The Ravens traded out of the first round in the 2012 draft, taking LB Courtney Upshaw in the early second. Barring a trade down this year, who could they take?
The Baltimore Ravens are coming off of their Super Bowl victory a changed team—but not a worse one, at least on paper. That doesn't mean all of their roster holes are taken care of, however. At the very least, they need to add a wide receiver, a strong safety and a starting inside linebacker via this week's draft.
Let's take a look at five players the Ravens could be considering using their first-round pick (32nd overall) on this year and the pros and cons of each.
The Baltimore Ravens lost two key inside linebackers this offseason when Ray Lewis retired and Dannell Ellerbe left in free agency. While they signed free agent Rolando McClain, his $700,000 2013 salary and recent arrest don't necessarily mean he'll remain on the roster once the season starts. As such, it's a position the Ravens must address, and they could potentially do so in the first round.
If so, then LSU's Kevin Minter is an inside linebacker they'll be considering. A standout on a defense full of them, Minter had 130 tackles, 15 for a loss, four sacks, five pass breakups, a forced fumble and an interception in 2012.
In terms of size and speed, Minter is a perfect NFL inside linebacker. He's fast and physical and rarely misses tackles. He can keep up with tight ends and slot receivers as well as make significant plays against the run—which is exactly what the Ravens need. When a player can stand out, as Minter did, on an all-around good defense like LSU's, you know he'll play well professionally.
There are very few drawbacks to Minter's game, and he seems to be a perfect use of the Ravens' first-round pick. Though he's coverage-capable, he didn't do much of it in college so that may be an area in which he starts slow this year. However, among the inside linebackers the Ravens could take in the first round, none seem to fit Baltimore as well as Minter.
Draft experts have been mighty interested in the Ravens taking Notre Dame inside linebacker Manti Te'o to help fill the holes left by the departures of Dannell Ellerbe and Ray Lewis. Despite Te'o's disappointing showing at the BCS Championship Game against the Alabama Crimson Tide offense, he's still considered one of the top inside linebackers of the draft class.
Te'o had 113 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks and seven interceptions in 2012.
Te'o is all about effort, and he works incredibly hard, which means that any shortcomings in his game will be addressed quickly and thoroughly and without complaint. He's got great football instincts and intelligence and works hard to track and get to the football—and whoever happens to be holding it. Te'o is an enthusiastic tackler and plays aggressively.
Te'o is still trying to improve his coverage skills. That weakness, combined with a general lack of speed, could make him a liability in pass defense or could force him to be a two-down linebacker. With the Ravens not just lacking starting linebackers on the inside but also overall linebacking depth, they'd be better off getting more bang for their buck and finding an inside linebacker who has already proven himself capable of playing all three downs.
While the Baltimore Ravens found a free-agent safety, Michael Huff, to replace Ed Reed, they still need someone to take on the starting strong safety job that most recently belonged to Bernard Pollard. This is a positional need they can potentially meet in the first round with Florida International's Jonathan Cyprien.
Cyprien notched 93 tackles, four interceptions, five pass breakups and a forced fumble in 2012.
While Cyprien's 40-yard dash time was 4.6 seconds, it doesn't adequately reflect how quickly he plays on the field. Cyprien hits hard, is always around the ball and can handle running backs as well as receivers and tight ends. Though he's a small-school prospect, his Senior Bowl performance shows he can hold his own with the so-called "big boys," helping his draft stock enough to make him a sensible pick for the Ravens at the end of Round 1.
Cyprien could serve to improve his coverage skills, but at the very least as a strong safety he won't be asked to cover as much as his free safety counterparts. Otherwise, there are very few negatives about Cyprien. If safety is what the Ravens are after in the first round, they could do far, far worse than use the pick on Cyprien.
When the Baltimore Ravens willfully traded away wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick, they knew they'd be creating quite the hole in their offense. While they have receivers currently on the roster who may be capable of filling it—Tandon Doss, LaQuan Williams, Deonte Thompson—it's also quite likely that they use their first-round pick to address it.
One of those receiver options is California's Keenan Allen. He had 61 catches for 737 yards and six touchdowns before missing the final three games of the 2012 season with a knee injury. Allen is also a talented punt returner, averaging 14 yards per return with one touchdown in 2012.
Allen's size and speed are both quite good for a wide receiver, though he's much faster on the field than when strictly running a 40-yard dash. Though not a traditional deep threat, the Ravens don't particularly need that—they have Torrey Smith, after all. What they do need, however, is a reliable possession receiver who can get a bit physical in the middle of the field, and Allen projects to be just that.
Allen's disappointing 40-yard dash time at the scouting combine, though not the final indication of anything, could hurt his chances of being a first-round pick for the Ravens or any team, considering that one of a receiver's greatest assets is his speed. A red-flagged combine drug test also could scare the Ravens off. He could also use some work on his route running. That wouldn't have been a major issue if Cam Cameron had remained offensive coordinator, but with Jim Caldwell calling the plays, he'll need to be more versatile.
Another strong safety prospect the Ravens could be considering in the first round is Florida's Matt Elam. Unlike Jonathan Cyprien, Elam projects to be a pure strong safety in the NFL, making him a perfect fit for one of the Ravens' most glaring holes.
Elam had 76 tackles in 2012 including nine for a loss, four interceptions, two sacks, a forced fumble and five pass breakups.
Elam is an extremely hard-hitting safety with excellent speed and strength. He has great ball instincts and conditioning and has displayed the necessary versatility of a strong safety, working well against the run, in the pass rush and in coverage. The trademark of Baltimore's defense is toughness, and Elam would certainly fit that mold.
Elam's hard-hitting ways can sometimes be a liability when he plays recklessly, which may slightly turn the Ravens off from him. Though solid in coverage generally, he could be better when asked to play man-to-man. The fact that he's just 5'10" is a drawback in coverage, as well—though he has the speed and strength to disrupt receivers and tight ends, the lack of height could cost him a few too many catches.