The Baltimore Ravens have been projected to be taking anywhere from a center, guard, linebacker or wide receiver in most Mock Drafts. True Ravens fans know that no matter what others think they may do, what is ultimately decided in the team's "War Room" could be totally different from what the so-called "experts" predict. In past years, trading up (Michael Oher-2009), trading down (Sergio Kindle-2010), or sticking with their pick (Jimmy Smith-2011) may or may not have been anywhere near what some people expected when their turn came up in the draft.
However, the more you look at it, the clearer it should become. The mantra often used around Baltimore, and pretty much the entire league, always comes back to "Best PlayerAvailable," which truth-be-told, is actually better defined as, "Best Player Available In What Position We Need."
For the Ravens, that position is without a doubt along the offensive line. The other positions under consideration need depth and future starters. At linebacker, the team may need a replacement for Ray Lewis in the next year or so. If outside linebacker Jarret Johnson leaves via free agency, odds are that position will be filled from within from one of a number of options already on the team's roster.
A wide receiver would be the third or even fourth option, behind Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. These positions are in need of added depth, back-ups and insurance in case of injury, most of which can be filled either later in the draft or prior to it through free agency.
The offensive line stands to lose two starters for the 2012 season (Matt Birk, Ben Grubbs) and perhaps another in 2013 (Bryant McKinnie). Simply put, the prospects of losing two-thirds of your offensive line takes priority over any other position in the off-season. Whether it be through vetean free agency or April's draft, providing protection for their franchise QB will be their top priority in the off-season and even with a free agent signing, the draft should also give the team a young player to become a stalwart on the line for years to come.
There are a few players around the league that could fit the bill in free agency, but the focus should be on the draft, where at least one player, Wisconsin center Peter Konz, has been linked to the team and should be on the board when their pick at #29 of the first round rolls around. Konz could step right in at center if Matt Birk retires and Andre Gurode is not re-signed to fill that void for one season. In the meantime, Konz can either sit and learn, or step in at left guard and then just move over, as former Ravens guard/center Jason Brown did before leaving for greener pastures to the St. Louis Rams via free agency.
Other guards have been mentioned as a good fit for Baltimore, although they may not be worthy of a first round pick. That could also result in the Ravens trading down to the early second round, take that guy and garner additional draft picks along the way. No matter how they do it, filling the possible multiple voids on the offensive line trumps any other needs or desires in any other position on the team.
Every Ravens fan knows that a solid offensive line is the key to the success of this team, from protecting Joe Flaco, who if given ample time, could become that top-five QB that his agent believes he should be paid as. It will also open holes for RB Ray Rice, who already is a top-five running back and is up for a big payday. A young, powerful offensive line will keep him in that top strata and combined with Flacco, will be the biggest piece of the puzzle that will determine if the team can take that final step tot he Super Bowl for years to come.