The Baltimore Ravens are one of the NFL’s elite football teams and should be near the top of the standings again in 2011. The Ravens fell short of their goals of an AFC North crown, but know that with just one or two pieces, they can get over the Pittsburgh hump.
The Ravens were exposed at cornerback last season, yet still had one of the most dominant defenses statistically. The Ravens need to draft a cornerback who can step in immediately and contribute on the defensive side of the ball. Likely they will strike early as the cornerback talent severely drops after the second round.
The Ravens also have some confusion on the offensive line. Michael Oher wasn’t great at left tackle last season, but the Ravens should give him another chance to prove he was worthy of their first-round selection.
Right tackle is a position of need for the Ravens. Last year Michael Yanda stepped in and played right guard with moderate success, but the Ravens and Yanda are better off when he is at his regular position at right guard.
The Ravens' needs will dictate their draft. In the beginning rounds, you will see them draft an offensive tackle and a cornerback, leaving the end of their draft to find quality depth for a thin offensive line and defensive line.
Team Needs: CB, ROT, DE, WR, S
Sherrod could be gone before the Ravens can get a chance to draft him, but if he does fall to No. 26, he is as good as gone. When the Ravens still had Jonathan Ogden anchoring the offensive line, they had better success protecting their quarterback from the blitzing outside linebackers in Pittsburgh.
There is no doubt that Oher had his struggles last year, but there is no doubt that Oher has a bright future ahead of him. Oher should be able to figure things out, and adding Sherrod at the other side of the line will now give franchise quarterback Joe Flacco even more time to pick apart the opposing secondary.
Last week I wrote an article detailing how the Steelers could trade down in the 2011 NFL draft. The Ravens have a similar possibility. They could always trade down and still have the opportunity to draft a Brandon Harris or Marcus Cannon, and then have an extra pick around the fourth round.
There has been so much talk about Jimmy Smith, Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara that every other cornerback has been forgotten. Dowling is a very good cornerback prospect, however. He is a beast in run support and has phenomenal instincts for a rookie. Dowling never had any injury concerns in his first three years of college football, but everything fell apart for him last season. Dowling started the season dealing with hamstring and knee injuries before breaking an ankle, playing only five games.
The Ravens are certainly getting a solid cornerback in Dowling, but how long he holds up will determine if they drafted a future star, or just this year’s Sergio Kindle.
The Ravens could luck out and be given the opportunity to draft Rahim Moore, a very talented safety from UCLA. Moore is talented enough that he could play cornerback if needed. Moore is the draft’s best safety by far, and the Ravens will have to add depth at safety regardless.
Moore is a free safety and will start his career behind Ed Reed, who isn’t a guarantee to even be playing this upcoming season, as he has hinted toward retiring before. Reed should be back, but for how much longer the Ravens do not know. Moore is an incredibly valuable pickup, even if the Ravens won’t get the most out of him for another year.
The Ravens need to add speed to the receiver position, and Titus Young is the highest-rated speed receiver who could be available for the Ravens. Young has great speed but his size could hold him back in the NFL. As long as he can find separation he will be okay, but Young will have to put on some bulk if he wants to deal with particularly physical defensive backs.
The Ravens want to find a receiver who can stretch the field, and one receiver fitting the bill is Jonathan Baldwin of Pittsburgh at the 58th overall selection. Baldwin is a massive receiver with great top-end speed. Baldwin also played his college ball at Heinz Field and has gotten pretty familiar with the end zones there. Baldwin has the skills to be drafted before the Ravens have a chance at him, but his character concerns could have him slipping to the Ravens near the end of the third round.
I also think the Steelers could draft Lawrence Guy in this position. Of all the 3-4 defensive end prospects, I think Guy and Marcell Dareus are the only ones worth their value. Dareus may be the best prospect in the draft, of any position. Guy is graded out to be a fourth rounder, and his value is right in line with that grade. Guy at the least will be a solid backup in a 3-4 scheme and at his best will be an Aaron Smith type. Anyone that watches Steelers games know that is high praise.
