Tuesday, March 10, 2009

First Look at Ravens Biggest Needs in NFL Draft

Well, as free agency starts to wind down, it is time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft as the way for the Ravens to fill several glaring holes- and not all of them on offense. While the acquisition of Matt Birk may have dulled the impact of losing Jason Brown and Dominique Foxworth could become a solid cover corner in the Ravens scheme, Baltimore is far from a complete team. Let’s take a look at some of the positions Ozzie Newsome will look to fill next month in the draft (in order of this blogger’s sense of priority).

Wide Receiver- Not only do the Ravens lack a consistent deep threat (Demetrius Williams simply hasn’t panned out the way we had hoped), all three starting receivers look to become free agents after this season. It has been a long time since the front office has been this close to the cap, and likely won’t be able to hold onto all of them (and they may not even want to). With a legitimate speedster at #2, the coaching staff would be able to move Mark Clayton to his natural position in the slot and allow Derrick Mason to stay on short routes to compensate for his declining speed. I love the way Hakeem Nicks plays, and his crisp route running would make life much easier for a young quarterback like Joe Flacco, but he doesn’t have true gamebreaking speed. Not to be a homer, but it would feel great to get Mr. 4.30 40-yard dash Darrius Heyward-Bey in a Ravens uniform to line up along the sideline.

Tight End- At the end of the 2007 season, Baltimore fans were surprised by the pass catching ability of mostly blocking tight end Quinn Sypniewski, who reeled in 34 balls for 264 yards in his sophomore campaign. He should return this season from a year on Injured Reserve and give the Ravens some depth at the position. However, with Todd Heap’s recent injury struggles and a lack of true playmakers at the position, Baltimore will almost certainly look to target a pass catching tight end, perhaps as early as the second round. There is a glut of similarly talented tight ends in the draft who should be available late in that round, and any one of them could fit into the Ravens scheme- a quarterback’s best friend is a consistent receiving tight end (just watch the end of the Titans-Ravens playoff game). It is critical that some pressure be taken off of Todd Heap over the middle of the field- a receiving threat on the other side of the line might be just what this offense needs.

Defensive End- I know I am going out on a limb, but I would not at all be surprised if the Ravens went after a tweener end/outside linebacker. With Terrell Suggs held for a year on a franchise tag and Trevor Pryce not getting any younger, it is critical that the Ravens have a legitimate backup plan to develop from within the organization. I thought Dan Cody would be that player a couple years ago, but the Oklahoma standout simply could not stay healthy and missed out on a heap of talent. The only player the Ravens have at right end behind Pryce is 32 year-old Marques Douglas. They will need a better plan than that going forward.

Offensive Line- The Ravens had one of the youngest offensive lines in the NFL at the beginning of last season. This season they should be near the middle of the pack, with the addition last season of Willie Anderson and this year’s acquisition of Matt Birk, both of whom might not be playing football 3 years from now. Anderson himself could save the Ravens $2.9 million in much needed cap space with a release, something that could happen if the front office is able to reel in a right tackle in the second or third rounds. Adam Terry has battled injuries and inconsistency, and it is possible that another competitor in the mix could make everyone better. Having Birk leading the line with accelerate the mental development of a young line; Baltimore may even look to pick up a “project” at center in the 5th or 6th rounds to learn from the veteran.

Honorable Mention: Cornerback- I will give a pass here because of Foxworth, but this situation bolts up to #2 if Samari Rolle is released.

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