Baltimore needs to nail the draft to return to how it ended last season: with the Lombardi Trophy on their table.
The lopsided Super Bowl marked the end of the 2013 season, and what better way to bring in the new football year than with a Baltimore Ravens mock draft?
Only one year ago, it was the Ravens that were basking in the post-championship high, but their championship defense came up just a tad short. To avoid the sting of losing in 2014, here's how the Ravens need to attack this draft.
Before we talk prospects, here is some key information for you to keep in mind as you're glancing through this mock draft.
For starters, as much as I'd like to nail every one of these picks, it's not going to happen. We generally get caught up in the accuracy of mock drafts, but that's not what they're about.
This mock draft aims to give you an idea of the Ravens' biggest needs and some of the best players available that will catch the eye of general manager Ozzie Newsome.
In addition, the Ravens only have four draft picks—right now.
There are, however, 32 compensatory picks to be handed out around the league. The Ravens figure to benefit from those, just as they normally do—fun fact: the Ravens have received the most compensatory picks in the NFL since the league started awarding them.
Baltimore lost free agents Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger and Cary Williams—since Ed Reed was cut by the Houston Texans, he won't factor into the formula—to relatively lucrative contracts and all three players saw significant playing time for their new clubs.
On the other hand, the Ravens didn't sign any unrestricted free agents so they should receive at least three compensatory picks from the league.
Given the uncertainty of the picks, this mock draft proceeds with the assumption that the Ravens will have a pick in every round and doesn't factor in trading picks—something Newsome has shown a fondness for.
Now, to the podium where the Ravens are on the clock!
It would be truly surprising if the Ravens didn’t select a wide receiver in the first two rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft.
There is plenty of young talent in the receiving corps (like Marlon Brown, Deonte Thompson, Tandon Doss and Aaron Mellette), but it would be asking a lot for either of them to develop into a top-notch secondary option for the passing attack.
Fortunately, this draft is stocked with playmakers in Rounds 1 and 2.
The Ravens could wait until the second round to give Joe Flacco another weapon to play with, but the upside for the first-round receivers is much higher.
In the middle of the first round, this pick will likely come down to Marqise Lee vs. Mike Evans, and you can’t really go wrong with either player.
Lee is more polished right now, however, and his innate ability to gain separation from defenders and make big plays puts him above Evans on my draft board.
Because of his dynamic playmaking skills, Bucky Brooks of NFL.com believes that Lee will be the best wideout from this class when it’s all said and done:
At the end of it, Marqise Lee will be the best receiver in the draft when it comes to playing because he is so explosive. He has the ability to score from anywhere on the field. We got a glimpse of how special he was in the Vegas Bowl when he was healthy. You saw the Marqise Lee that lit up everyone in 2012. I think he has the ability to be a difference-maker for any team in any role at the next level. There are few people that can do what he does with the ball in his hands, and I'm including Sammy Watkins and Brandon Coleman and all these other receivers out there.
Lee gives Baltimore the type of game-changing, Percy Harvin-esque receiver unlike anything to ever walk through M&T Bank Stadium.
Even if the Ravens re-sign Eugene Monroe, they’ll still need a starting right tackle.
There are certainly cheap free agents that could fill that void (like Eric Winston or Zach Strief), but the front office may want to find a long-term bookend for the offensive line.
If that’s the case, look no further than Morgan Moses.
Moses isn’t a well-known name among casual college football fans, but he put himself on the map with an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl.
Rob Rang of CBS Sports detailed how Moses boosted his draft stock through his Senior Bowl performance:
At 6-foot-6, 325 pounds, Moses possesses the frame you'd expect of a dominating run blocker and he showed the ability to clear wide rushing lanes throughout the week. Moses boosted his stock this week, however, by providing reliable pass protection, demonstrating the arm length (34 3/4"), balance and surprising athleticism teams are looking for in a top-64 selection.
His pass protection still needs refinement, but Moses already possesses the toolbox to be an excellent Day One starter at right tackle on the other end of the line from Monroe—a man he calls his “big brother” according to Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com.
With a limited number of draft picks, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Newsome trade back in the third round to accumulate more picks and land the player mocked in Round 4.
But for right now—three months from the draft—we’ll assume the Ravens keep all of their picks.
Baltimore has long been a proponent of drafting the best player available as opposed to drafting for need, but this pick would be the best of both worlds.
Matt Elam developed nicely last year, but he was at his best playing close to the line of scrimmage as a traditional strong safety. For that to happen, the Ravens need to add a prototypical free safety—someone who can cover a lot of ground on the back end, make plays on the ball and come up with interceptions.
