Since coming to Baltimore in 1996, the Ravens have had very successful draft classes, drafting future Hall of Famers Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, and Ed Reed and also drafting very good NFL players like Peter Boulware, Jamie Sharper, Chris McAlister, Edwin Mulitalo, Jamal Lewis, Adalius Thomas, Todd Heap, Terrell Suggs, Jarret Johnson, Ovie Mughelli, Jason Brown, Haloti Ngata, Dawan Landry, Ben Grubbs, Le'Ron McClain, Joe Flacco and Ray Rice.
This year, the Ravens are faced with a very complex situation. Despite going 11-5, the Ravens have many needs. They need a deep threat at wide receiver and a guy to replace tight end Todd Heap when he departs. The Ravens have other needs, but what kind of assistance will Joe Flacco get?
Who are the possible targets?
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland: Today, Silver Spring, MD native and star wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey put on a show at Maryland's Pro Day. Heyward-Bey has a Ravens workout scheduled for Mar. 23 and will catch passes from Joe Flacco, and sounds excited to catching passes from the strong-armed quarterback.
"That will be great," he said after delivering a strong performance in position drills. "Flacco went to Delaware and did a great job last year. I could go there and be a weapon for them. We could grow together...write that."
Last year, for Maryland, Heyward-Bey had 42 receptions for 609 yards and scored five touchdowns. Heyward-Bey is a fast wide receiver, as he ran a 4.30 40-yard dash at the combine. Heyward-Bey, 6'2", was very consistent in his years at Maryland.
The main strength for "DHB" is his vertical ability. He may be the best vertical threat in this year's draft. Heyward-Bey also makes difficult catches look easy and breaks press coverage without much exertion.
However, Heyward-Bey isn't a very polished wide receiver and is a project in that way. As far as the NFL goes, Heyward-Bey could be the No. 1 Ravens receiver in 2010 with Derrick Mason on edge of retirement.
Scouts compare Heyward-Bey to Roddy White of the Falcons, who was incredible this year for the Falcons, finishing with 88 receptions, 1,382 yards and seven touchdowns.
Kenny Britt, Rutgers: Last year for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, wide receiver Kenny Britt carried the offense. He had 87 receptions, 1,371 yards and seven touchdown catches.
The Knights, stung by the loss of running back Ray Rice, started 0-3. Britt's heroics propelled Rutgers to a solid 8-5 record as Britt had 100 yards in seven of the last nine games, including 197 against Army and 173 against South Florida.
For a guy who stands 6'3", 218 pounds, Britt was impressive at the combine. He ran an official 4.47 and benched 225 pounds 23 times. Scouts compare him to Dwayne Bowe of the Kansas City Chiefs, who has been good his first two years in the NFL, as he fell five yards short of 1,000 in 2007 and had 1,022 this year.
Britt is an excellent route-runner, a very good blocker, has sure hands and breaks tackles on almost every reception. However, he doesn't have the speed the Ravens might need to beat the safeties deep and also has questionable effort and determination.
Overall, Britt would be a nice fit because he can block well and the Ravens will need it with the three-headed monster they have in the backfield with Willis McGahee, Ray Rice and Le'Ron McClain. The Ravens could also benefit from a sure-handed receiver like Britt, as quarterback Joe Flacco suffered from a lot of tipped interceptions and misjudged passes.
Hakeem Nicks, UNC: While the Ravens should be looking for a tall receiver, if Hakeem Nicks is available at the 26th pick, team GM Ozzie Newsome could disregard height and draft UNC star receiver Hakeem Nicks. Nicks stands just 6'1", but has a high football IQ and shines his brightest in big time.
Nicks breaks tackles and has had good chemistry with his quarterbacks throughout the years in high school and college, even when they weren't very competent. The only glaring hole in Nicks game is his separation and speed.
While he is a flat-out playmaker, he doesn't gain much separation and, like Britt and not Heyward-Bey, he isn't a burner and won't outrun NFL corners.
Worst-case scenario, Nicks is the next Jerricho Cotchery. But he could be as good as T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Last year, Cotchery was good for the Jets, with 71 receptions, 855 yards and six touchdowns. Meanwhile, Houshmandzadeh, now a Seattle Seahawk, had 204 receptions and 12 touchdowns the last two years of his Cincinnati Bengal career.
