John Harbaugh's stated goal is for the Ravens to become a dynasty. The most integral part of sustained success in the NFL is through the draft. The Ravens have been notorious for finding talent all the way through the draft which heavily contributes to their overall success as a franchise. This article examines players who fill current positions of need and are draft eligible after this college football season. Most players are high round targets but as we know, anything can and will change for college football players and NFL teams before the 2014 NFL draft.
Current Situation: The Ravens need a pass catcher that defenses game plan around and can become a future #1. Torrey Smith is the only guarantee at wide receiver and with no true time at the #1 it is not much of a guarantee at all. Jacoby Jones as a return specialist is not worth the cap hit of almost 5 mil so he will need to take a pay cut to stay with the team after this season. Brandon Stokley in all likelihood will not return. The young receivers, mainly Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson, are all jostling for position behind Smith and none are stepping up as the future #2. What this all means is the WR position needs major help to give Flacco more reliable targets in the passing game.
High Round Targets:
Marqise Lee, Jr USC. He has decent size at 6' 195 but plays very physical. His numbers will likely see a decline with lack of a running mate as capable as Robert Woods. Lee needs one more season of putting up numbers in the 1500 yds and 15 tds he has replicated his first two years to solidify his top 5 spot. He has the potential to be a top pick, but there have been other recent USC prodigies to drop multiple rounds after top 5 hype (Matt Barkley).
Sammy Watkins, Jr Clemson. Very similar in build and play type to first round draft pick and running mate DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins gained draft hype after his 1400 yd 18 td performance last year. Watkins already had a monster year before Hopkins' with 1200 yds and 12 touchdowns so he is looking to improve on those numbers with star QB Tajh Boyd at the helm. His fit with the Ravens is not as perfect as one might hope because of the similarity in he and Torrey Smith's playing style.
Jordan Matthews, Sr Vanderbilt. Great size and deceptive speed make him a great target anywhere on the field. He has steadily improved each year and if he continues to do so could end up with a very high draft spot. With his 6'3" frame he would be the perfect underneath complement to Torrey Smith's outside speed.
Dri Archer, rSr Kent St. The Rams ignored Tavon Austin's size and selected him in the top 10. We could see a very similar rise to prominence by 5'8" do-it-all Dri Archer. His bread and butter is in the running game where he added 1400 yds and 16 tds to his receiving stats of 500 yds and 4 tds. The true playmaker side of him is in the return game where he ran back 3 of his 17 kick returns for touchdowns, a stat that earned him second team all American status. His speed and shiftiness would vastly improve the Ravens underneath passing game with his ability to score a touchdown on any play no matter how he gets the ball.
Late Round Targets:
Tyler Lockett, Jr Kansas St. With Colin Klein at QB his strength as a slot receiver was undermined by the tuck and run nature of Klein. There are many areas of improvement for Lockett in the receiving game but his return game is polished off. With 4 return tds the past two years combined and 2 100 yd returns, he is poised for greatness in some form this year.
Malcolm Mitchell, Jr Georgia. After making the freshman All-SEC team he was switched to corner and then back to wide receiver after injuries and suspensions derailed his season from the start. He is a speedy downfield threat and a dangerous return man that could potentially play a role similar to Jacoby Jones. A good year as a returner and wideout would do wonders for his draft stock and could even move him into the early round targets.
Erik Lora, Sr Eastern Illinois. What stands out most about Lora other than his very long hair and crazy energy and passion is his monster catch totals, albeit against mostly FCS competition. Some of his catch totals per game last year were 15, 17, and 21. This is complete dominance, and with the Ravens drafting Aaron Mellette last year, it shows they may have a spot for a small school star at WR.
Summary: The Ravens will presumably be in the hunt for an early round wide receiver based on the current roster and projected roster after the season. Many great players will be available to the Ravens after this college football season and hopefully Ozzie is learning the skills it takes to successfully draft a WR.
Current Situation: Tight end could end up being the weakest link or one of the strongest based on resignings and health after the season. If Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are signed to long term deals then TE would not need to be addressed at all, especially with a high draft pick. In the more likely scenario that only one is signed then there would be a spot where a draft pick should be used on a high profile tight end. Any other scenario would mean a definite use of a high draft pick on a top tier tight end. Looking towards the draft there are many tight ends who will go in the first few rounds and a select few who could go very high in the first round.
High Round Targets:
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jr Washington. Seferian-Jenkins is a 6'6" athletic freak with game breaking potential on every play. His sub 4.6 40 and jump through the roof ability makes his the best TE prospect since the crop of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. There are some off the field question marks as a DUI this spring caused his draft stock to fall a bit. If he can get his off the field trouble straightened out there is no reason he should not be an elite prospect and playmaker. His fit with the Ravens is excellent as they could use a big bodied receiver who can make plays all over the field and create mismatches for other receivers.
