It is no secret what the Baltimore Ravens will be focusing on in the 2014 NFL draft: offensive firepower. The Ravens are currently ranked No. 29 in total offense and will need to draft playmakers to surround quarterback Joe Flacco next season.
In 2013, the Ravens used their first four draft picks on defense in an attempt to get younger and faster on that side of the ball. GM Ozzie Newsome and the front office will take this same approach in 2014. However, the focus will be on the offense this time.
After the season, the Ravens will have a number of key players entering free agency. Left tackle Eugene Monroe, who was acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a fourth- and fifth-round pick earlier in the season, and right tackle Michael Oher are both free agents who could leave two massive holes on the offensive line.
Tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Jacoby Jones will also be free agents at season's end. Pitta has been one of Flacco’s favorite targets in his four seasons, and he is expected to make his season debut in Week 14, according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun.
Let’s take a look at six potential offensive weapons the Baltimore Ravens could target in the first round of next year's NFL draft. As of Week 13, the Ravens would hold the No. 12 pick in the first round.
All players listed, according to Bleacher Reports own Matt Miller, have first-round grades.
While Lee has had an injury plagued junior season, he is still one of the top playmakers in this year’s draft. In 2012, Lee was a unanimous first team All-American and the winner of the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver.
There is no question that the USC star has the talent to be drafted within the top 10. However, his injury history could drop him back into the mid-to-late first round.
Lee would be a great complementary receiver opposite Torrey Smith. He is a complete receiver who can make plays across the middle of the field and is also a viable deep threat. Lee is arguably the most NFL ready receiver in this draft. He can come in and have an immediate impact on the Ravens’ offense.
Richardson isn’t exactly an “offensive weapon.” However, he could be a necessity for the Ravens. With both starting tackles slated for free agency, Baltimore will be looking to secure Flacco’s blindside with one of their first picks in the draft if neither Monroe or Oher is re-signed.
The 6’6”, 310-pound junior plays with a mean streak that all coaches love at the tackle position. Playing in the SEC, Richardson has seen his share of talented defensive ends and has the experience to play right away.
This is not the glamorous pick that Ravens fans want to see, but Richardson can help solidify an offensive line that needs to get younger quickly. If the Ravens do opt to take a lineman with their first pick, look for them to trade up because of the plethora of picks they possess.
One of the Ravens’ offseason priorities will be re-signing tight end Dennis Pitta to a long-term contract. Pitta and quarterback Joe Flacco have a great relationship, both on and off the field, but the the former will have multiple suitors come free agency this offseason.
If the Ravens are unable to re-sign Pitta, they will look to the draft to find his immediate replacement, and Jace Amaro fits the bill very nicely. Amaro has ideal measurables for an NFL tight end at 6’5”, 260 pounds, and his playing style has been compared to Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Amaro not only has great hands, but he is one of the best blockers in this draft class. If the Ravens target Amaro in the first round, he can help open up the play-action passing game, one of Flacco's biggest strengths.
While the Ravens are one of a few teams who draft for value over necessity, Amaro could be too good of a talent to pass up in the first round.
Much like Richardson, Kouandjio is another option the Ravens should look at to help with the potential youth movement along the offensive line. The ties between the Ravens and the Crimson Tide are no secret, and Newsome tends to favor his alma mater on Draft Day.
While Kouandjio’s performance earlier in the season was nothing to write home about, he has made up for that recently. He has outstanding feet, and at left tackle, he can both pass-block and run-block extremely effectively.
Also, in the 2013 NFL draft, we saw five tackles go in the first round, including three within the top-four picks. So, if the Ravens feel that Kouandjio is the long-term solution at left tackle, they may have to trade up to land him. Kouandjio is widely considered to be one of the top-three best tackles in the draft and will draw interest from multiple teams.
The Ravens do not have a history of moving into the top 10 to draft one specific player. However, if the asking price is right, the Ravens could land their starting left tackle for the next decade in this range.
Thomas is the most explosive player in college football and has the ability to play multiple positions at the next level. With the evolution of the NFL today, players like Thomas and current NFL wide outs of his ilk, like Tavon Austin and Wes Welker, are extremely effective. While the Oregon standout is listed at only 5’9” and 170 pounds, he should run the fastest 40-yard dash time at the combine and is a serious weapon in space.
If the Ravens do not re-sign Jacoby Jones, Thomas can fill the void of both punt and kick returner, an area where he thrives. But the most effective area for Thomas will be in the slot against most teams’ third cornerback.
With Tavon Austin drafted being draft at No. 8 overall a year ago, look for Thomas to crack the top 15 of the first round. He is not quite as polished as Austin as a receiver, but in the backfield, he has a knack for finding running lanes and exploding through them.
Thomas would add a game-changing dimension to the Ravens’ offense, and he could quickly become one of Flacco’s favorite targets. Look for the Ravens to pull the trigger on Thomas if he is available during their selection.
Evans is only a redshirt sophomore, so it is unclear whether he will enter the 2014 NFL draft. But if he does, he should be the Ravens’ No. 1 priority.
Evans is exactly the kind of player the Ravens are missing in their offense this season—a big, strong wide receiver who isn’t afraid to make plays.
The Texas A&M stud had a breakout season this year and has seen his draft stock soar over the past three months. His playing style is very similar to that of former Raven Anquan Boldin. However, Evans is taller and faster.
Evans is listed at 6’5” and 225 pounds, and he is a matchup nightmare for an opposing defense. Evans makes plays all over the field and will line up inside or outside the numbers. His elite playmaking ability is something that the Ravens desperately need with the loss of Boldin. He would be a steal if the Ravens could pick him in the middle of the first round.
Flacco will immediately have a new favorite weapon if Evans is a Raven in 2014. Wide Receiver is the team’s biggest weakness right now, and Evans not only fills that need but adds exceptional value as well.