Jimmie Ward may just be the best cover safety in the draft, and he was the best coverage defender at the Senior Bowl, according to Rob Rang of CBS Sports:
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 was excellent for a good Northern Illinois team this year, but his lack of ideal size (5'11", 192 lbs) and the underwhelming competition he faced in the MAC caused many scouts to overlook him.
That all changed at the Senior Bowl, however, where Ward was consistently outplaying—and outsmarting—his peers from bigger programs en route to Most Outstanding Defensive Back honors.
I showed them how comfortable I am playing against some of the nation's best players and that I can cover. I can show my tackling skills when Saturday comes, the game. Basically, I really just showed them I'm a versatile player.
While it would be dangerous to field two young safeties, Jimmie Ward is ready to be a defensive center-fielder in the Ravens backfield.
The Ravens currently have zero tight ends on the roster, so I guess you could say that it's a position of need in the draft.
Tight ends that are freakish athletes with good hands are the next big thing in the NFL, but that doesn't mean that the more traditional tight ends are any less valuable.
Former NFL scout Bucky Brooks broke down the necessity for both players on your roster:
When you think about the way the position is evolving in the league, you need to have one of each. You think about your traditional blocker with that move guy that can kind of create matchups.
Whether or not the Ravens re-sign Dennis Pitta, they still need a mean, mauling tight end who can open up running lanes.
C.J. Fiedorowicz is that guy.
As Matt Miller discusses in the above video, Fiedorowicz is the best blocking tight end in this class, and his massive 6'7", 265-lb frame mean that he's ready to block in the NFL right now.
But what's intriguing about him is that he showed off his receiving skills at the Senior Bowl. He talked to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun about his hidden skill set:
I can show teams I'm a blocker, but I can also stretch the field. I can take the top off the defense and be a dual-threat tight end. The NFL has a lot of tight ends who can only block or only be a receiver, but I was able to do both at Iowa.
His all-around ability may push him higher up draft boards as the process continues, but he's a player the Ravens are sure to covet in this draft.
If the Ravens re-sign Corey Graham, cornerback isn't a big need for the team.
They finished the second half of the season without No. 2 CB Brandon Browner and ended the Super Bowl without Richard Sherman on the field—granted, the game was already over, but injuries happen.
Aaron Colvin probably won't be able to contribute in the 2014 season after he tore his ACL in a Senior Bowl practice, but the Ravens have proven that they are happy to stash a talented rookie on IR—just look to Kapron Lewis-Moore from last year's draft.
Colvin was initially projected to be a Day 2 pick, but his injury will cause him to slide into Day 3.
If he's around in the fifth round, the value is too good to pass up, even if he misses his entire rookie season.
Coy Wire, an analyst for Fox Sports, provided a quote from an NFL scout in attendance at Senior Bowl practices that show you why the Ravens should pounce on Colvin this late in the draft. Defensive backs coach Clayton Lopez revealed that Colvin was having "a really good camp." So good, in fact, that Lopez thought "he was the best corner out here."
You can never have enough good cornerbacks, and Colvin would be a tremendous value this late in the draft.
This late in the draft, you're lucky just to find solid rotation players (unless you're the Seahawks and you find the bulk of your roster here). That's what Taylor Hart can be, but he also has big upside in the right defense.
Hart has excellent length and size to play as a 3-4 defensive end in the NFL, but he's willing to do whatever it takes to succeed at the next level according to Dan Greenspan of NFL.com:
I'm willing to play whatever any coach would like me to play. It's just learning new things to be even more versatile and show how I can play any style of defense.
With the departure of Arthur Jones looming, Baltimore may need to address their defensive line earlier than this, but Hart can be a solid member of the depth chart from Day 1.
None of the Ravens running backs were even average last year, but most of that should be attributed to atrocious offensive line play and nagging injuries for both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce.
Despite that terrifying performance, neither back is in trouble for next year. That doesn't mean, however, that the Ravens aren't looking to add a running back in the draft.
Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com reported some of what head coach John Harbaugh had to say on the matter:
I’ve had a lot of conversations with Ozzie [Newsome] and with Eric [DeCosta] and our different scouts about that, and our coaches, too. Yes, we want to have as many weapons as we can at our disposal. Big backs, fast backs, quick backs, route-running backs that you see around the league—we want to chase all those guys.
Well, David Fluellen is that big back.
At 6'0" and 215 lbs, the Toledo product has plenty of size and he uses it well with his bruising running style. He doesn't have breakaway speed or good skills in the passing game (either as a blocker or a receiver), but he knows how to work downhill.
Baltimore struggled to convert short-yardage situations last season, and a big back like Fluellen would help in that endeavor.
Even if it's a rare circumstance, short-yardage conversions are important and Fluellen is great value in the last round of the draft.