Biggest Questions Baltimore Ravens Must Answer over Draft Week
It’s officially the week of the 2014 NFL draft, and fans of the Baltimore Ravens will finally get answers to their most pressing questions. Since we only have a few days to ask those questions and fiercely debate the answers, here’s a final look at the biggest questions general manager Ozzie Newsome and Co. must address.
These are questions that impact the Ravens’ short-term success and long-term viability, but we will have answers (at least premature ones) by this time next week.
Will the Class of 2014 Have a Greater Immediate Impact Than Its Predecessor?
As soon as the draft is over, the interwebs will be flooded with various experts and their draft grades. Then those draft grades will be revisited after the 2014 season to re-evaluate the rookies. It’s a fun exercise, but a somewhat hollow one.
Obviously, every team wants to find rookies that can come in and be stars from Day 1, but finding immediate starters is much more challenging than you would think. According to John Eisenberg of BaltimoreRavens.com, only five percent of the rookies find themselves in starting lineups across the league.
Of the Ravens' 2013 draft class, only one player—Matt Elam—became a full-time starter and Marlon Brown was the only other rookie to make a significant contribution to the team.
While that’s not ideal, it’s far more important that draft picks pan out over the long haul than finding immediate success.
That said, Baltimore has a couple of open starting spots that could be filled by rookies and the depth of this year’s class suggests that the new Ravens could be more impactful than any of the recent draft hauls collected by Ozzie Newsome.
We won’t know for sure—there are always surprises and busts—after the draft, but we should have a good idea of which rookies will come in and challenge incumbents for major playing time.
With four picks in the first 100 at his disposal and the deepest draft class in recent memory at his fingertips, hopefully Ozzie Newsome can snag at least a couple of prospects that will turn into regular rotation pieces as soon as this season—ideally at free safety and right tackle.
How Much Faith Does the Team Have in Its 2013 Draft Picks?
This question may not be answered definitively, but the positions drafted and when those picks are made will speak volumes about how the front office views their young players.
For example, both head coach John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome have explicitly stated that an inside linebacker will almost certainly be drafted despite the selection of Arthur Brown last year (per Ryan Mink of the official team website).
If the team drafts a late-round linebacker, that would imply they are at least optimistic that Brown is ready to take on a larger role this year. If, on the other hand, the Ravens snag C.J. Mosley in the first round or Chris Borland in the second, it’s a sign that Brown isn’t where the team hoped he would be after trading up to grab him in Round 2 of the 2013 draft.
Likewise, if the Ravens wait until Round 3 or later to add a right tackle, that would speak volumes about how highly they think of Ricky Wagner as a potential starter.
After having a limited impact last year, significant improvement is expected of the 2013 draft class. The selections in the upcoming draft might just reveal which of those 2013 picks is panning out and which ones are underwhelming.
How Early Will Baltimore Pull the Trigger on a Running Back?
Of every position on the board, running back is the one that the Ravens are definitely drafting—that is not in question. The need is clear, and the depth/talent of the class means that quality backs will be available even with Baltimore’s last pick of the draft.
What is unclear is when the team will spend a pick on a back.
The value of the position is decreasing rapidly thanks to the short shelf life and the tremendous success of late-round (and even undrafted) running backs in recent years.
Will the Ravens be content to let the dominoes fall where they may and scoop up whichever player falls to them on Day 3, or will they be proactive in trying to shore up the position with a Day 2 pick?
Can Baltimore Give Joe Flacco a Receiving Corps for the Future?
Despite adding veterans like Steve Smith and Owen Daniels to the roster, it would surprise nobody to see the Ravens draft a wide receiver and/or a tight end. Given the current depth chart, it would be easy to wait until the middle rounds to make those selections but waiting too long would be unwise for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, the Ravens have been poor drafters when it comes to the wide receiver position. Whether that’s due to missing on picks, the inability to develop receivers, or both is unclear. One thing that definitely plays a factor is the team’s reluctance to spend early-round picks on the position.
This isn’t a call for Baltimore to draft a first-round pass-catcher, but it would be nice to see the team add a receiver (either a wideout or tight end) in its first four picks in an effort to add a true difference maker.
Furthermore, Steve Smith and Owen Daniels are old. Torrey Smith is a free agent at the end of the season. This receiving corps—probably the best one of Joe Flacco’s career—could look significantly worse next year and the Ravens can’t afford to let that happen.
The bulk of this offseason has centered on making life easier for Flacco, and that should continue into the draft. Whether it will remains to be seen.
Can the Ravens Once Again Find Undrafted Gems?
Baltimore is one of best drafting teams in the league because they capitalize on the market inefficiencies by hoarding compensatory picks and focusing on the undrafted free agents. Last year it was Marlon Brown that ended up shocking everyone and becoming a fixture in the receiving corps.
Assistant GM Eric DeCosta announced in the pre-draft press conference that the team sees approximately 180 draftable players in this pool—a very good sign considering that the number is normally closer to 140-150.
That should mean a number of very talented players wind up without a team at the end of the draft and the Ravens will have a chance to pounce and add even more young players to the roster.
Will we see another gem like Brown, Dannell Ellerbe or Bart Scott? If so, it will be another reminder of why we trust in Ozzie.
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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