The Baltimore Ravens went on a mini spending spree during this year’s free agency period, and while more signings could be on the way, the Ravens will likely have to work some cap-magic by restructuring current contracts or even possibly releasing some players in an effort to make more cap-room.
With the free agent market drying up considerably, the Ravens should now set their focus on the draft where they tend to make most of their big-time acquisitions anyway. In the upcoming draft, the Ravens select 29th overall, very much so where most fringe 1st-2nd round players will fall.
A couple of days ago I wrote about how the Ravens will certainly have the option of trading out of the 1st round where they could possibly pick up extra draft choices and maybe even get more value in the later rounds. But, let’s just assume for a moment that the Ravens will in fact stay at their 29th slot and won’t trade up or out of the 1st round. Which players that are projected to fall into the late 1st round make the most sense for the Ravens as we head into next season?
(After the “Jump”, see a list of prospects that the Ravens may be in a position to draft and why they’d make sense as draft choices for Baltimore)
Over the past several years, the Ravens’ off-season has mostly consisted of quiet, under-the-radar free agency signings and a big emphasis on drafting new pieces and building from within. So far, that’s the way this off-season is playing out for the Ravens and it’s not a huge secret why this has been the trend for several years now.
Simply put, the Ravens usually get it right the first time. They draft the right players, develop them, and then promote them to starting roles when the time comes. Therefore, pinpointing the Ravens’ true “needs” or tendencies each off-season isn’t an easy thing to do when most of the time, they just get it right.
Sure, every team has needs, that’s a given. But the Ravens have done an excellent job at developing their own guys in-house instead of relying on over-priced outside talent. An excellent example of what I’m on about was how last off-season, the Ravens’ biggest need was to beef up their defensive back-field. The Ravens knew it all along; both Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams were in their back pockets just waiting to get their opportunites, and when they did, they performed better than anyone would have hoped, especially since Webb was still working through an ACL injury and many thought Williams would be a long-shot to see any significant playing time. The Ravens also drafted Jimmy Smith in the 1st round last year, and coming off of a solid rookie season he looks to compete strongly for full-time starting role and certainly has all of the physical tools necessary to be a true “shut-down” corner at the NFL level. For the Ravens it was easy as 1, 2, 3, and all of a sudden they had one of the league’s best pass defenses finishing 4th overall only allowing an average of 196 pass-yards-per-game.
All of that said, the Ravens still look ahead to next season with some noticeable holes to fill which will most likely be taken care of once again through the draft.
Here are some of the draft picks that would make sense as 1st round choices:
Mark Barron, Safety, Alabama: Ever since the 1st mock drafts started rolling out right after the conclusion of this year’s Super Bowl, Barron has been floating around draft boards usually somewhere between the 15th-32nd overall rated prospect. As the consensus top-safety in the upcoming draft, the more and more I think about Barron as a Raven the more it just makes sense. If healthy, Barron is NFL ready and seems like a versatile player with the ability to play at both strong and free safety. With Ed Reed often banged up and the departures of both Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski, the Ravens could use a new infusion of youth at the safety position. Barron has good size at 6-1 213 lbs. and while he most likely won’t register the fastest 40-yard dash on the field, he displays excellent range, a nose for the football, and is adept at reading opposing quarterbacks. Barron will be featured in Alabama’s second pro-day on March 29th at 11:00 A.M.
Stephen Hill, Wide Receiver, Georgia Tech: Swiftly moving up draft boards, Hill has perhaps improved his stock more than any other prospect in the entire draft over the past few months with an impressive Combine showing as well as a good performance at his pro-day. GM Ozzie Newsome let it be known that the Ravens are going to focus on building their receiving core this off-season and the team will certainly have the ability to do just that in this year’s draft. At 6-4 205 lbs. and one of the top-rated receivers, Hill is an elite athlete coupled with the skills of a wide receiver. Though selecting Hill at 29th overall may be a bit of a reach for the Ravens, the potential is there for Hill to be something special. Anquan Boldin still has a few years of good football left, but at 31-years old now, the Ravens could look to draft Hill as possibly his future replacement to place opposite Torrey Smith. If the Ravens were to select Hill at 29th overall, it would be somewhat of a “luxury” pick, but perhaps for a team with only a few holes to fill, the Ravens could afford a little “luxury”.
Kelechi Osemele, Guard/Tackle, Iowa State: Perhaps the Ravens’ biggest unknown this off-season is how they’ll handle their situation along the offensive line. Osemele is a versatile line prospect because he has the ability to play at both tackle positions as well as on the interior at guard. Many believe that Osemele will primarily play guard in the NFL as he is very adept at run blocking. Known as a bit of a mauler, Osemele has good size at 6-6 333 lbs. and carries his weight well with excellent foot work to boot. His versatility and run blocking skills play right into what the Ravens both need and are looking for. An excellent choice if available at 29th overall, a prospect like Osemele could very well get the Ravens’ offensive line back on track.
Peter Konz, Center, Wisconsin: Probably the most “mocked” player to be chosen by the Ravens, Konz for a long time seemed like the most sense for the Ravens. After a disappointing combine performance, teams like the Ravens that are interested in Konz will have to strongly evaluate his tape over the coming weeks. Somewhat sub-par Combine numbers aside, Konz is another versatile offensive line prospect that could help rejuvenate the Ravens’ line. Standing at 6-5 314 lbs. with the ability to play at both center and guard, Konz could be a valuable commodity to have as a great run-blocker with the ability to also work at center. Although Matt Birk signed a new contract, at 35-years-old, most of his best football is behind him and the Ravens will have to eventually find a suitable replacement that can gain chemistry sooner rather than later with quarterback Joe Flacco. Konz could most likely fill in immediately for the departed Ben Grubbs and then take over once Birk decides to retire from NFL action. Keep your eyes peeled for what the Ravens decide to do at center in the upcoming draft because after Konz, there will still be a few worthwhile prospects that the Ravens could select in the later rounds like Michigan’s David Molk.
The Ravens are one of the best franchises at drafting talent, and like they always have in years past, they will make the most of the upcoming draft. All I know for sure is that the draft is a little less than a month away, and I “Can’t Wait”.