After losing both Dannell Ellerbe and Ray Lewis this offseason, inside linebacker will be a priority position for the Ravens.
To say the Baltimore Ravens are a team with many needs to be met in this year's NFL draft is an understatement. Though they filled the hole at outside linebacker by signing Elvis Dumervil and brought on Chris Canty to help boost their defensive line, the Ravens still need to find young players who can contribute immediately and develop into long-term solutions at myriad positions.
The Ravens aren't wanting for draft picks, however. They have their full complement of seven rounds' worth of picks as well as additional, compensatory picks in Rounds 4 through 7, one apiece. This makes the middle rounds of Baltimore's draft especially crucial ones for its long-range roster-building plans. Here are a few mid-round prospects who could very well be on the Ravens' board this year.
ILB Nico Johnson, Alabama
With Ray Lewis retiring and Dannell Ellerbe choosing to head to the Miami Dolphins as a free agent, the Ravens need to address the inside linebacker position more than once in this year's draft. They need a starter in the middle, to be sure, but the two departures also deplete their depth, so it's quite possible the Ravens use both their first-round pick and then another later on to boost the interior of their linebacking corps.
Alabama's Nico Johnson could be a good option for Baltimore in Rounds 4 or 5. Johnson is a better run defender than pass-rusher, but in a specialized role on the inside, he'll work just fine. He could contribute situationally right away and be able to take over a full starter workload after one season. Johnson is a solid tackler but not the fastest player, but with the Ravens simply lacking depth at inside linebacker, Johnson makes for a good middle-round acquisition.
S Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse
The Ravens are also without their two starting safeties from 2012, with Bernard Pollard released by the team (and now with the Tennessee Titans) and Ed Reed joining the Houston Texans. Like inside linebacker, the Ravens will likely address the safety position both early on and also in later rounds.
Free safety is currently the more important of the two positions, with no one presently on the roster who seems able to take up the mantle in 2013. Strong safety, therefore, could be the position the Ravens push off until later in the draft, which makes Syracuse's Shamarko Thomas in play in Rounds 4 or 5.
Thomas is physical and aggressive but his biggest weakness is in coverage despite his speed, which makes him well suited to take up Pollard's former position closer to the line of scrimmage to help assist the run game. He had 88 tackles, three forced fumbles and two interceptions in 2012.
WR Aaron Mellette, Elon
Though the Ravens would likely prefer to have their heir to wide receiver Anquan Boldin already on their roster, they may have to try to replace him via this year's draft. There are a lot of receivers to be had this year and the Ravens will likely have their pick of many talented players in the middle rounds, but one that stands out as a good fit in Baltimore is Elon's Aaron Mellette.
Mellette relies on his size and strength to create mismatches in coverage, much as Boldin did before him. He had 97 receptions for 1,398 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2012, and he has had at least 1,100 receiving yards in his last three seasons.
Mellette didn't play a high level of competition in college, however, which may make the Ravens a little nervous to draft him if they want a mid-round receiver to be ready to start right away. But Mellette's similarities to Boldin put him in play in Rounds 3 through 5.
DT Kwame Geathers, Georgia
While Chris Canty was among the Ravens' paltry outside free-agency acquisitions this year, he's not considered a long-term solution on the defensive line. Further, Chris Kemoeatu is a free agent and not expected back and Terrence Cody isn't terribly impressive. The Ravens need another nose tackle behind Haloti Ngata, and Georgia's Kwame Geathers looks to be an excellent option in the middle rounds for Baltimore to do just that.
Geathers is 6'5" and 342 pounds—a wall of a man who would be perfect as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. While he was part of a rotation in Georgia, notching just 40 tackles, five for a loss, one sack and a blocked kick, he's more than capable of playing every down in the NFL.