C.J. Fiedorowicz, Sr Iowa. A very strong blocker and red-zone target could be exactly what the Ravens need. Fiedorowicz has proven to be a very capable blocker and his size has helped him haul in 4 touchdown passes on an awful Iowa team. He could be a threat on underneath routes and jump balls in the end zone as a 6'7" mammoth of a man. There is room for him to become an elite prospect given his strengths in blocking and his untapped potential as a receiver.
Late Round Target:
Nick O'Leary, Jr Florida State. At 6'3" O'Leary is a receiving tight end who has flashed potential in limited opportunities. He is a slippery receiver as he does not have great athleticism but finds ways to get open in coverage and get the ball. As a late round pick he might be worth it solely because of his genetics. He is the grandson of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus.
Summary: The Ravens tight end situation is very fluid and mostly depends on who gets resigned and for how long. Tight end can be one of the Ravens strengths or it could be an alarming weakness heading into draft day. If the latter comes true then there are plenty of intriguing targets in the 2014 NFL draft.
Current Situation: Although the defensive line as a whole appears to be a solid unit many questions will arise around DE. The DT/NT position seems to be in good standing with Haloti Ngata manning the middle and a multitude of players backing him up. There is not as much sureness surrounding defensive end. Chris Canty could be a solid to above average player for a few years but he is mostly a stopgap player. Same can be said for Marcus Spears. The other notable defensive end is Arthur Jones who is a free agent after the season. The lack of talent at DE can be minimized by the strength and depth at outside linebacker but the hole will only grow. The best bet is for the Ravens to invest a relatively high draft pick on a defensive end with potential to man the line for years to come.
High Round Targets:
Jadeveon Clowney, Jr South Carolina. If the Ravens are in a position to take Clowney they surely would, but it would mean that something disastrous likely happened to both parties during the season. The Ravens will hopefully not be in the Jadeveon Clowney sweepstakes.
Stephon Tuitt, Jr Notre Dame. Clocking in at over 300 pounds Tuitt is a much bigger defensive end, but can still get after the quarterback and disrupt a play. He has the strength to push past tackles and the explosiveness to go through a stockier guard. He is a hybrid DT/DE and this versatility should make him more appealing to the Ravens given all the different defenses and personnel they use. He had 12 sacks and 3 forced fumbles in his first year as a starter and hopes to build upon that performance alongside stud DT Louis Nix.
Aaron Lynch, rSo South Florida. This name may sound familiar because of his stellar freshman season at Notre Dame. After his one solid season he transferred to USF because he was homesick and used his redshirt. This degraded his stock and took him off national radar, but he has the physical tools necessary to be a next level defensive end. He stands 6'6" and weighs in at 262 pounds, the ideal size for the new breed of defensive ends. If he can add to his freshman all-American campaign the Ravens might need to be very high on the draft board in order to snag Lynch.
Late Round Target:
Anthony Chickillo, Jr Miami. With a late round draft pick teams look for the needle in the haystack. There are many ways to distinguish players but if a player is a former 5 star prospect it adds to the interest because they were thought of as the best among their peers. Chickillo was a former 5 star prospect who lived up to the hype by cracking the starting lineup as a freshman and racking up 5 sacks and a forced fumble for the University of Miami. He then proceeded to total just 4 sacks in his entire sophomore year. He has an exceptional combination of speed and strength which need to result in more on field production during his junior year.
Summary: While defensive end may not be the most pressing need, it is definitely an area that could stand to improve with young talent through the draft. There is an influx of high round talent at the position which could persuade the Ravens to take the best available even if it is not at the most pressing positional need.
Current Situation: If Lardarius Webb is healthy and Jimmy Smith or another young corner can man the #2 corner spot, cornerback would become a major strength for the Ravens. Corey Graham has played exceptionally well since the Ravens signed him based on his special teams prowess, but the money he will command is likely far more than the Ravens will be willing to pay, leaving a major hole at cornerback.
High Round Targets:
Loucheiz Purifoy, Jr Florida. Arguably the top corner in a strong corner class, Purifoy has the ability to become a shutdown corner in the NFL based on his 6'1" frame and sub 4.4 40. Paired with Marcus Roberson, the Florida cornerbacks are by far the best tandem in the country. He had a breakout season last year with 5 passes broken up and 3 forced fumbles in a defensive scheme that left him isolated on almost every play. As an added bonus he is an elite special teamer as well. He has so much versatility Florida is considering playing him at WR in addition to corner. He also brings a swagger that is very evident on the playing field and is something the Ravens are lacking on defense. A tandem of Webb and Purifoy would easily rank among the top in the league.