Nicks ran a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash, but doesn't have Heyward-Bey speed. Last year, Nicks had 68 receptions, 1,222 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Ravens have the 26th overall pick, but the team with the 25th overall pick, the Dolphins, have shown great interest in Nicks and could snatch him a pick before the Ravens.
Percy Harvin, Florida: While Heyward-Bey, Britt or Nicks are guys who could very well end up in a Baltimore Raven uniform, one of the least talked about prospects to end up in the purple is athletic Florida receiver Percy Harvin.
Harvin, a 5'11", 197-pound junior, ran a 4.37 40-yard dash and is the second fastest receiver in this year's draft, behind only Heyward-Bey. Harvin has the playmaking ability to be a great player, but don't take my word for it: "Percy is the most dynamic player I've ever coached and can change the game on any given play," Gators coach Urban Meyer said.
"He has the best first step I've ever seen and his ability to plant his foot and go is unmatched. Percy is a relentless competitor who wants to win."
Should the Ravens draft Harvin, he could have the impact Chris Johnson had with the Titans this year. Harvin had 1,303 total yards this year, along with 17 touchdowns.
Harvin is a very elusive guy who is tough to bring down in the open field and since he hasn't yet polished into a No. 1 receiver, could the best yet be to come? However, he has some injury troubles and his role on an NFL team is in question, as he was primarily a wide receiver, but got plenty of rushes.
Also, he is rather small, at 5'11", 197 pounds. He is very similar to former Cowboy quarterback Quincy Carter, who threw for 6,337 yards, 32 touchdowns and 37 interceptions in four NFL seasons.
Brian Robiskie, Ohio State: One of the dark horse wide receivers in this year's draft is Ohio State's Brian Robiskie. Robiskie, 6'3" and 209 pounds, had 42 receptions, 535 yards and eight touchdowns for the Buckeyes last season.
While his numbers aren't great, he was in an offense that had two inexperienced quarterbacks in Todd Boeckman and Terrelle Pryor that had a heavy dosage of running with Pryor and No. 1 running back prospect Chris "Beanie" Wells.
Robiskie has great speed, as he was a member of the Ohio State 4x100 relay team and is faster than his 4.5 40-yard dash time. He could make a great possession receiver and has great football IQ, as his father is the wide receivers coach for the Atlanta Falcons.
While Robiskie is speedy, he doesn't have burner speed and his blocking isn't very reliable and that could hurt. The Ravens need a deep threat and a guy who can block well, as the Ravens are a run-heavy offense.
Williams, a 2004 first-round draft pick, has been solid every year except last season, when he combined for just 430 yards and and two touchdowns. However, from 2004 to 2007, he totaled 3650 yards, averaging 912.5 per year. Williams and Robiskie are both similar height and both have great speed and knowledge for the game.
Ramses Barden, Cal Poly: If the Ravens get unlucky and all the receivers they target are off the board, Ramses Barden would be a great late-round pick. Barden's stock has gone up mainly because of his height.
Barden, the tallest receiver, stands an astonishing six feet six inches. He not only has the height of a great receiver, he has the production. Last year, he had 1,257 yards and scored 18 touchdowns for the Cal Poly Mustangs.
While some Ravens fans are scared he could be a reincarnation of Clarence Moore, he draws comparisons to Saints receiver Marques Colston, who has averaged 1,000 yards a season his first three years in the league.
They are similar sizes (6'6"/228 and 6'4"/225) and Barden's leaping ability also draws comparisons to that of Cardinals superstar Larry Fitzgerald, who was all to familiar to the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles, and Pittsburgh Steelers during the playoffs.
Barden, however, isn't very fast, as he ran a 4.61 during the 40-yard dash and is not very elusive. Also, his hands, route running and separation aren't dazzling, and that's what the Ravens may need out of a wideout.
So Oz, do you take a speedster, a sure-handed guy who is quite tall, a clubhouse guy, a playmaker, a smart football player or a Marques Colston clone?
Brandon Pettigrew, Oklahoma State: One of the offensive players at the top of the Ravens board is Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Pettigrew stands 6'5" and 263 pounds and caught 42 passes for 472 yards for the Cowboys last year.
