2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the Baltimore Ravens Team Needs

Dee LetedCorrespondent IMarch 28, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the Baltimore Ravens Team Needs

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    With the 2012 NFL Draft looming less than a month away and free agency dwindling down, it's time to assess the Ravens' biggest needs at this point. 

    Deals with Ray Rice, Lardarius Webb and Joe Flacco haven't gotten done. We've seen five former Ravens sign with other teams. Ricky Williams announced his retirement, and Lee Evans and Chris Carr have been cut from the roster. Who knows what's up with Billy Cundiff.

    One things for sure: the depth charts going to look at lot different by September. It always does.  

10. Kicker Competition

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    Laces out, Dan.

    It was one kick. But then again, it was a really important kick, and Billy Cundiff may never live it down. However, he still remains the most viable option for the Ravens at kicker for 2012. 

    John Harbaugh has stated several times that Cundiff is still the guy, but they'll almost certainly bring in some competition to training camp, even if it's only to motivate Billy to step it up.

    I highly doubt that the Ravens will actually use a draft pick on a kicker, but an undrafted rookie free agent is always a possibility. 

9. Running Back

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    The Ravens are reportedly high on second year running back Anthony Allen, and Ricky Williams apparently hasn't ruled out returning next season even after announcing his retirement. 

    But if the Brandon Jacobs interest tells us anything, it's that the Ravens feel like they need to add another running back. Well, they couldn't land Jacobs, so that leaves other free agents like Cedric Benson, or the good old NFL Draft.

    Call me crazy, but if a guy like Boise State's Doug Martin somehow falls to the Ravens in round two, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them pull the trigger. They did, after all, draft Ray Rice in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft, even with Willis McGahee and Le'ron McClain on the roster. Don't be shocked to see something like that happen again, especially with the way Rice's contract negotiations have been going. 

8. Defensive Line Depth

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    Cory Redding was a more than suitable starter, but his replacements are already on the roster in Arthur Jones and Pernell McPhee. The question now is who will replace those guys on the depth chart?

    Baltimore could certainly stand to add at least one, if not two, three technique defensive ends to add some depth along the defensive line, and this year's class should have plenty to chose from.

    Penn State's Devon Still should be able to make the move to 3-4 defensive end, but he would be a slight reach when the Ravens pick in round one. It isn't likely that they'll address that position early anyway.

    Nebraska's Jared Crick could be a guy that falls due to injury, and Boise State's Billy Winn could be a viable second or third round option as well, but that still may be too high to draft for depth unless the Ravens really like one of them.

    The more likely scenario would be a guy like Trevor Guyton from Cal, or Tony Jerrod-Eddie from Texas A&M in the fifth or sixth round. It wouldn't be surprising if the Ravens ignored the position all together on draft day, and picked up an undrafted rookie free agent to fill out the depth chart instead.

7. Kick Returner

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    It's no secret that the Ravens wanted Ted Ginn, and it isn't likely that they wanted him to be the number three receiver on the depth chart. They wanted an upgrade at kick returner, and they'll get one at some point.

    Laquan Williams will definitely be competing for that spot, but it isn't likely that Lardarius Webb will be. He's simply playing too well at corner to risk his talents on special teams.

    Then there's David Reed and his torn ACL. I doubt John Harbaugh, Mr. Special Teams, really believes that Reed is still the answer in the return game.

    So that leaves the draft to find a returner, and there's definitely a few of them. Florida's Chris Rainey is an electric return man, but not much else. He's very undersized for the NFL at 5'8" 180 pounds, so the Ravens may be able to snag him in the sixth or seventh round.  

    Rainey wouldn't be able to contribute any where else on the depth chart aside from some possible wild cat formations, but Arkansas' Joe Adams could be a decent fifth or sixth wide receiver option in addition to his role on special teams. At 5'11" 180 pounds, Adams is still a bit undersized for the NFL, but could become a decent slot receiver with the right coaching. The Ravens would have to use a higher draft pick on Adams than they would Rainey, however, as he should be picked somewhere in the third or fourth round.

6. Center

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    Some Ravens fans may not agree, but Matt Birk coming back is a good thing. He may have been overpowered against some of the bigger nose tackles last year, like Vince Wilfork, but he can still hold his own.

    Drafting a young center for Birk to rub off on should be a strong option in this year's draft, however, even though he signed a three year deal. Chances are, he'll only get through the first year of that contract before retiring.

    We haven't heard much about Andre Gurode coming back, but that should still be on the table as well.

    If the Ravens don't have a chance to take Wisconsin's Peter Konz in round one, or even if they decide to pass on him, there's still a few centers in this draft that could be groomed behind Birk and end up starting eventually.

    Baylor's Philip Blake could be an option if he is still available in the third round. Ohio State's Mike Brewster could also be an option in a mid-round, like four or five, especially now that we have a couple compensatory picks where he is projected.  

5. Safety

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    The Ravens have done little to address this position in free agency, and even let Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura test the market. They were obviously successful, signing contracts with the Colts and Panthers respectively. 

    The Sean Considine signing helps out with the void they left on special teams, but there's little depth after Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard. Not to mention Reed has struggled to stay healthy all season as he approaches retirement. 

    The idea of moving Lardarius Webb to free safety, his college position, after Reed retires has been thrown around, but he's playing so well at corner it doesn't seem to make much sense. 

    Hopefully the Ravens can find a potential future starter in this year's draft, or at least add some depth at the position.

