Baltimore Ravens' Day 1 2014 NFL Draft Primer

Jason MarcumCorrespondent IIIMay 8, 2014

Baltimore Ravens' Day 1 2014 NFL Draft Primer

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    The 2014 NFL draft is finally upon us, and the Baltimore Ravens are armed with eight draft picks this year. After a productive offseason, Baltimore will look to continue its positive momentum with a solid draft class. 

    It'll need to if it wants to ensure 2014 will be a rebound year after a pedestrian 8-8 campaign in 2013. 

    As we count down the hours to the Ravens going on the clock, here's everything you need to know about the decisions they'll have to make at No. 17, what they've done so far this offseason and how that could impact what they're going to do with their first-round selection.

Key Offseason Additions and Departures

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    The Ravens did a good job of keeping their own players, but they did lose several key ones. They lost defensive lineman Arthur Jones, cornerback Corey Graham, offensive tackle Michael Oher and strong safety James Ihedigbo in free agency.

    The biggest loss was Jones, whom Pro Football Focus (subscription required) gave a plus-15.7 grade, the third-best of any Ravens player. In 2013, Jones had 15 quarterback pressures, five sacks and 30 stops (defined by PFF as tackles that cause an offensive failure).

    Graham started five games last year but played significant snaps in all 16 games before signing with the Buffalo Bills this offseason. Losing him leaves only four cornerbacks currently signed on the Ravens roster, so replacing him will be key in this draft. 

    Ihedigbo started all 16 games at strong safety and notched 103 tackles and three interceptions, but he left to sign with the Detroit Lions. Losing him was a significant loss, and that could lead to Baltimore drafting a safety early in this draft. 

    Oher was the starting right tackle, and he's now with the Tennessee Titans. Losing him now leaves Ricky Wagner penciled in as the starter, and he played in just 131 offensive snaps in 2013. This should also be a position the Ravens address early in the draft. 

    Graham was also a significant loss, as it left the Ravens with just four cornerbacks signed to the roster. After not addressing this position in free agency look for them to do so in the draft. 



    The Ravens weren't too active in free agency, but they did sign former Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith, St. Louis Rams safety Darian Stewart and Houston Texans tight end Owen Daniels.

    They also traded a 2015 fifth-round pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Jeremy Zuttah, who is replacing Gino Gradkowski as the Ravens' starting center. During the 2013 season, Zuttah played in all 16 games, starting 14 at center and two at left guard. 

    After the Panthers cut Steve Smith, the Ravens were the first team he visited. It didn't take long for Baltimore to convince him it was the best fit for him, and it eventually signed him to a three-year deal worth $11 million.

    Smith's 2013 numbers were some of the lowest marks of his career (745 yards and four touchdowns), but he'll still be an upgrade at the position and become another weapon for quarterback Joe Flacco.

    Daniels will provide another weapon for Flacco to throw to at tight end. Last year with the Texans, Daniels missed five games due to a fractured tibia and caught just 24 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns. He did catch 63 passes for 716 yards and six touchdowns in 2012. 

    Stewart was mostly used a a backup free safety with the Rams. but he did start in three games and played in 13. He only accounted for 30 tackles and five pass deflections, and he should be used in a backup role with the Ravens. 

Positional Needs

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    The Ravens have kept it pretty close to the vest when it comes to what they believe their biggest needs are heading into the draft. They could go in a variety of directions with their first-round pick.

    The positions the Ravens most need to address are as follows:


    1. Safety

    The Ravens had one of the best run defenses in the NFL in 2013, and starting strong safety James Ihedigbo was a big reason why. He registered 101 tackles, three interceptions, 11 pass deflections and received a plus-4.7 grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required)

    That was the ninth-best grade of any Raven, and it only reflected how valuable he was to the Baltimore defense. But he was allowed to test the market, and he ended up signing with the Lions.

    The Ravens did take strong safety Matt Elam in the first round of last year's draft, and he's now expected to transition to strong safety after playing free safety in '13.

    That means the Ravens need to address the strong safety spot early in this draft. Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor are two names to watch for at safety with the No. 17 pick. 


