After only two days of free agency, the Baltimore Ravens have lost five starters from last season. This list could go up to six as soon as tomorrow too, if Ed Reed's visit with the Houston Texans is going as well as reports are saying.
The Ravens always pride their front office as being an intelligent one that has a plan. So far Ozzie Newsome's plan has been pretty unexpected with so many key players leaving the Ravens in mass exodus. Add in the Ray Lewis and Matt Birk retirements, and already there are seven starters gone from last season.
This is clearly a time of transition to a younger team. Since most of the top free agents from this year have already been signed, there's plenty of reason to believe Newsome will retool his roster through the draft. Sure, he might sign a few cheep free agents later on, but in all likelihood more value with be found in the 2013 draft class.
Here's a look at eight players that will likely be available when the Ravens are on the clock. All of these players could fill a need and maybe even make this bizarre free agency period seem worthwhile someday.
The Ravens had hoped to get Dannell Ellerbe back at middle linebacker for the 2013 season, but the Miami Dolphins beat them by offering significantly more money. Now without Ellerbe, the Ravens are ridiculously weak at middle linebacker. Their projected starters would be Jameel McClain, who is still recovering from a spinal cord contusion, and the largely unproven Albert McClellan.
The draft should change that though, as the Ravens' 32nd pick in the first round puts them in a great position to snag a young middle linebacker. It's also the position where they could get one of the most talked about sports figures of 2013, Manti Te'o.
Te'o was projected as high as the top five before the fake-girlfriend scandal and his slow 40 times at the combine created a steep fall down the draft board. Some experts even have him out of the first round altogether now.
Te'o has done a good job putting the scandal behind him, though, and he's also shown solid leadership abilities throughout his time at Notre Dame. He has the potential to be Ray Lewis's heir and actually has some similarities with the recently retired linebacker. Both players exited college as undersized players with major chips on their shoulders and questions about whether they could make it in the pros.
Even though John Harbaugh was unimpressed by Teo's 40-yard dash, Te'o could still redeem himself at Notre Dame's pro day. As one of the most talented linebackers in the draft, Te'o could fill the Ravens' vacancy at middle linebacker for years to come.
The nose tackle position was the Ravens' greatest weakness on defense last season. Terrence Cody simply has not developed into the starter that he was expected to be and there's little optimism that he'll suddenly get it together in his fourth season.
Instead of starting Cody, Ozzie Newsome could look into drafting Alabama's Jesse Williams. It wouldn't be surprising at all with Newsome's known affinity for Alabama and the fact that they consistently have a scary-good defense.
Jesse Williams could fill that need at defensive tackle. He recently turned in a great performance at Alabama's pro day where he showed off his speed and athleticism.
Despite his size, there's clearly a lot of athleticism that Williams has to offer. He didn't even play football until he was 15 years old and transferred to the Crimson Tide after two seasons at Western Arizona Community College. He then started on the defensive line for both the 2011 and 2012 national champions teams.
Unlike Cody, Williams did a tremendous job stuffing opposing running backs. He's also claimed to max out benching 600 pounds. With both frightening strength and surprising athleticism, Williams could be a steal late in the second round.
By this point of the draft the Ravens are going to want to address the void left from Anquan Boldin's departure. Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones will likely slide into the starting roles, however, both receivers are speedsters that excel at catching the deep ball.
While those are good skills to have, the Ravens need either a current player or a new one to line up in the slot.
Stedman Bailey led the nation with 25 receiving touchdowns last season. He's a versatile player who figures to go in the later rounds mostly due to the fact that he's only 5'10".
Bailey is a solid technical player who focuses on the details. His quarterback, Geno Smith, praised him as "the best route-runner in college." Bailey also has strong hands and he shows tremendous physicality in his routes.
Boldin will be a difficult player to replace, but Bailey has some similar qualities that could help him succeed if he landed in Baltimore. Bailey also could have a chip on his shoulder with teammate Tavon Austin getting attention as one of the top receivers in the draft.
Bernard Pollard is already gone and Ed Reed could soon be following him. That signifies major transformations in the Ravens' secondary, which could potentially need two new starting safeties.
There's never any guarantee that a fourth-round pick will start his rookie season, however Ray-Ray Armstrong looks to be a good pick here and not just because of his first name. Armstrong is a versatile safety who could be plugged in at strong or free safety, or even at cornerback.
Armstrong played his first three collegiate seasons with the University of Miami. However, he unfortunately fits into the school's negative stereotypes as well. He was dismissed from the program after being dishonest during an investigation. His dismissal led to him sitting out football last year, which makes him a risky pick.
Armstrong has had decent showings during his workouts so far and he seems dedicated to making a strong comeback. He's a violent player with the speed and range to cover both sidelines. If his comeback is successful, Armstrong could prove to be a mid-draft steal.
Injuries are a big reason why Michael Mauti will likely be picked in the fifth round or later. He recently suffered an ACL injury that brought his career at Penn State to an early conclusion.
If Mauti can recover, he can add more depth to the Ravens' middle linebackers. Mauti can defend well against both the pass and the run. He's also a sure tackler that doesn't fall for running backs' attempts to get by him.
It's also worth noting the leadership qualities that Mauti showed during arguably the most tumultuous season in Penn State history. Mauti loyally stayed with the program and helped lead a team that was banned from bowl eligibility to a respectable 8-4 record.
It always helps to have good depth at the cornerback position. Lardarius Webb's return will be a big boost to the unit as a whole, yet he's torn his ACL twice in four years. If there are complications in his recovery process the Ravens will need multiple corners to step in and replace him.
After four seasons at Ohio State, Travis Howard has improved into an aggressive run defender. He also does a good job matching up physically with receivers and preventing them from making big plays.
He'll need to work on a lean build and also an inability to wrap up when making tackles. He's also given up too many big plays, although he has compensated by picking off four passes his sophomore year. That, along with with his NFL-ready speed, suggests Howard could work himself into a backup role sooner rather than later.
In case either of the Alabama players don't work out, the Ravens will need someone else that could push for playing time at defensive tackle. Although he might lack the strength to succeed in a 3-4, Josh Boyd is versatile enough that he could be plugged in across the defensive line.
The major problem with Boyd appears to be his average size, which could scare teams off. He displays decent speed and does a good job keeping his pad level low.
Boyd may need to bulk up and find a way to improve his stamina, since he doesn't usually do much after his initial move. Definitely a developmental pickup here, but one with promise if he adjusts to the pro game well.
A gruesome ACL injury has destroyed Marcus Lattimore's draft stock to the point where he could very well be someone who goes in the seventh round. It's also basically understood at this point in his recovery that Lattimore won't contribute until 2014.
Because of this, any team that needs a running back in 2013 is going to want to look elsewhere. This could lead to Lattimore dropping all the way to the end of the draft and potentially landing with the Ravens. There's no space for him right now as a starter with Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce creating a very dangerous tandem in the running game.
Beyond 2013, things could potentially change. Rice has been dominant for four seasons now and as much as Ravens fans hate to say it, a decline will likely be coming in the next couple years. Also, if Pierce plays as well as he did late last year, someone could try to trade for him after 2013.
Drafting Lattimore could provide insurance should Rice get injured or Pierce traded. Or it could be something as simple as challenging for the third-string running back spot since sometimes players are unable to entirely recover from an ACL tear. Hopefully Lattimore will be able to do so and regain the potential he showed in his freshman season, when he ran for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns.