Who will be the backup and eventual replacement for Ed Reed?
The Baltimore Ravens have a variety of needs that need to be met in free agency or in the 2012 NFL Draft. Those needs are well documented, but one that has been overlooked has been safety. The Ravens lost backup safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura to free agency. Their presence will be missed both as backups and on special teams.
There are few options in the free-agent market that are fits for the Ravens. It is unlikely that Baltimore will spend big money on a safety or even an early draft pick, although if a safety is the best overall player available, GM Ozzie Newsome will probably draft him.
Most likely the Ravens will use some of their mid- to late-round picks to nab a safety who would be a top reserve and make an impact on special teams.
Here's a look at players who the Ravens should pursue in free agency or at some point in the draft.
A reunion with Leonhard would go a long way for the Baltimore secondary and special teams.
If healthy—and that could be a big if—the addition to Leonhard would be a great move for Baltimore. Leonhard was a solid starter for the Jets the past few years and he also contributed to the return game.
Of course, most Ravens fans remember him all too well.
Leonhard is capable of starting at either of the safety spots should Reed or Pollard go down with injury. He could contribute to special teams as a returner or in coverage teams.
Leonhard's contract with the Jets was approximately $2 million per year. Questions over his health could lead to a discount. Perhaps a return to Baltimore is possible.
Veteran and former Pro Bowler Chris Hope would be a great addition if the price is right.
Hope's production has slipped the past few years and he has dealt with injury issues as well. Still unsigned, his contract demands could be lowered. Hope would add depth and veteran leadership to an already formidable defensive backfield.
If Chris Hope returns to form, he could challenge Pollard for the starting strong safety spot.
If Barron slips down the draft board, the Ravens may stop his fall.
In the unlikely event that Mark Barron slips down the draft board, the Baltimore Ravens may choose to add the top safety in the draft to their roster.
It is unclear that Barron fits in the Ravens' plans. Having signed the productive Bernard Pollard last season, the Ravens seem more in need of a backup and heir apparent to free safety Ed Reed.
Baltimore may choose his teammate Dont'a Hightower instead, but Barron's talent and value may be too high for Ozzie Newsome to pass up.
Allen could be available late in the 2nd round.
Antonio Allen played what is known as the "spur position," which is a hybrid linebacker/safety. Allen has good size and turned in a respectable 4.67 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
Allen possesses good instincts when reading the quarterback. His versatility should also make him attractive. The Ravens have made improving special teams coverage a priority and Allen has experience on coverage teams.
Martin could be a hit in Baltimore.
Markelle Martin is arguably the best free safety prospect in the draft. His knee injury did not allow him to participate in the majority of the drills in the NFL combine, and his draft stock could slip as a result.
He is expected to be available in the fourth round. His 40 time is projected to be in the 4.4's. Martin has good size, he is listed at 6'1", 203 lbs.
Martin was the 2011 American Football Coaches Association and Associated Press All-American. Martin is aggressive and shows up in big games...sound familiar?
If Jackson can convince teams that his character issues are behind him, he could be a future star.
Janzen Jackson is one of the most talented safeties in the draft, but also one of the biggest character risks. After run-ins with the law and alleged drug issues, Jackson was forced out of Tennessee. The former 5-star recruit finished his collegiate career at McNeese State.
Jackson is fast and fluid, possessing great cover skills to go with a physical style of play. During his pro day at McNeese State, he posted a 4.49 40-yard dash to go along with a 37-inch vertical leap.
Regardless of who drafts him, Janzen Jackson's talent is undeniable.
The Ravens have taken a chance on players with character concerns before. Lardarius Webb is a great example. He also was dismissed from a major program because of character issues (Southern Miss) and transferred to Nichols State. Webb is now one of the better corners in the NFL.
Janzen Jackson could be available in the fifth round.
Matt Daniels could be a late-round sleeper.
Matt Daniels is more than just an intelligent football player who was twice named to the Academic All-ACC team. He is fast and physical, listed at 6'0", 215 lbs. His projected 40-yard dash is thought to be in the mid 4.4's to the low 4.5's.
A team MVP, Daniels is a leader with solid football IQ and skills that would make him a top reserve and special teams contributor.
Matt Daniels is projected to be drafted in Round 5 or 6.