    2. Offensive Tackle

    The Ravens let Michael Oher walk in free agency after he started every game of his 5-year NFL career since being drafted in the first round out of Ole Miss in 2009. Most of those starts came at right tackle, and his departure leaves a large void at that position. 

    As of now, Ricky Wagner is projected to be the starting RT. After being drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft, Wagner played in just 131 offensive snaps as a rookie. 

    The Ravens need to at least add some depth at this position, and after not doing so in free agency they need to do so early in this year's draft. 


    3. Cornerback

    After Corey Graham departed in free agency, Asa Jackson, Chykie Brown, Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb were the only cornerbacks left on the roster. Webb and Smith are two solid starters, but there's not much behind them. 

    Brown and Jackson combined to play just 39 defensive snaps in 2013. Cornerback is something the Ravens must address early in this draft, and they probably should draft another one later on as well. 

    At pick No. 17 in the first round, some of the top cornerback prospects who could be on the board are Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller. 


    5. Wide Receiver

    Outside of Torrey Smith, no other Ravens receiver had more than 524 receiving yards in 2013. Baltimore receivers also only caught 13 touchdowns, and 11 of them were between Torrey and Marlon Brown.

    Torrey is coming off a career-best 65 catches for 1,128 yards with four touchdown catches, but he needs someone else to take the pressure off him and prevent defenses from double-teaming him. 

    The team did add Steve Smith in free agency, but he turns 35 on May 12 and is coming off one of the least productive seasons in his 14-year NFL career.

    Adding a wide receiver with the 17th overall pick would be a good move if the right guy is on the board. USC's Marqise Lee, Oregon State's Brandin Cooks and LSU's Odell Beckham are three realistic receiver targets with pick No. 17. 


    5. Tight End

    Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels missed too many games last year due to injuries, and Daniels is only signed to a one-year deal. The Ravens need to have his replacement on the roster this season, and getting a quality tight end early in this draft can ensure they do just that.

Top Targets

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    Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama

    Many view Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as this year's best overall safety prospect, and it just so happens the Ravens are interested. Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun reported that the Ravens have already met with Clinton-Dix this offseason, and he has to be viewed as a strong target for them with their first-round pick. 

    In 11 games last year as a junior, Clinton-Dix finished fourth on the team in tackles with 46 and recorded two interceptions. He was a second-team All-American and first-team All-SEC pick. As a sophomore in 2012, Clinton-Dix played in every game and led the SEC with five interceptions. 

    Clinton-Dix does everything you'd ask of a safety and then some. He's great in coverage and can be used effectively on safety blitzes. He's also strong and durable enough to play the run. 


    Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU

    Injecting some talented youth into a thin Ravens receiving corps should be a priority for the Ravens in this draft, and LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. was one of the most productive players in college football last year. 

    Beckham was the Paul Hornung Award winner as the nation's most versatile player in 2013 when he broke the LSU single-season all-purpose yards record (2,315) and caught 59 passes for 1,152 yards with eight touchdowns. 


    Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

    The debate as to who is the best cornerback in this year's draft class has to include Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard. 

    He was the Jim Thorpe Award winner as college football's best defensive back in 2013 while recording 62 tackles, 10 pass deflections and four interceptions. 

    With so little depth at this position, Dennard will be someone Baltimore strongly considers when it's on the clock. 


    Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

    When the 2013 college football season ended, Cyrus Kouandjio was projected as a high first-round pick. The 6'7", 322-pound mauler was First-team All-American and All-SEC this past season after starting every game and dominating opposing lineman. 

    But after it was discovered at the NFL Scouting Combine he had a knee issue resulting from a failed surgery, his stock begin to plummet.

    Kouandjio is now a player the Ravens can possibly get and make the starting RT as a rookie if he can stay healthy. 


    Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

    Texas A&M's Mike Evans is widely viewed as one of the best receiver prospects in this year's draft class.

    He possesses the speed 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.

    With the Ravens' first pick coming at No. 17, Evans is unlikely to be on the board, but if he is, he should be the pick. At 6'5" and 231 pounds, he has the size to be a big red-zone target.


    Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

    New Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak loves to feature tight ends in his offensive schemes, and adding the best one in this class may be what the Ravens do with their first pick. 