He has outstanding size for a tight end and being that Joe Flacco is very similar to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Pettigrew could be Flacco's Heath Miller. Pettigrew has outstanding size, he's a great blocker and has big, soft hands for a tight end, tools that could help the Ravens immensely.
While speed is not a need for a tight end, it is a concern. He ran a lackluster 4.85 40-yard dash and his route running and football IQ are questionable.
However, Pettigrew is a great talent and reminds most of Cowboys star tight end Jason Witten, who gained 952 yards last year. While Pettigrew doesn't have the speed a guy like Vernon Davis does, he's just like Witten in that he can catch, block and is the complete tight end.
Pettigrew's great blocking could help the Ravens a lot, but his catching abilities can't be trusted.
If he expects to be the Ravens version of Heath Miller or the next Jason Witten, his catching must improve, as the Ravens will need not only a deep threat at wide receiver, but a tight end who can be trusted in the short passing game.
Jared Cook, South Carolina: Brandon Pettigrew is the most touted tight ends in this year's draft, but Jared Cook is a great prospect. As a senior for South Carolina, he had 37 receptions, 573 yards and three touchdowns.
He's extremely athletic, is a much better pass-catcher than Pettigrew, has outstanding speed, great ball skills and can stretch the field like Todd Heap used to. Cook is the opposite of Pettigrew.
Cook's a great guy to throw to when you need the third down conversion, but is not a very good blocker, while Pettigrew is the opposite. However, blocking can be taught at the NFL level, while teaching a tight end how to catch better will be more of a project.
Cook would be a great second round pick for Baltimore and would eventually be the Ravens starting tight end should Baltimore snatch him. He's a guy I would trust more in a two-minute drill—possibly more than Todd Heap.
His blocking is going to need to improve if he expects to last with the Ravens, as the Ravens are a run-heavy team and with youngsters such as Willis McGahee, Ray Rice and Le'Ron McClain, I don't expect that to change. He's a rare talent for a tight end, and could be a great fit for the Ravens.
Shawn Nelson, Southern Mississippi: Shawn Nelson, the second fastest tight end in the draft (4.56), had a solid season for Southern Miss, with 53 catches, 557 yards and three touchdowns.
At 6'5", 246 pounds, he is also ideal height for an NFL tight end, and he also possesses rare speed, athleticism and separation for a tight end. He is exactly in between Pettigrew and Cook.
He's faster than Pettigrew but slower than Cook, can't catch as well as Cook, but better than Pettigrew, he's not as good a blocker as Pettigrew, but a little better than Cook. Nelson was fairly consistent throughout his career, averaging 513.5 yards per season in his tenure.
Nelson could be in the Ravens reach, also, as he is expected to be a pick late in the second round, where the Ravens have the 57th pick. Nelson may not be a good fit with the Ravens considering he can't block especially well and has a tendency to drop easy passes.
However, his athleticism may attract Ozzie's attention.
Nelson may or may not fit the Ravens mold - that hasn't been seen yet. But, he definitely has the potential to play in the NFL and have a competent career as a tight end.
Cornelius Ingram, Florida: At the combine, Florida tight end Cornelius Ingram was impressive for a guy who didn't play one snap all year. His 6'4" height will be fine; he has reliable hands, which he exhibited at the combine.
Also, he's fast as lightning crossing to the middle of the field and often catches them. In 2007, he was solid, with 34 receptions, 508 yards and seven touchdown receptions for the 9-4 Gators.
Ingram's stock was hurt by his ACL injury, but he impressed me at the combine, as he ran a 4.68 40-yard dash, fourth fastest for tight ends, had a 33 inch vertical and had an impressive 7.12 time at the three-cone drill.
Ingram, like Nelson and Cook, isn't as powerful as Pettigrew as a blocker. He was mainly known in college as a guy who catches passes and lacks bulk, which is why he isn't a sensational blocker.
Unless there is a player who falls drastically into the Ravens hands that Ozzie can't refuse, it is likely the Ravens will take a wide receiver in the first round and take a tight end in the second or third round, and Ingram could be a third rounder and be a good way to start off the second day of the draft for the Ravens.