The Biggest Questions for the Baltimore Ravens Heading into the 2013 NFL Draft

Mike FastContributor IMarch 31, 2013

The Biggest Questions for the Baltimore Ravens Heading into the 2013 NFL Draft

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    With 12 picks in the 2013 NFL Draft at their disposal, the Baltimore Ravens are sitting pretty right about now.

    They won the Super Bowl eight weeks ago, re-signed Joe Flacco after his record-setting playoff run (11 touchdowns, zero interceptions) and somehow snagged an elite NFL pass-rusher in Elvis Dumervil.

    With a younger team in the works, the Ravens will be in fine position to pursue another Super Bowl in 2013. They have their offense in tact with depth at every position and are remodeling their defense in hopes that it's remarkably better than the one that finished 17th overall in 2012.

    While Baltimore's roster may be improved by next season, so to will be the quality of its opponents.

    Home games against Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and league MVP Adrian Peterson, as well as road games against Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall, are sure to test this new defense.

    It stands to reason, even given Baltimore's recent success, it needs to get better. Just ask head coach John Harbaugh, who recently said (h/t Ryan Mink, BaltimoreRavens.com), “[Y]ou’re either getting better or you’re getting worse, and we need to get better in everything we do.”

    Here are five questions facing the Ravens as they look to get better through the NFL draft.

Who Will Be Their 1st Pick?

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    Arthur Brown is likely one of the Ravens' top five prospects, pending who they project to be available at No. 32.

    Brown is likely to be taken between the middle and the end of the first round. Besides him, Jesse Williams from Alabama is a player whom Baltimore is likely coveting as well.

    Williams is a prototypical Raven. He's big (6'3", 323 pounds), strong (30 bench press reps of 225 pounds) and loves football.

    Since the 2011 season at Alabama, Williams went 25-2 (two losses by a combined eight points), including two consecutive national championships.

    That is impressive enough.

    But the fact that Williams helped the Crimson Tide defense post seven shutouts (overall, 13 games giving up less than 10 points) is simply amazing. In other words, Alabama recorded shutouts in 26 percent of its games in the last two years.

    Williams was a big part of Alabama's success, and he shows no signs of letting up. If Baltimore wants to get back to dominating on defense (and particularly in the run game), drafting Williams would really help the team do that.

Who Will Be Their Next Impact Safety?

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    Though the Ravens signed Michael Huff to take Ed Reed's free safety position and strong safety James Ihedigbo to a one-year deal, they should still add at least one safety to their roster before training camp begins.

    Kenny Vaccaro (strong safety, Texas) is likely to be gone by the middle of the first round, so if Baltimore wants to draft a safety in the first round, it'll likely be looking at either Matt Elam (free safety, Florida), John Cyprien (free safety, Florida International) or Eric Reid (free safety, LSU).

    Of the bunch, Reid experienced the most collegiate success, helping the Tigers compile a record of 34-6 since 2010. Except for the National Championship after the 2011 season, each of those losses was by eight points or less.

    Reid showed excellent physical ability at the combine, and by watching his tape, you'll see his instinct and passion is as good as any safety in this draft.

    He's a blue-chip prospect who should definitely be available at the end of the first round. If the Ravens were to select Reid, they likely will not have to answer questions about the safety position for a long time.

Will They Draft a Tight End?

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    The good news is Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are under contract for the 2013 season.

    The bad news is they are both unrestricted free agents after the 2013 season.

    According to spotrac.com, the average cap hit in 2013 of the top 10 highest-paid tight ends is $6,844,391.70.

    The Ravens currently have four tight ends on their roster counting as a combined $4,156,000 against the cap. As you can see, the market is going to make them spend a lot more money next year to retain even one of their two key tight ends.

    By way of performance (10.5 yards per reception and 10 touchdowns in seven career starts) and chemistry with Flacco, Pitta is the better player, but Dickson is no slouch.

    As it's not a pressing need this year, if the Ravens do draft a tight end, it'll probably be a mid-round selection.

Will They Draft a Quarterback?

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    How long will Tyrod Taylor be a Raven?

    There's nothing to suggest either Taylor or the Ravens are displeased with one another. At the same time, he's entering his third year with the team and is obviously the backup to Flacco for the foreseeable future.

    Taylor is talented, and the other NFL teams know that. He has two years left on his current contract, meaning if he re-signs with Baltimore after that, he'd potentially be backing up Flacco through his (Taylor's) eighth season.

    The odds of the Ravens taking a quarterback are low, but is there one on their board we don't know about that they are high on? It's certainly possible.

    Baltimore probably knows the market for Taylor and might trade him on draft day to acquire another pick, with which it could select someone it thinks is better.

    You never know.

Who Will Be Their Next Middle Linebacker?

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    Ray Lewis is retired. Dannell Ellerbe is in Miami.

    Even with those two players on the field last year, Baltimore's defense (except in the red zone) was below average. Particularly, the Ravens run defense was downright awful at times.

    It's safe to say the Ravens are looking at drafting a middle linebacker early in the draft, but who has caught their eye?

    Arthur Brown is an excellent candidate for the job if he's available.

    His NFL.com comparison is NaVorro Bowman of San Francisco. If you follow NFL linebackers, you know that is very high praise.

    Brown made 100 tackles in 2012 and 101 tackles in 2011, and he led Kansas State to a 21-5 record in those two seasons. He's a flat-out winner.

    Just watch this highlight. As you can see, Brown flies to the football and defeats blocks as if it was second nature. He's a two-time team captain who is rarely in the wrong position, which can't help but influence those around him.

    Like Lewis, Brown started his college football career at Miami and is seen as "too small" to play middle linebacker in the NFL.

    If Baltimore had to choose one player in this draft to take over for Lewis, Brown would be an excellent choice.