    North Carolina's Eric Ebron is widely viewed as the top guy at this position, and he could easily be on the board for the Ravens to nab at pick No. 17. 

    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.

What Are the Experts Saying?

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    What's the latest buzz among the draft experts regarding the Ravens?

    Here's a look at what some of the top experts had to say recently regarding the Ravens' first-round pick and/or players they could be targeting. 

    ESPN analyst and former NFL defensive back Herm Edwards believes Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard is the draft's best cornerback (via The Detroit News):

    Dennard lacks the elite speed of some other cornerbacks, but he is the most complete guy at the position in terms of his skill set. I love his physicality and experience (three-year starter at MSU), and he got his hands on 20 passes, including 10 interceptions, in his career.

    ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription required) also ranks Dennard as the draft's best cornerback prospect: 

    Dennard has plenty of good tape and and praise from those who've had to scheme against him. He's the most versatile defensive back in the draft, with proven skill in any area of coverage. Dennard can play up and redirect routes, or off in zone and make plays in front of him. He'll blanket even really good receivers in man-to-man, and he turns his head well to avoid penalties.

    Hearing the opinions of both Kiper and Edwards only reinforces the belief that Dennard is the draft's best cornerback, and the Ravens should look at picking him with the 17th overall pick. draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah believes that Odell Beckham Jr. could be one of the surprises in this year's draft:

    What he can do in the passing game—go up and get the football, run after the catch, can stretch the field vertically, and then the added bonus, he's an outstanding returner. So to me, he's a wild-card player. I think people might be shocked on the outside, but a lot of love for him inside the league.

    Beckham Jr. is an explosive playmaker who would help upgrade the Ravens receiving corps and give the team another threat on special teams as a returner. 

    Draft Insider's Tony Pauline reports that the Ravens have zeroed in on North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron as their primary target in Round 1:

    Several sources tell me the number one target for the Baltimore Ravens in round one is tight end Eric Ebron, a player they've coveted for quite some time. Could Ebron slide to the 17th pick? I was told earlier this evening the New York Giants maybe souring on Ebron due to many of the personality red flags we've reported on this site since November. 

    Ebron would be a solid pick with the 17th pick. While the Ravens already have a pair of Pro Bowl tight ends in Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels, they combined to miss a combined 23 games in 2013 due to injury. 

    Daniels is also turning 32 in November and signed just a one-year deal this offseason with the Ravens, so having Ebron to eventually replace him could be why they take him in the first round. 

Latest Rumors, Reports and Analysis

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    There are plenty of rumors and smoke screens going around as the draft is upon us. Here are some of the latest:

    Are the Ravens interested in Cody Latimer? 

    In a post on on Tuesday, Indiana receiver Cody Latimer said the Baltimore Ravens were one of three teams showing a lot of interest in him:

    The Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens have shown the most pre-draft interest in Cody Latimer, one of the NFL draft's fastest risers, the former Indiana wide receiver told College Football 24/7 Tuesday.

    Latimer (6'3", 215 lbs) is a big, physical receiver who's caught 123 passes for 1,901 yards and 15 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Adding him would immediately upgrade a thin and aging receiving corps.

    Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated believes Latimer is one of the most overrated prospects in this draft: 

    Again, it starts with height (Latimer is 6-3), but he also ran a 4.44-second 40 at a pre-draft workout and showed off a 39-inch vertical. Add all that in to the 1,100-yard season Latimer posted in 2013, and there is ample reason to be excited about the ex-Hoosier. The hype may have gone too far, though, in a draft loaded with receiver prospects.

    Latimer right now projects as a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver once he enters the NFL — certainly a coveted need for a lot of teams, but also something that may be available beyond Round 1.

    Pick No. 17 in the first round is too high for Latimer, but he'd be a great value pick in the second round if the Ravens can get him there. 


    Will the Ravens draft a running back?

    With Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett on the roster, some wonder if the Ravens will draft a running back this year. 

