NFL Draft 2011: Baltimore Ravens Must Be Offensive with Pick No. 26 Tonight

Alan Zlotorzynski@@zlotsportsCorrespondent IIIApril 28, 2011

NEW YORK - APRIL 25:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell poses with Baltimore Ravens #23 draft pick Michael Oher at Radio City Music Hall for the 2009 NFL Draft on April 25, 2009 in New York City  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

When the Baltimore Ravens draft this low in the first round, Ozzie Newsome and company have been known to grab the best available player regardless of position.

This year must be different. Tonight, the Ravens must fill a need and the most glaring need may not be exactly where you think.

Many analysts and prognosticators have the Ravens drafting either a cornerback or pass rushing defensive linemen with the 26th pick.

Yes, the Ravens need both but the Ravens should look no further than a top-notch offensive lineman with the 26th overall pick this evening.

I know the numbers, the ones like how the Ravens blew eight fourth quarter leads during the regular season, which was more than any other team in the NFL.

Baltimore also allowed some QB in Buffalo named Ryan Fitzpatrick to have a career day against them, throwing for almost 400 yards.

I also know that their 27 sacks were a franchise low and that the Ravens ranked 21st against the pass. I offer up this as an explanation for some of these stats. The franchise low in sacks was due in part to the Ravens simply not wanting to take chances and leave their secondary unprotected.

Their secondary was patchwork at best for a good part of the season and defensive cordinator Greg Mattison had no choice but to rush four on many passing situations.

It was not as bad as you think last year considering how the Ravens began the season decimated with injuries.

The Ravens secondary was more than a MASH unit. It was on life support to start the season. Dominique Foxworth never played a down last season and Ed Reed missed the first six games on the PUP list.

Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington were recovering from torn ACL's for the better part of the season and let's just say that both had their moments, good ones and, e-hemm, not so good.

Backup Cary Williams was suspended the first two games of the season and for whatever reason, Josh Wilson did not get off to a good start.

Wilson ended up starting nine games and had a decent year. He had three interceptions and none was bigger than his one on Monday Night Football to beat the Houston Texans.

After all of the injuries and uncertainty to start the season, the Ravens still surprised many in the first month.

Baltimore did not allow a 200-yard passer in the first four games. Kyle Orton threw for 304 against them in week five but Orton threw for 300 on everyone.

Tom Brady threw for 267 yards the following week and that is when the Ravens secondary started to tire a bit. The Ravens would surrender two 300-yard games in the next three weeks.

However, they would be torched just once more during the season. Houston's Matt Schaub led Houston back against Baltimore throwing for 378 yards in the almost Monday Night debacle.

Drew Brees was held in check in a win late in the year to clinch a playoff berth and even Big Ben averaged just 213 yards in two games against the purple birds. The secondary will recover.

Things will be OK in the defensive backfield if they remain healthy and pickup a few compliments here and there.

Chris Carr, Josh Wilson, Fabian Washington, and Dwan Landry are all free agents once the period is allowed to begin.

This year’s free agent class of cornerbacks is deep. Players like Nnamdi Asomugha, Champ Bailey, Brent Grimes, and Antonio Cromartie are all on the open market.

Only Carr figures to resign in Charm City. If the Ravens are patient and allow teams to empty their wallets for the above mentioned players they could find real value in other free agents like Pittsburgh’s Ike Taylor or the Redskins Carlos Rogers.

There are quality DB’s to be had later in the draft and if the Ravens did their homework, they should land one or possibly two on Friday and Saturday.

There is Curtis Brown (Texas).  Ras-I Dowling (Virginia), Davon House (New Mexico St.), and my personal sleeper pick, Marcus Gilchrest of Clemson.

The Ravens missed out on last year’s first round that was loaded with top notch DB's. Seven DB's were taken on the first day. The crop produced 24 INT's and two Pro Bowlers last season.

Many draft experts feel as if Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith would be an ideal pick if he falls that far to Baltimore. I am not so sure the Ravens locker room is as "right" as it once was for players that come with the baggage Smith does.

Ray Lewis may only play one or two more years and while Ed Reed is still a ball hawking, video watching future Hall of Fame safety, he is not exactly the model teammate when it comes to leading by example in terms of following authority.

Reed has voiced his displeasure with the Ravens front office and coaching staff on many occasions over the last two seasons and I am not sure a rookie cornerback carrying a chip on his shoulder with an entourage is exactly a good fit at the Castle anymore.

Especially when you consider last year’s second round choice of Sergio Kindle.

