On the one hand, Baltimore Ravens fans can be disappointed with the 2013 performance of their team. On the other hand, they can be excited with a higher draft pick than general manager Ozzie Newsome is accustomed to.
I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy, so I can’t wait to see how the Ravens address their needs in the 2014 draft. Here’s a quick look at some of the best fits that would thrill the front office if they materialized on draft day.
First, we need to highlight the needs. That task isn’t too difficult this year, although free agency may change that. If we needed any help, Newsome made it clear. According to Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com, the GM highlighted three specific positions where an upgrade was in order: wide receiver, offensive line and free safety.
Tight end is another position where the Ravens are thin, but how they fix that will depend on whether free-agent Dennis Pitta remains a Raven.
This slideshow hones in on those four positions and identifies the best fits to fill those roster holes as well as some other candidates.
Marqise Lee, USC
Marqise Lee had a down year; there’s no denying that. But that was due to nagging injuries, questionable play-calling and inconsistent quarterback play.
In the Las Vegas Bowl, Lee looked healthier than he had all season and displayed his quickness and long speed en route to seven receptions for 118 yards and two TDs (albeit against a shaky Fresno State secondary).
Lee has everything you want from the wide receiver position: speed, route running, excellent hands and the ability to gain consistent separation from defenders.
He’s a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands and also has the explosiveness to take the top off defenses. There’s nothing the former Trojan can’t do, and he would be a tremendous value pick (given his talent and polish) in the middle of the first round.
Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Many Ravens fans are clamoring for Mike Evans to be the pick in the first round, and it’s not hard to see why. You only have to look at him.
He’s a monster, at 6’5” and 225 pounds. Even in the NFL, he’ll have a significant size advantage against most cornerbacks, where he can win jump balls and box out defenders to create space. Remembering a happier time when Joe Flacco was lofting up jump balls to Anquan Boldin in the Super Bowl, Evans seems like a natural fit for Baltimore.
And he would be. Just not over Lee.
Evans has plenty of physical tools, but there are some concerns over his lack of speed. He’s a long strider with underrated deep speed, but he hasn’t yet showcased the quickness or footwork to gain separation from cornerbacks and break quickly out of routes.
He certainly has the ceiling of a dominant NFL receiver, but there is also the chance that he never learns how to frequently get separation at the next level. He’ll always be a red-zone force, but he’s not as safe as Marqise Lee.
Allen Robinson, Penn State
Allen Robinson is an intriguing prospect whose position on various draft boards will vary quite considerably. Some will view him as one of the best receivers in the class, with solid measurables that Rob Rang of CBSSports highlights well:
Robinson, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior, is the physical prototype, blending great size, strength and acceleration to project as a future NFL star. He's much more fluid than his lanky frame would suggest and showed great power and determination in this contest, fighting off would-be tacklers to generate yards after the catch.
Furthermore, his route-running ability stands out on film, as Rang points out:
As the clear focal point in head coach Bill O'Brien's quick-hitting pro-style attack, Robinson isn't just talented, he's developing into a polished route-runner and hands-catcher. He's used on a variety of routes which just make his projection to the NFL that much easier.
Robinson is a fundamentally sound receiver who the potential to turn into a star. He might be a reach in the middle of the first round, but the Ravens will have no qualms about snagging him if they rate him that highly.
Zack Martin, Notre Dame
If you tuned in to any of the Senior Bowl practices, all you heard were glowing reports about Zack Martin—and for good reason.
The only drawback with Martin is his size. He’s 6’4”, 304 pounds and doesn’t have long arms. In other words, he looks more like a guard than a tackle, and that may drop him down draft boards. But plenty of teams regret passing on elite talent and technique because of size (have you heard of that Russell Wilson guy?).
Martin’s technique is exceptional. He has very quick feet, uses his hands extremely well and doesn’t make mistakes. It’s that last part that is particularly alluring for a Ravens offensive line that didn’t know what it was doing for most of 2013.
Furthermore, he boasts tremendous versatility and possesses the intelligence to play all five positions. Mike Mayock of NFL Network discussed his floor as a prospect:
Martin dominated elite pass-rushers all season and did it again at Senior Bowl practices. His stock is rising fast, and he’d be a steal with the 16/17th pick. Many view him as a guard at the next level, but he will get a crack at being a tackle. Chances are, his team will like what it sees.
Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
Cyrus Kouandjio has the potential to be an All-Pro left tackle. He has plenty of talent in addition to the requisite size, athleticism and nastiness to be a dominant NFL tackle, but his inconsistency is a concern.
His technique slips at times, and he’s caught playing too tall or reaching for defenders. That is nitpicking for the most part, however.
Kouandjio was excellent for the Crimson Tide and he would be an elite right tackle (assuming the Ravens are able to re-sign Eugene Monroe). It might be a bit nerve-wracking to start him at left tackle in his rookie year, but he would be a very solid pick to upgrade the offensive line.
Antonio Richardson, Tennessee
At this point, Antonio Richardson is a second-round target for the Ravens, but he would be quite the gem if he lasts that long.
He certainly looks the part, at 6’6” and 332 pounds. His size is a virtue, but his quickness and athleticism may actually be his best traits. He fared well against top-notch pass-rushers in the college game, and he has the strength to be a road-grader in the NFL.
There is definitely work to do from a technical standpoint, as he can lose leverage and doesn’t display good hand placement, but the talent is there. Richardson is a right tackle for the moment, but he has the potential to be a Pro Bowler.
C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
Labeling C.J. Fiedorowicz as the “best fit” is making the assumption that Dennis Pitta is re-signed. We’ll get to replacement options (if Pitta walks) in a second, but let’s continue as though the Ravens are looking for a second tight end to pair with Pitta.
There is no better choice than Fiedorowicz. He’s built like a vending machine, standing tall at 6’7” with plenty of bulk on his 265-pound frame.
The former Hawkeye uses his body to be a dominant blocker that can manhandle defenders, and that blocking ability alone would be a welcome addition to the Ravens' depth chart. He would be a significant upgrade over Ed Dickson as an in-line blocker, but Fiedorowicz also showed at the Senior Bowl that he can make plays as a receiver, too.
Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun touched on why Fiedorowicz had been catching the eye of numerous NFL scouts:
Iowa's imposing C.J. Fiedorowicz is playing in the Senior Bowl and has impressed NFL scouts and coaches this week with his blend of size and mobility. He's a throwback to the days when tight ends were mauling blockers who could also provide a downfield threat when called upon.
While he has the potential to be a No. 1 tight end, that won’t be the case without at least a couple of years of seasoning. Alongside Pitta, however, Fiedorowicz would thrive. If he’s there in the third round, the Ravens can’t pass on him.
Eric Ebron, North Carolina
Eric Ebron is only a realistic target if Pitta leaves Baltimore, but there might not even be a drop-off with this rookie.
The 6’4”, 245-pound Tar Heel is an unbelievable athlete with the speed and hands to become a top-notch receiving threat from the tight end position. He did a tremendous job of working the middle of the field and down the seams at Chapel Hill, where he accumulated 62 receptions for 973 yards last year.
Blocking isn’t his strong suit, but he showed noticeable improvement in that department over last year, so he may develop into a solid blocker with a few years of coaching.
Ebron is definitely going off the board in the first round, but he would be a worthy replacement for Dennis Pitta.
HaHa Clinton-Dix, Alabama
It is very unlikely that the Ravens pull the trigger on a first-round safety in back-to-back years, but Clinton-Dix fills a need.
In his end-of-year press conference, GM Ozzie Newsome mentioned a “rangy, athletic safety” as one of the biggest needs this offseason, and Clinton-Dix is the best free safety prospect in this draft.
He would give the Ravens a dangerously young safety duo, but both are incredible athletes with boatloads of talent and could develop into the best safety tandem in the league.
It would be a scary proposition for the Ravens’ starting safeties to have one combined year of NFL experience, but there’s no denying the talent.
Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
This is the more likely pick that will upgrade the free safety position, but Ravens fans should be happy if they land Jimmie Ward on the last day of the draft.
The Northern lllinois product impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl and consistently showed off the ability to make plays on the ball. Here’s what Rob Rang of CBSSports had to say about the former Huskie:
Scouts knew heading into the Senior Bowl that Ward possessed the fluidity and instincts to cover but competition in the MAC is much different than in Mobile. Athletic enough to handle deep coverage, as well as slide down to cover slot receivers, Ward was the Senior Bowl's most impressive pass defender this year.
Ward will likely slip down draft boards due to his weak conference, but he can be an excellent ball-hawking safety in the NFL. The Ravens could probably snag him in Rounds 3-5, and that would be excellent value for someone who will be a starter down the road