    Expect Baltimore to draft a running back before the end of the fourth round, according to Draft Insider's Tony Pauline:

    I'm told to expect the Ravens to grab a running back by the time the fourth round closes out. Two names I've heard connected with the team for a while are Jeremy Hill of LSU in round two or possibly Terrance West in the fourth frame. Hill has been drawing rave reviews from scouts for his underrated pass catching skills. The Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons are another pair of teams hot after Hill.


    Will the Ravens trade down in the draft?

    There has been speculation the Ravens could move down in the draft in order to acquire more picks.

    Bryan Fischer of writes the San Francisco 49ers want to move up from the 30th overall pick, and the Ravens could be a team they look to swap picks with, according to the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport: 

    Possibly the Baltimore Ravens," Rapoport said on 'NFL Total Access.' "Look there as far as who they may be targeting. LSU's Odell Beckham is certainly one, Brandin Cooks is another. Marqise Lee is another.

    The Ravens are coached by John Harbaugh, and the 49ers have Jim Harbaugh, so it's easy to see the connection here. 

    Whether it leads to a draft-day trade will probably depend on what receivers are on the board when the Ravens are on the clock and what they're asking price is to move down 13 spots.

    The Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec wrote in a fan chat that the Ravens will consider moving down if they don't like who's on the board at pick No. 17:

    There's a sense of, 'well, we finally have a mid first-round pick in a stacked draft, why would we trade back into later in the draft." However, the school of thought there is, as you mentioned, the Ravens do have several needs. And the draft has enough depth where normal first-round picks in past years are going to be taken in the second, third round this year. SO the more picks you can get, the better. 

7-Round Baltimore Ravens Mock Draft

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    Here is one final attempt at projecting the players the Ravens could draft in all seven rounds of the 2014 NFL draft: 


    Round 1, Pick 17: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

    Of the players I've mentioned as targets for the Ravens, I believe Ebron is the likeliest to be on the board at pick No. 17.

    He can line up at wide receiver, so he theoretically could help fill two positions of need. Baltimore probably lets Owen Daniels walk in 2015, and Ebron steps into a much bigger role in the offense next year. 


    Round 2, Pick 48: Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana 

    It looks like the Ravens are genuinely interested in Latimer, and they would probably take him if he's on the board in the second round. 


    Round 3, Pick No. 79: Justin Ellis, DT, Louisiana Tech

    After losing Arthur Jones, the Ravens may move Haloti Ngata to defensive end, leaving a huge void on the interior that Ellis fills. 

    He uses his active hands and quick feet to beat blockers frequently, and the 6'2", 334-pound mammoth is a load to handle on the inside. 


    Round 3, Pick No. 99: Jack Mewhort, OL, Ohio State

    The 6’6 tackle has what the Ravens need: An experienced lineman who can play four positions on the offensive line.

    He played in 49 career games, including 39 consecutive starts to close his career. An All-American center coming out of high school, Mewhort started at both left guard and right guard in 2011 before starting his final two collegiate seasons at left tackle.


    Round 4, Pick No. 134 (compensatory): Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor

    The Ravens need to bolster their interior offensive line depth, and Richardson is a great pickup at this point. He's the best run-blocking guard in this draft, but his pass-protection skills leave a lot to be desired. 

    With a few years of development, he could become a Pro Bowl-caliber offensive guard. 


    Round 4, Pick No. 138 (compensatory): Terrance West, RB, Towson

    The Ravens want to add a running back, and they do so here with West, who rushed for 4,585 career yards and scored 86 touchdowns in his time at Towson.


    Round 5, Pick No. 175 (compensatory): Nevin Lawson, CB, Utah State

    Lawson was named first-team All-Mountain West as he helped Utah State's defense rank seventh in the nation with just 17.3 points allowed per game this past year.

    He tied for 19th in the nation in passes defended (13), as well as notching 53 tackles and leading the team with four interceptions.


    Round 6, Pick No. 194 (compensatory): Antone Exum, CB/S, Virginia Tech

    The Ravens would like to boost their cornerback and safety depth, and they do a little for both with this pick of Exum. 

    He was projected to be one of the top cornerbacks in college football in 2013, but he tore his ACL in the offseason in a pickup basketball game.

    Prior to missing most of this past season, Exum had accounted for 182 tackles, six interceptions and 41 pass deflections.