Ravens positions of need: NFL draft or free agency?

Should the Ravens find a new center or let their current group, which includes Gino Gradkowski, battle it out throughout the offseason? - Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

I rank the positions of need and then figure if the place to improve is in the draft or free agency.

Building a 53-man roster is more challenging than it would appear on the outside.

Getting a great player at a certain value is easier said than done. Each year some teams have more success finding guys to fit their roster than others. The Ravens have had a solid track record in doing so, especially in the draft.

Such will be the task again for the Ravens this offseason. Where do they go to for incoming players? The draft or free agency?

To start, here's where I rank the positions of need for the upcoming season:

1) Wide receiver

2) Tight end

3) Offensive guard

4) Free safety

5) Defensive line

6) Center

7) Offensive tackle

So where should the Ravens address these needs this offseason?

Wide receiver: The draft is deep at receiver this year. It's so deep that the Ravens may be able to find a 2014 contributor in the third round. Though it's the top position of need, it may not need to be addressed in the first round, especially if a higher-ranked overall player — Eric Ebron, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Cyrus Kouandjio come to mind — is on the board at pick 16 or 17. Free agent receivers of interest include Eric Decker, Sidney Rice, Jeremy Maclin, James Jones, Anquan Boldin, Julian Edelman and Golden Tate. Of those, Edelman and Tate might be the only ones that come at an affordable price. Verdict: Draft one.

Tight end: Like receiver, this position certainly could be addressed in the draft. The only issue is it has to be early. The position is very top heavy with Ebron, Jace Amaro and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Ebron and Amaro in particular are ones that figure to make an impact with a team sooner than later. In terms of free agent tight ends set to hit the market, none are eye-grabbing options that would seemingly cause the Ravens to sign one. Verdict: Draft one.

Offensive guard: This is a position the Ravens could address fairly cheap if it can take one in the second round. Candidates include UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo and Stanford's David Yankey, both of which are the kind of physical interior linemen the Ravens covet. In free agency, there aren't too many options the Ravens could get for that value. One free agent option at this position would be Wade Smith, who's familiar with Gary Kubiak's system. However, he's 32 and not getting any younger. Verdict: Draft one.

Free safety: If the Ravens pass or are unable to snag safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, then Jimmie Ward might be an intriguing pick in the third round. If Ward gets taken earlier than expected, then the Ravens may be forced to go to free agency for a free safety. This group isn't that deep in this draft and outside of the top two, there aren't many that seem ready to step in and contribute right away. The pricey variety will include Jairus Byrd, Antoine Bethea and Ryan Clark. Stevie Brown and Mike Adams could be solid options. However, the Ravens will likely fill this move with someone that could play into the team's long-term plans, meaning veteran, one-year options such as Charles Woodson will probably not be considered. Verdict: Free agency

Defensive line: The Ravens will likely be without Arthur Jones, who should get a big contract in free agency. Therefore, it's not out of the question for the Ravens to try and find an up-and-coming 3-4 defensive end to plug in his place. With the offensive side of the ball a big concern, it's hard to imagine the Ravens spending a first-round pick on a defensive lineman. There are some quality players hitting the free agent market, however. Lamarr Houston is one that could fit in the 3-4 despite playing in a 4-3 in Oakland, though he might cost a decent chunk of change. In the draft, UNC defensive end Kareem Martin has great value in the third round. Alabama's Ed Stinson and Virginia's Brent Urban are other possibilities in later rounds. Verdict: Jury's still out.

Center: This is a position of need despite the fact there are already three centers on the roster, two of which being recent draft picks. Muddling matters is the fact A.Q. Shipley did everything the Ravens asked him to do while playing an unfamiliar position at left guard. So this may be a position the Ravens will try and let work itself out during the offseason. Free agent centers of interest that are available include Cleveland's Alex Mack, Green Bay's Evan Dietrich-Smith and and New Orleans' Brian de la Puente. If the Ravens are able to fit one of those in their budget (which won't be easy in the slightest), then it doesn't matter what they do with the three on the roster. In the draft, Arkansas' Travis Swanson is the most NFL-ready at the position. Verdict: Jury's still out.

Offensive tackle: Grabbing an interior offensive linemen early would allow the Ravens to move Kelechi Osemele to right tackle, giving them experience on both sides at the position. Therefore, the Ravens can afford to select a tackle later in the draft and groom him for depth purposes. There could be first-round options the Ravens go with if other players at different positions aren't available, such as Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio and Michigan's Taylor Lewan (which would then keep Osemele at left guard). But it would seem the Ravens have more important needs in the passing game. Later-round tackle options include Michigan's Michael Schofield, Stanford's Cameron Fleming and Kansas State's Cornelius Lucas. In free agency, Travelle Wharton is someone to consider as he could come somewhat cheap after dealing with an injury in 2013. Verdict: Draft one.


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