4 NFL Draft Prospects the Baltimore Ravens Can't Afford to Pass Up
The Baltimore Ravens are coming off their first non-playoff season since John Harbaugh became their head coach in 2008 and after winning the Super Bowl the previous season.
Needless to say, this team still has plenty of talented players to build a championship contender. If the Ravens have a good draft this year, they'll not only be right back in the playoff picture, but they could ascend to the top of the AFC North.
With two weeks left in the 2013 regular season, they sat at 8-6, one game behind the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals. Despite their weaknesses, they were in position to win the division with a Week 17 matchup vs. the Bengals looming.
Ultimately, the Ravens lost their final two games and didn't even make the playoffs. If they can just find one impact player to add to this team through the draft, it may be enough to help them win the division again.
Now it's time for a look at four players who the Ravens cannot afford to pass up in this year's draft. They are ranked by their overall ability to impact the team and in the unlikely scenario all four of them are on the board when Baltimore drafts in the first round.
4. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
After the Panthers cut Steve Smith, it didn't take long for Baltimore to convince him it was the best fit for him. The Ravens signed him to a three-year deal worth $11 million and immediately filled a big hole at wide receiver.
Outside of Torrey Smith, no other receiver had more than 524 receiving yards. Ravens wideouts only caught 13 touchdowns, and 11 of them were between Torrey and undrafted free agent Marlon Brown.
Looking at Steve Smith's 2013 numbers (745 yards and four TDs), it's easy to see he'll provide depth at the position, but if the Ravens have the chance to get a great wide receiver prospect in the draft, they have to pounce on it.
That's where USC's Marqise Lee could come into play. Once viewed as this year's best WR prospect, injuries and inconsistent QB play led to a down year for him.
"I still believe a healthy Marqise Lee can rival Sammy Watkins for what he's able to do," Brooks said. "They just flipped years. Sammy Watkins had a bad sophomore year, and Marqise Lee had a great sophomore year. Sammy Watkins had an outstanding junior year, Marqise Lee had an injury-plagued year.
"When you really look at these two guys, I think they're closer in terms of separation," he said. "These guys are talented enough that they should be in the same conversation."
In his latest mock draft, Charlie Campbell of Walter Football tabbed Lee to the Ravens:
A speed receiver like Lee could cause a lot of mismatch problems on the other side of the field from Torrey Smith. The Trojans' quarterback play held Lee back this year, plus he had a knee injury to deal with. … When healthy, Lee has the speed to stretch a defense vertically and is a threat to score on any reception.
Over his three years at USC, Lee caught 248 passes for 3,655 yards and 29 touchdowns. He's the kind of playmaker the Ravens can't afford to pass on if they have the chance to get him.
3. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
The Ravens drafted a safety in the first round of last year's draft, and they could do so again this year. They took Matt Elam out of Florida, and he turned out to be a great pick for them.
Now, they need someone to play free safety after James Ihedigbo signed a two-year deal with the Detroit Lions. Elam played out of position at free safety as a rookie because Ihedigbo was entrenched as the strong safety, but now that he's gone, Elam should go back to that role.
With Elam at SS, the Ravens must now find a FS to play center field in a defense that loves to blitz and leave the cornerbacks on an island. That's where having a good FS comes into play, and Alabama's Ha Ha Cilinton Dix is regarded by many as the best overall safety prospect in this year's draft class.
In the latest CBSSports.com mock draft, all five of the writers had Clinton-Dix as the first safety to be drafted, and Rob Rang mocked him to the Ravens.
In just 11 games last year, he finished fourth on Alabama in tackles with 46 and recorded two interceptions. He was a second-team All-American and first-team All-SEC pick.
Alabama often played with a single high safety, which effectively made him the overseer of their defense. He'd be expected to play that same role with the Ravens if they take him, which they should do if he's on the board when they're on the clock.
2. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
New Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak loves to feature tight ends in his offensive schemes, and they've made it clear they want to add another TE to complement Dennis Pitta at the position.
Head coach John Harbaugh has already said they are interested in free-agent TE Owen Daniels after the Houston Texans cut him. If they sign him, then there's no need to draft a TE early in this year's draft.
Until Daniels does sign with them, though, it remains a need for this team. It just so happens North Carolina's Eric Ebron—regarded as the draft's top TE prospect—is scheduled to visit Baltimore prior to the draft, according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun.
He exploded onto the college football scene in 2013 after catching 62 passes for 973 yards and three touchdowns. He was an All-ACC and All-American selection and a John Mackey Award finalist.
He also passed current 49ers Pro Bowl TE Vernon Davis for the most receiving yards by a TE in ACC history with 1,727 career receiving yards.
Pairing him alongside Pitta would make the Ravens one of the NFL's better passing offenses after they finished 29th in total yards and 25th in scoring in 2013.
They need more playmakers on offense, and Ebron is one of the best playmakers in this year's draft class.
1. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
As mentioned before, the Ravens are in need of another young playmaker at wide receiver. Texas A&M's Mike Evans is widely viewed as the second-best WR prospect in this year's draft class behind only Sammy Watkins, who likely won't make it out of the top 10.
With the Ravens first pick coming at No. 17, Evans may still be on the board, and if he is, he should be the pick. At 6'5" and 225 pounds, he has the size to be a big red-zone target for Joe Flacco.
He also possesses the speed to to stretch the field and keep defenses from double-teaming Torrey Smith like they did last year. Evans caught 151 passes for 2,499 yards and 17 scores in just two seasons of college football, in the SEC no less.
It just so happens he thinks that the Ravens could be a great spot for him.
Here are his comments from the NFL Scouting Combine, via Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com:
They’re a big physical team, and I’m a big, physical receiver, so I think I’d fit their scheme real well. There are a lot of great receivers in this draft, don't get me wrong, but I feel I'm the best one. I'm a fan of a lot of the other receivers in this draft. I haven't seen a draft stacked like this with receivers in a long time.
He may end up being the best WR in this year's class, and the Ravens cannot let him out of their grasp if he's still on the board when they're picking.