    The top two safeties in this class, Mark Barron (Alabama) and Harrison Smith (Notre Dame), won't make sense for the Ravens when they are picking. Barron should be gone by the time the Ravens pick in round one, and Smith would be a reach there, but probably won't be available when the Ravens pick in round two. Not to mention both these guys are in-the-box strong safeties, and we already have a guy like that in Bernard Pollard. 

    Hopefully, the Ravens will look at a couple of safeties that should be better in pass coverage in the mid rounds. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson of Montana could be an option in round three. At 6'2" 205 pounds, Johnson ran a 4.61 second forty at the combine, causing most scouts to view him as more of a free safety in the NFL, similar to how they viewed Malcolm Jenkins of Ohio State a few years ago. Jenkins is now one of the premiere free safeties in the league. 

4. Inside Linebacker

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    Draft pundits have been projecting round one graded linebackers to replace Ray Lewis for years now, and it's never come to fruition. The Ravens passed on Rey Maualuga and James Laurinaitis in 2009, and haven't done much else to address the position.

    One thing's for sure though: time is undefeated. Letting Jameel McClain test the market and then signing him for the price they wanted was a solid move, and makes this need less urgent. Behind McClain, Dannell Ellerbe has been a suitable backup and played well enough in Ray Lewis' absence last year. However he isn't a complete enough player to be Lewis' full time replacement.

    If Dont'a Hightower is around at pick 29, expect the Ravens to take a long hard look at him. He's played on both the edge and inside in Alabama's 3-4 defense, and is athletic enough to be a three down linebacker at the NFL level. Being an Alabama product won't hurt his stock with Ozzie Newsome either.

    There is a huge drop off after Hightower though, and despite what some draft pundits claim, Luke Kuechly of Boston College definitely won't be around when the Ravens are picking.

    The Ravens could take a chance on disgruntled ASU linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who completely self destructed at the combine last month. Some scouts are even claiming that they wouldn't draft him at all at this point. With a strong veteran locker room though, it wouldn't be out of the question for the Ravens to consider him with a late round pick should he still be hanging around. He has, after all, made it clear that he would love to play next to Ray Lewis.   

3. Hybrid Outside Linebacker

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    The top three needs for the Ravens shouldn't shock you, as Ozzie Newsome has stated them very directly on more than one occasion. 

    There's no question that Jarrett Johnson played a crucial role as a leader on defense, and in the run game, but he wasn't asked to rush the passer much. Nevertheless, he will be missed. 

    Paul Kruger showed flashes of greatness last season, but he mostly came in on passing situations only. He may not be a complete enough player at this point to fully replace Jarrett Johnson. 

    Then there's Sergio Kindle, who literally knocked himself out of contention of earning any kind of role on defense since being drafted early in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. I don't know that the Ravens are banking on him much for next season, even though they've stated otherwise.

    That leaves the draft to find another pass rusher opposite Terrell Suggs to split time with Paul Kruger. In the first round it could be a guy like Whitney Mercilus (Illinois) or Nick Perry (USC), but those guys probably won't even be around by pick 29, and I don't know that the Ravens would address the position that early on anyways.

    A second or third round prospect may be more likely, such as Oklahoma's Ronnell Lewis or Marshall's Vinny Curry. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Raven's wait until even later to address the position, where they've had success before with guys like Adalius Thomas and Antwan Barnes.  

2. Wide Receiver

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    This is one of the most urgent team needs at this point, but a guy like Lee Evans could easily be signed before draft day which would obviously make it less crucial. 

    Evans was supposed to be our deep threat last year, allowing Anquan Boldin to do his thing in the slot where he belongs. A nagging ankle injury prohibited him from being effective, however, and instead Torrey Smith burst onto the scene.

    If Evans signs with the Jaguars which is starting to look more and more likely, and there isn't another guy out there that Ozzie Newsome and company likes at the right price, a compliment to Torrey Smith on the outside will need to be drafted.

    The Ravens are reportedly high on NFL Combine standout and Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill. However, 6'4" 215 pound receivers that run the forty in 4.36 seconds don't typically hang around that long. Even though Hill is raw from playing in Georgia Tech's run heavy triple option offense, he'll start getting looks in the late teens. He'll have to get by a good amount of wide receiver needy teams before he makes his way to the end of the first round and the Ravens have a shot at him.

    Rueben Randle of LSU and Alshon Jeffrey of South Carolina could also be first round options for the Ravens, but depending on Jeffrey's pro day, they both could be a bit of a reach at that spot. 

1. Left Guard

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    Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh have stated it time and time again, and this shouldn't come as a shock to anyone. The top need for this year's draft, assuming it isn't addressed in free agency, has to be left guard. 

    Ben Grubbs was a smart, vocal leader on the offensive line and his presence will be missed. I have a sneaking suspicion that he may have made Bryant McKinnie seem a little more effective at left tackle at times last season as well. 

    Evan Mathis would have been a nice addition and would have allowed some more flexibility on draft day, but obviously it didn't pan out. Harbaugh has stated a few times that he thinks Jah Reid could be the answer but I don't know how many people are actually buying into that, in fact I don't know how much John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome believe it either, as indicated by their courting of Evan Mathis.

    Wisconsin center Peter Konz could be an option at pick 29, but the Ravens have had success drafting interior lineman in mid rounds before. In fact, Marshal Yanda, Casey Rabach and Edwin Mulitalo were all drafted in either the third or fourth round. If there's a receiver or linebacker that they have ranked higher on their board at that point, they may be inclined to demonstrate the "best player available" philosophy and pass on Konz. 

    That being the case, Midwestern State's Amini Silatolu would be a viable second round option for the Ravens. Brandon Washington of Miami could also be a strong option should he be available in the third round.