4 2014 NFL Draft Picks That Could Be Opening-Game Starters for Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens need to nail the 2014 NFL draft to bounce back to Super Bowl contention in 2014. Fortunately, they have one of the deepest draft classes in recent memory at their disposal to restock the shelves that were left bare after the championship parade.
In a normal draft, you generally expect to add definite starters in the first round—at least where the Ravens usually pick—but this year’s draft class is special. General manager Ozzie Newsome will be able to find starting-caliber talents all the way into the third round. As such, it makes sense to familiarize yourself with some possible draft picks that could be in the starting lineup for Week 1.
The following players cover a range of positions and projected draft rounds, but obviously the Ravens won’t be able to add all of them. These are players who are attainable targets and can step in to fill the team’s four biggest needs: right tackle, free safety, defensive end and inside linebacker.
Zack Martin, RT, Notre Dame
Zack Martin has been a common pick for the Ravens in numerous mock drafts, and for good reason. Baltimore still lacks a reliable starting right tackle, and Martin can step into the shoes of the departed Michael Oher and do a better job from day one.
Ricky Wagner is an intriguing developmental tackle, but he didn’t show us enough in a limited 2013 role to assure us that he can be a starter in 2014. Newsome needs to bring in a legitimate starting-caliber lineman, and that’s what he would undoubtedly add if he drafted Martin.
Some may question Martin’s size and arm length, projecting him inside to guard, but he’s shown the quickness and intelligence to handle the tackle position and has dominated every challenge put in front of him during the pre-draft process.
Furthermore, Martin is a great fit for Gary Kubiak’s blocking scheme—a fact that was noted by NFL Media analyst Charley Casserly on NFL Network's Path to the Draft: "I like him as a technician. He can slide his feet and plays the run equally well as the pass. ... If you're going to run Gary Kubiak's scheme, where you need athletic tackles to cut block on the backside, Zack Martin would be the better fit."
There’s a fairly good chance Martin is available at No. 17, and the Ravens would get a long-term starter at right tackle (with the versatility to play across the line) from the second he walks into rookie minicamp.
C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
This pick would truly test Ozzie Newsome’s “best player available” mantra after spending a second-round pick on the position last year. But despite that fact, there is some uncertainty about the inside linebacker position.
According to Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com, head coach John Harbaugh wants to bolster the depth chart at the position by adding “at least one, maybe two guys.”
This pick all depends on how the coaching staff feels about Arthur Brown, but it would make sense to draft Mosley if it has any doubts about his ability to step in as a starter this season. Mosley is going to fall down boards because of the positional value of inside linebackers, but he’s easily one of the more pro-ready prospects in the draft and is clearly the best middle linebacker prospect.
Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN (Insider required) had this to say about the team that drafts Mosley: "You get a player who brings great instincts and effectiveness against the run. He is the best coverage linebacker in the draft. If he stays healthy, Mosley is a special player at the position."
Mosley is a day-one starter and could form a dominant duo up the middle of the defense once Brown has reached his full potential.
It would be somewhat of a surprise to see the Ravens draft him in the first round, but he would be a steal at that point.
Jimmie Ward, FS, Northern Illinois
Jimmie Ward is generally the third safety mentioned in this class behind Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, but he could very well be the best pro prospect of the bunch. Considering the fact that the current starting free safety is a combination of Darian Stewart, Jeromy Miles and Omar Brown, Ward would easily be the starter in Week 1, and he’d be the perfect complement to Matt Elam in the defensive backfield.
In fact, Ward would be a fitting replacement for Ed Reed, given his phenomenal range and ball skills.
At the next level, Ward figures to be used primarily as a ball-hawking center fielder, but he is a very versatile player. Northern Illinois defensive coordinator Jay Niemann broke down the many different ways that he took advantage of Ward’s skills, per Tyler Dunne of the Journal-Sentinel:
He was playing in deep zones. He played in underneath zones. He played down as an eighth man in the box. He played man to man on slot receivers. He blitzed. I mean, he did everything. While I’m sure they wouldn’t use him that extensively within a system in the NFL, it does show you that he can do a lot of different things.
For an in-depth breakdown of Ward, you should check out Matt Bowen’s scouting report, but the bottom line is that he’s going to be a game-changer in the NFL despite his small-school background.
His draft stock is currently up in the air, ranging from the end of the first round to the middle of the second, so the Ravens may not have the opportunity to draft the former Huskie. If he’s around, however, it would be hard to pass up such a versatile safety.
Dominique Easley, DE, Florida
Dominique Easley has fallen down draft boards thanks to two torn ACLs, but it would be hard to pass on his talent if he’s on the board in the middle of the second round.
Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated breaks down just how big of a steal Easley could be at that point:
Put simply, a totally healthy Dominique Easley would be a lock for a top-five pick in the 2014 draft, and in my opinion, people would be talking about him as they talk about Jadeveon Clowney—he’s that good on tape. Outside of his size limitations, he’s got everything you could possibly want in a defensive lineman.
The Clowney comparison falls short when talking about overall potential, since Easley is a little undersized, but Easley was arguably the most dominant lineman in the SEC when he was fully healthy.
Baltimore has a number of young defensive end prospects like DeAngelo Tyson, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Brandon Williams to fill in for Arthur Jones, but none of them compares to Easley in terms of talent and pure disruptive ability.
The Gator is a game-wrecker with a knack for blowing up plays in the backfield, and he’d be a welcome addition to a defensive line that underachieved last year.
Shehan Peiris is B/R's Lead Featured Columnist covering the Baltimore Ravens and a co-host of Ravens Central Radio, a weekly podcast on the Pro Football Central radio network that focuses on all things Ravens-related. For the latest Ravens news, draft analysis and links to episodes of Ravens Central Radio, follow me on Twitter:
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