Baltimore Ravens fans are well-aware that they are one of the best defensive teams in the NFL, and have been for the last decade or so. However, they chose to go the safe route and draft another defensive player instead of solidifying their offensive line.
In the first round on Friday, they drafted former Alabama superstar linebacker/defensive end Courtney Upshaw as the 35th pick in the 2012 draft, but they have already been criticized for not going after offensive help. They drafted running back Bernard Pierce out of Temple in the third round of the draft (84th overall).
The Ravens were supposed to have the 29th pick of the draft (which is near the end of the first round), but they swapped their first-round choice with the Minnesota Vikings for the 35th-overall pick (second round) and also a fourth-round selection.
Upshaw, who was on an Alabama team that won the 2011 national championship, is a potential impact defensive player who can add protection to Terrell Suggs. He recorded impressive numbers in his four years with the Crimson Tide; he finished his career with 140 career tackles and 16.5 sacks. Last season was his best after he registered 51 tackles, 8.5 sacks and one interception on their way to success.
So yes, Upshaw seems to have a bright future in the NFL, and the Ravens could definitely use the help with the loss of outside linebacker Jarrett Johnson, but who would have been a better selection for the Ravens in the first round?
Check out my top five list of the players the Ravens should have pursued to fortify their offense.
The New England Patriots selected ILB Dont’a Hightower as their first-round pick (25th overall) of the 2012 draft, and he would have made a great addition to the Ravens defensive line (yes, I realize he’s part of the defensive line, but the Ravens need to look for someone who will be able to replace Ray Lewis). Obviously, he was chosen before the Ravens even were able to select, but it would have been nice if he stuck around a bit longer.
With the Crimson Tide, the 6'2", 235 lb. Tennessian recorded outstanding numbers with Alabama and was easily the leader of the ’11 champs. In his three seasons with the Tide, he finished with 234 career tackles, four sacks and 25 quarterback pressures; he’s a monster out there and one of the more intimidating young, up-and-coming college athletes.
The Ravens need one or two linebackers, either inside or outside, and Hightower definitely would have been the best choice. Of course, the Ravens are in need of more offensive help, as previously mentioned, so they probably did not even have him on their radar.
But, the Ravens' first selection was a defensive end, so who knows exactly what their strategy is this year.
The Cincinnati Bengals selected outside guard Kevin Zeitler as the 27th-overall pick in the draft and their second selection of the year. The 6'3", 315 lb. offensive player out of Wisconsin was the second-highest OG selected in the draft behind David DeCastro, who seemed to have been on many teams’ radars.
According to the draft statistics, Zeitler led all of college guards in knockdown blocks with 142 and 33 blocks that resulted in touchdowns. He was only the second-ever guard to be taken by the Bengals in the first round, according to cbssports.com. He seems to be a favorite on the offensive line, and that could have really helped the Ravens.
He’s also been one of the most consistent blockers in the nation; he’s great at run-blocking, which is something the Ravens could use to fortify their offensive line. He played in all 13 games for the Badgers last season, received honorable mention, and he was part of the All-Big Ten. He would have been a great choice for the Ravens; he was just nabbed a bit early.
The Green Bay Packers selected defensive end Nick Perry out of the University of Southern California 28th in the NFL draft; he was the fourth overall defensive end chosen this year. The 6'2", 271 lb. DE could also man the outside linebacker position, which the Ravens are in need of as well; he would have been a perfect fit for the Ravens.
Perry led the Pac-12 with 9.5 sacks last season and was named USC’s defensive lineman of the year. In his career with USC, he’s compiled 55 tackles, including two forced fumbles. Although he has not played too many games in his young career, he has great potential.
This defensive end is a great athlete, and he’s very quick with his hands; his agility and ability to move in space quickly, yet quietly, is very important. He’s explosive and has a very quick first step. Not only is he fast, but he’s an intelligent end with the awareness to succeed at the NFL level.
The Houston Texans drafted defensive end Whitney Mercilus 26th in the first round of the draft. The 6'3", 261 lb. DE out of Illinois is a bit undersized at his position, but he has a huge heart and has the ability to be one of the better underrated players in the NFL draft.
In his short career with Illinois, he recorded 52 tackles. He failed to impress in his first two years in college, but really broke out in his junior year last season. He won the Ted Hendricks Award, given to the best DE player in the league, as he recorded 16 sacks, nine forced fumbles and 22.5 tackles for loss.
Mercilus excels with his speed; he is one of the quicker players in the draft, and that is definitely one of the aspects of his play that drew him to the Texans and other teams for that matter. Although, he is a bit hesitant, but with experience at the NFL level, I’m sure he’ll grow intro himself and become more confident.
The Carolina Panthers selected outside guard Amini Silatolu 40th in the NFL draft, and although he wasn’t chosen that high, I think he would have been a good fit with the Ravens. The 6'3", 311-pounder out of Midwestern State did not face as much competition coming from a small school, so that might be one of the questions concerning him.
Silatolu is ranked third on the top guard prospects behind DeCastro and Zeitler, both previously mentioned, according to cbssports.com. Even though he’s from a division two school in Midwestern State, he’s still drawn the attention of many scouts, and obviously the Panthers, as he’s fast, mean, agile and very strong.
Although he has a large frame, he’s able to get out of the shoot quickly and he’s very nimble. He was named to the First Team All-American in the AFCA and First Team All-LSC last season. One of the only concerns is whether or not he’ll be able to flourish as a guard at the NFL level due to how fast he can pick up the offensive schemes.