The Ravens could get unbelievable value by drafting Greg Romeus of Pittsburgh here. Romeus could have been a first-round draft pick last year, but returned to school in hopes of a BCS Bowl Game victory. Instead the talented defensive end saw his season cut short by a back injury and then a torn ACL. More and more we are seeing players bounce back from major surgeries, and Romeus apparently has impressed in his limited workouts.
Romeus is stout against the run and has great speed to get after the quarterback with. Romeus can drop back in to the coverage, so the Ravens could look at him as an OLB prospect, but the knee injury can only hurt his marginal pass-protection abilities.
The Ravens should have found their main contributing rookies by this point in the draft, giving them opportunity to add depth at certain positions and to add some skill.
First to the depth pick, Zach Hurd of Connecticut is a solid addition to the offensive line. Hurd is very good at picking up blitzes and has a knack for understanding the game. Overall, Hurd is average in run protection and pass protection. He has prototypical size, strength and initial quickness. The Ravens won't ask Hurd to be an immediate contributor, but he will certainly be a nice addition to the offensive line.
Next we will cover the Ravens drafting a running back, namely Stevan Ridley of LSU. The Ravens will likely lose Willis McGahee to free agency and will have to find a complementary back to spell Ray Rice. Most teams are moving toward the back-by-commitee approach to save their backs and to make defenses think. The Ravens need to add a back like Ridley because Ray Rice has been taking too much of the workload, and Ridley is the power back to complement the smaller and shiftier Rice.
The Ravens will look to add some depth on the offensive line, and they would prefer if it was at the center position. There are only three centers in the draft who are projected to make any mark in the NFL. Two of those athletes could be gone in the first tow rounds (Mike Pouncey and Rodney Hudson). The other center could slip to the fifth round. In the unlikely event that Penn State center Stefen Wisniewski falls to the Ravens at the end of round five, they will definitely take him.
The Ravens will want to make it easier on Joe Flacco by adding some real play making threats at wide receiver. They already have a perennial Pro Bowler in Anquan Boldin, but are lacking a playmaker after him. Derrick Mason is a good No. 2 receiver, but his age will catch up to him eventually.
Derrell Johnson-Koulianos of Iowa was a fan favorite and a steady receiving target when on the field. The Ravens will likely go after the best receiver available here, and DJK should have a chance to make the active roster.
The Ravens will need to start finding some help at inside linebacker as well. Ray Lewis is still performing at a top level, so the Ravens have the luxury of taking a high-upside guy and letting him sit on the bench before he is ready. Greg Lloyd of Connecticut is a good pickup because of his explosive athletic abilities. Lloyd isn't the most intuitive linebacker in the draft by any means, however, so it will take some time to make him in to a everyday starter.
The Ravens could always try and add even more depth to the defensive line and skip out on finding a Ray Lewis heir. Instead the Ravens could take Zane Parr, a DE from Virginia. Parr isn't going to make any Pro Bowls, but he is very big and strong. If used correctly, Parr could end up being a good space eater and a decent sub to beat up the opposing offensive line.
DeAndre Brown is going to find a job in the NFL somewhere, so why not to a team that is looking to add receiving depth? Brown stands at 6'6" and weighs around 240 pounds. His speed is above average and his jumping ability is obviously better than most. Brown has a lot of polishing left to do, but his size and skill could make him a valuable asset.
You may be wondering how a 6'6" receiver who has steady hands and decent speed could fall this low. The reason why no one is talking about Brown is because they probably don't think he will last very long in the NFL. Brown recently was arrested for disorderly conduct and had his own coaching staff publicly question his work ethic.
The seventh-round pick rarely makes the team, so the Ravens could look for guys with elite speed, strength, size or football acumen. What do you think? Let's work up a list of players that won't go before the seventh round and have an elite characteristic to their game. Once you've come up with a good choice, post it in a reply.