The NFL draft is just over a month away, which means we're firmly entrenched in mock draft season.
Let's take a closer look at what a series of experts from around the media have projected the Baltimore Ravens will do with their first-round pick and how on or off the mark they seem to be with the selection.
Most interestingly, the five experts we'll look at here—ESPN's Todd McShay and Mel Kiper, CBS Sports' Pat Kirwan and consensus picks from WalterFootball as well as Drafttek—all have a different player heading to Baltimore with their 32nd overall pick. Even the position selected varies between the experts.
Mel Kiper, ESPN: S Matt Elam, Florida
With the Ravens cutting strong safety Bernard Pollard and the future of free safety Ed Reed yet to be determined, ESPN's Mel Kiper believes the Ravens will use their first-round pick to shore up the safety position by taking Florida's Matt Elam.
Given Elam's skill set—talented in coverage, good at blitzing, able to make stops at the line of scrimmage—he could play either strong or free safety position based on the Ravens' needs.
He had 76 tackles, four interceptions, two sacks and a forced fumble in his 2012 season.
Kiper notes that the Ravens' biggest needs are on defense and that it's possible they take an inside linebacker or pass-rusher with this pick as well. If Reed leaves for the Houston Texans or elsewhere, however, the safety position becomes a major first-round priority.
Inside linebacker is yet another important position for the Ravens to address in this year's draft, with Ray Lewis retiring and Dannell Ellerbe now with the Miami Dolphins. As such, ESPN's Todd McShay believes they'll take care of the issue early on in the 2013 draft, taking Notre Dame's Manti Te'o 32nd overall.
Te'o's 40-yard dash time at the scouting combine was concerning, as well as his excuse that his slow showing was the result of stress. Even more concerning was how he looked in the BCS title game against Alabama, where he was outmatched play after play and missed tackles in a manner which we hadn't seen all season.
Even McShay concedes that Te'o may not be suited to play all three downs in the NFL. If that's the case, then the Ravens, who need a three-down inside linebacker, will likely turn elsewhere.
Te'o's draft position rests heavily on how teams perceive him. If he cannot be an every-down starter in Baltimore out of the gate, the Ravens will pass.
Pat Kirwan, CBS Sports: ILB Kevin Minter, LSU
CBS Sports' Pat Kirwan also has the Ravens taking an interior linebacker in the first round, but instead of Te'o, he has projected LSU's Kevin Minter to be their pick (he also doesn't have Te'o being selected in the first round).
Though Minter also had a disappointing 40-yard dash at the combine, his on-field performance in 2012 was a bit more consistent than Te'o's, playing fast on the field and tackling well and aggressively.
The Ravens need accuracy, run-stopping skills and speed for their next starting inside linebacker, and Minter has all of those traits without any of Te'o's media circus baggage.
If inside linebacker is the Ravens' first-round focus and Minter and Te'o are both on the board when the Ravens make their pick, Minter's the better selection.
WalterFootball.com: OLB Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
Noting the Ravens' predilection for taking draft prospects who slide on the first day and their need to improve their pass rush with Paul Kruger heading to the Cleveland Browns in free agency, the staff at WalterFootball has the Ravens taking Texas A&M outside linebacker Damontre Moore.
Moore didn't have a strong outing at the combine, with just 12 bench press reps (per NFL.com) and a slow 40-yard dash, which has contributed to his slide. But other teams' nerves could be the Ravens' gain. Moore had 85 total tackles in 2012—including 21 for a loss—along with 12.5 sacks.
The pass rush is certainly a priority for the Ravens this year, so it wouldn't be surprising if they address it in the first round. If Moore is still there, he's definitely an option.
Drafttek: ILB Arthur Brown, Kansas State
Drafttek is the third set of experts of these five who have the Ravens addressing the inside linebacker position with their first-round pick; Kansas State's Arthur Brown is also the third different inside linebacker that has been mocked to the team in this group of five.
This is a rather interesting pick. Brown was a middle linebacker in college, and though he was successful at it—with 100 tackles, two interceptions and a sack in 2012—his size issues could push him to the outside in the NFL.
However, someone with that versatile of a profile could be of use to the Ravens in the first round, considering they need to make additions at both inside and outside linebacker.
Brown's stock is on the rise and he could very well be a first-rounder come April's draft. As of now, this seems too early a pick for him.
Unsurprisingly, all five of these experts have the Ravens addressing defensive positions in the first round. Safety as well as inside and outside linebackers are certainly positions the Ravens will address in the draft, simply because they must.
Who they choose, however, will have as much to do with their own board and their needs as it does with who gets selected prior to their 32nd overall selection.
All five of these players are unquestionably in the mix for Baltimore. Minter and Elam seem to be the best fits out of all of them. Brown is still more of an unknown at this point, but that doesn't mean he lacks first-round talent.
Among these five picks, Te'o seems to be the least likely to land with the Ravens, considering how he looked in the BCS Championship Game, the scouting combine and the potential distraction he could be in the locker room.
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