Ravens Draft Needs

By PFC Ravens Writer Martin Steger

Coming off their AFC Championship Game appearance last season, the Baltimore Ravens appear to be just a couple of players away from taking the next step. They broke even during an offseason in which they lost linebacker Bart Scott, safety Jim Leonhard and center Jason Brown but added cornerbacks Dominique Foxworth and Chris Carr and center Matt Birk, among other changes. Now they look to the draft to add those final missing pieces, starting in the first round where they hold the 26th overall pick. Here’s what they need:

Wide Receiver: Given the addition of two young, rising corners and the return of Samari Rolle to the team, the Ravens no longer have a pressing need at cornerback. This means that wide receiver is now the team’s biggest issue. Veteran Derrick Mason is just that—a veteran in every sense of the word. He’s smart and he’s tough, playing with one healthy shoulder at the end of last season and still remaining productive. Mason is the team’s only 1,000 yard receiver, and at 35 he does not have many such seasons left. Mark Clayton has shown some flashes, but hasn’t yet brought the game-to-game consistency needed in a top NFL wideout. Given Mason’s age and the lack of consistent production behind him, it’s time for the Ravens to snag a young receiver. Rutgers’ Kenny Britt, North Carolina’s Hakeem Nicks or Maryland’s Darius Heyward-Bey could all be options at number 26, though at least Heyward-Bey is likely to be gone by then. Britt and Nicks, though, would add size to Baltimore’s receiving corps.

3-4 Defensive Lineman:
Most of Baltimore’s linemen are fairly versatile; however, most of the starters are also fairly old. Kelly Gregg is coming back from a knee injury at age 32 while Trevor Pryce will turn 34 in August. Justin Bannan showed a lot of talent filling in at the nose last season, but even he is 30. Haloti Ngata is the only truly young, Pro-Bowl caliber defensive lineman the team has. Given how important the linemen are in any 3-4 defense, the Ravens may want to start building the next generation of starters. Given the new influx of 3-4 teams, LSU’s Tyson Jackson will probably be long gone before the Ravens’ first pick, but Baltimore might be able to pick up a prospect in round 2.

Tight End: Todd Heap and L.J. Smith are both talented tight ends, but thanks to injuries to Smith and a change in scheme in Baltimore they combined for just 701 yards last season. Heap can’t be blamed for having to block more often, but he still had some costly drops. Given that Heap is only a season away from turning 30 and Smith is signed to just a one-year deal, the Ravens could jump all over Brandon Pettigrew if he’s still there at 26, especially if the top-end wide receiver prospects are gone.

Inside Linebacker:
Barring a fall from someone like Rey Maualuga, this will probably have to wait until later rounds or even a later draft. And that will most likely be fine—the Ravens have a crop of young linebackers waiting to prove themselves in Bart Scott’s absence. But given that none of them have received significant playing time as of yet, it might be worthwhile to bring in a linebacker at some point; after all, the team is going to have to “replace” Ray Lewis within the next few seasons as well.