several seasons going straight from full-time football to full-time track.
If Demps is to play football in 2012, it will likely be as an undrafted free agent and it will likely have to do with him failing at his track career. It's not likely that will happen, but it's a possibility.
With this guy spelling Ray Rice or returning kickoffs, the Ravens could get an extremely dynamic player that is a threat to score every time he has the ball.
Wide receiver is another huge area of need for the Ravens. Although they have both starters coming back in Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin, it's frightening how little depth they have behind them. And with veteran receivers making key drops in playoff games the last two years, maybe the Ravens want to try to get some youth at that position.
Alshon Jeffery from South Carolina could be a good pick for the Ravens. He is physically imposing, although he is the rare receiver that has weight concerns. While his speed isn't great, his vertical skills are impressive and his size could make him deadly in the red zone.
Torrey Smith's breakout season last year has to play a role in the Ravens' decision to go for a young receiver in the draft or not. Jeffery will be somewhat hard to acquire as he'll likely be a first-round pick, possibly even early in the round. As one of this year's boom-or-bust prospects, it may come down to whether or not the Ravens are feeling lucky.
In addition to needing help at the receiver position, the Ravens could really use a receiver that is also good at returning the ball.
The last several years, the Ravens have had a dreadful return game with players like Yamon Figurs and David Reed. Although many of these players are talented, they've unfortunately developed reputations for fumbling and they seem unable to get the highlight-reel return touchdown.
This is not the case with University of Arkansas receiver/kick returner Joe Adams. The above video shows Adams making a shocking escape as he somehow gets away from nearly every Tennessee defender. Adams then takes the ball back for a 51-yard touchdown—his fourth return touchdown of the 2011 season.
Adams had a decent year receiving as well recording 54 receptions for 652 yards. This included a 92-yard touchdown run that helped them defeat Auburn. He could play receiver, kick returner, punt returner or even running back for the Ravens.