Bradley Roby, rJr Ohio State. Roby is a very fast playmaker who improved tremendously in his second year starting at corner. He has decent size, 5'11", and fills up the stat sheet, which is rare for a corner. Last season he had 63 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss, 17 passes broken up, 2 interceptions, and a partridge in a pear tree. Just kidding about the last one but his ability to knock down passes shows his great man to man press coverage skills. What the Ravens really lost in Ed Reed was the big play ability from the secondary, something that needs to be a factor when teams constantly throw the bal. There are some off the field issues stemming from a bar fight, and though it does not seem like much, the last two corners with off the field problems dropped considerably (Janoris Jenkins, Tyrann Mathieu).
Quandre Diggs, Jr Texas. Diggs started his collegiate career doing everything right as evident by him being selected Freshman All-American and Big 12 freshman of the year. He has totaled 8 interceptions and 22 passes broken up in the past two seasons. He is also a very versatile player in Texas' 4-2-5 defense. With a strong pass rush he should have even more big play opportunities this upcoming season.
Late Round Target:
Andre Hal, Sr Vanderbilt. Being one of the top players at your position in the top conference certainly bodes well for playing at the next level. Hal fits the mold as a top cornerback in the vaunted SEC. He competes against the best wide receivers and teams in the country and there is no better proof of a player than good production against other future pros. Hal has been known as a return specialist but recently showed great development as a lockdown corner. If he continues his upward trend he could be looking at a very early round pick.
Summary: If cornerback is a need for the Ravens going into the 2014 NFL Draft there will be many versatile playmakers available to them throughout the course of the draft. Ozzie Newsome has shown a tendency to scoop up at least one corner each year so expect the same from the 2014 draft class.
Current Situation:The Ravens have one of the best guard tandems in the league and a serviceable center, Gino Gradkowski, and right tackle, Michael Oher. Bryant McKinnie is a stopgap left tackle but in no way the future at the position. Since Michael Oher has been drafted the Ravens have not gone for any future left tackle prospects early in the draft. This could change in 2014 as the hole on the left size increases each year a young star is not brought in.
High Round Targets:
Jake Matthews, Sr Texas A&M. Despite his billing as a top 15 pick in last years draft, Matthews opted to return to school and return to the left tackle position previously occupied by Luke Joeckel. He did a great job of protecting Johnny Manziel when he was throwing, but his real ability shone through in rushing downs where he opened up enormous lanes for whoever was going to run behind him. In his toughest test last season Matthews eliminated Barkevious Mingo from having any impact in the game at all. He is very light on his feet for a 300 pound man but could use a bit more strength to push away pass rushers. If he can add to his three consecutive seasons of standout line play he will be a top 10 lock come next May.
Taylor Lewan, rSr Michigan. This season will be Lewan's fourth consecutive at left tackle for the Wolverines and could be his most productive. He has great size at 6'8" 300 pounds and uses his huge frame to pave running lanes for running backs and quarterbacks alike. As talented as he is he can still get much much better. This thought is scary for teams having to play the Wolverines this season, but will make GM's and scouts push Lewan that much higher up draft boards. As a freshman Lewan had personal foul trouble because of his push until and after the whistle. He has dialed down the penalties the past two seasons but still plays with an edge, an attractive feature to the Ravens who could use some more grit up front. When Lewan squared off against Jadeveon Clowney, the best defensive prospect in decades, he held his own and limited the disruption Clowney is known for. If he can show this shut down demeanor each game, he could be one of the top 5 picks in the draft. Can you imagine having Marshal Yanda on one side and Lewan on the other, causing terror and getting under the skin of defenses without picking up penalties. This may be reason enough to take Lewan over other offensive tackle prospects.
James Hurst, Sr North Carolina. Hurst will be starting his fourth consecutive season at left tackle, and gets to face off in week one against Jadeveon Clowney. A successful game against Clowney could escalate Hurst to the top level of tackles available in this years draft. He has played at an extremely high level the past three seasons, and given his intelligence and big build, 6'7", he could be an intriguing prospect when the draft rolls around next spring.
Late Round Target:
Aundrey Walker, Sr USC. Walker was a top recruit and seemed to be growing into a role replacing Matt Kalil, but his season slowly diminished and was capped off with a very poor performance again UCLA. Walker may be seeing some time at guard, which would be a demotion and may serve to be the wakeup call he needs to show more intensity and effort on the field. If he finds the motivation to realize his potential Walker can become a very solid player, and could hear his name called before day 3 of the draft. With a late round selection he could be a steal if his fundamentals can reach the level his athleticism is at.
Summary: With all the talent available in this draft class it may finally be the year Ozzie Newsome selects the player to be the next great franchise left tackle. If it is the year, there are many players on the watch list who could be immediate contributors at the next level.
Overall Summary: Many things can and will happen between now and May of 2014, all of which directly affect who the Ravens will bill as the future of the franchise. Whichever player Ozzie Newsome selects will be the next step in bringing the Lombardi trophy back to Baltimore and Ravens Nation. If we Trust in Ozzie then we can expect the next group of players to have the same goal as the team, fans, and head coach. Contribute to the Dynasty.