Kindle also came with baggage and a history of injuries. Given Ozzie Newsome's successful draft history, many Ravens fans gave him a pass for what is a bad pick as it stands.

If Ozzie blows it early this year, he may not get that pass and things could get tense.

There is also no need to draft a pass rushing defensive end with the pick. Many draft experts agree that while this is draft is deep with talent at the position, most are projects that will need time to become a major contributor.

The Ravens need a player that can contribute next year. They need a player that can help them get over the proverbial hump that is the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Most games in the AFC North (Ravens-Steelers) are won in the trenches and that is why with the 26th pick, the Ravens must take an offensive lineman.

It is fair to say that the two biggest assets the Ravens posses are QB Joe Flacco and RB Ray Rice. Why would you not take steps to protect them as much as you can?

Protecting your franchise QB and getting the ground game back on track must be the top priority with this pick.

The Steelers did it last season by drafting Maurkice Pouncy 18th overall. Pouncey was named to the Pro Bowl last season and started all 16 games at center for the Steelers.

This past January, the Ravens once again left an opportunity to play for the Lombardi Trophy on the turf of the stadium with the ugly yellow seats. Why do the Steelers matter in our draft you ask?

It is the Steelers that continue to hold the Ravens back. If they were not in the same division, then I would not worry as much.The Ravens figure to go 4-0 or 3-1 vs Cincinnati and Cleveland again next year, so that leaves Pittsburgh.

As Ravens fans saw this past season, 4-2 in the division is not always enough to play at home in late January.

The Ravens seem to be one or two players away from tilting the series in their favor. The Steelers do not run or throw the ball all over the Ravens. They make timely plays on offense and big plays on defense by sacking Joe Flacco and forcing turnovers.

During the Joe Flacco era, the Ravens are 2-4 in the regular season against Pittsburgh, having lost by a combined score of 106-99 over the six games. In the playoffs with over that same span center, the Ravens are 0-2 and have been outscored 54-38.

The most disturbing stat over the six regular season games is the fact that the Steelers have sacked Flacco 21 times with 169 lost yards. That is three and half sacks per game with almost 30 lost yards per contest.

Even in the playoffs, the Ravens surrendered as many sacks as the Steelers and one more than the Packers did and the Ravens played in two less games.  

The Steelers are not going to stop coming after Flacco and while it is true that Flacco must shoulder some of this blame for his slowed learning progression in blitz recognition, the offensive line needs to shoulder the biggest part of this load.

That is another reason the defense struggled late in games. At times, the Ravens struggled to stay on the field longer that three plays.

Last season Flacco was sacked 40 times and hit 79 more times. Both rank in the bottom half of the league at ninth and tenth. The Ravens offensive line never came together as many predicted it would.

The Jared Gaither saga does not seem like it will end anytime soon and when it does end, Gaither will probably not be a Raven. The Ravens version of musical offensive lineman became offensive at times last season.

There was no continuity up front and that led to some ugly Sunday’s and sore Mondays for Flacco. The Ravens also struggled running the football last season.

A team with the same three running backs went from fourth in the NFL in 2008 averaging 148.5 yards per game to 14th last season averaging 114.4 yards per contest.

Michael Oher did not have as good a season as many expected and his false start issues and untimely holding penalties followed him all season long and cost the Ravens in some big games.

In the early December home game against the Steelers, Oher committed two false start penalties and one holding penalty.

Teams that believe they have something worth protecting draft the protection upfront. They do it first and formost.

Can you guess which two teams allowed the least amount of sacks last season? Let’s just say the Manning brothers were well protected in 2010.

Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees were the next three benefactors of being well protected and the Patriots sported the eighth worst defense in the league last year and still went 14-2.

Some good offensive linemen will be available to help the Ravens.

The Ravens will options at No.26. They could choose Derek Sherrod, a three-year starter at Mississippi State.

The Colts are interested in Jimmy Smith's teammate from Colorodo,tackle Nate Solder. The Ravens should also be interested in Solder.

How about trying to Anthony Costanzo from Boston College. Either way the Ravens need to choose an offensive lineman. The pick makes sense and it really does give the Ravens the best chance at becoming a better football team faster.

If you watched the Super Bowl and Aaron Rogers throw all over the Pittsburgh secondary then let the Steelers draft and develop a corner.

Wouldn't it be nice to see Flacco standing in the pocket and protected with time to look down filed in the AFC Championship game next year. More importantly wouldn't it be better if it were IN BALTIMORE?

An offensive linemen at No. 26 would put the Ravens a little closer to doing that next season.


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