The season is over, and the combine has begun. The Ravens will select at the 17th spot thanks to losing the coin toss to the Cowboys, and superior strength of schedule to the Steelers. If you're reading this post, you likely followed the Ravens throughout the year and know that there are holes in the running game, intermediate passing game, and free safety as evidenced by a spike in sacks, the lowest rushing yard totals in years, and some of the lowest interception totals in years. Ozzie Newsome has named improving the passing game at receiver or tight end, improving the offensive line, improving the defensive line, and finding an athletic safety as his priorities in the State of the Ravens.
The question is, with four picks in the seven rounds of the draft (picks in rounds four, five, and seven were traded to Jacksonville last season), what positions should the Ravens prioritize? The pending criminal charges against Ray Rice could affect the Raven's draft decisions as well. My picks were identified according to position needs, player ability, and early combine performance. With the draft being pushed back to May, there is time for players to move up and down the board to change their ranking. Many will host separate workouts that could affect their draft standing. This article reflects the current rankings as of February 23, 2014.
First Round- Taylor Lewan (Sr, OT). Michigan
The prevailing wisdom is that the Ravens will select either Mike Evans or Eric Ebron with their first round pick, but I feel with the depth at receiver in this draft, it may be a wiser move to look to the area where their team took the biggest drop-off from the 2012-2013 season, and that's on the offensive line. I'd go with Taylor Lewan, a Senior Offensive Tackle from the University of Michigan. He's having an impressive combine and is displaying speed and quickness that ranks him among the tops in linemen at the combine; when mixed with a 6'8" 309-lb frame, he could have a combination of size and speed that could really shore up the Ravens line. Lewan was the Big Ten Conference Offensive Lineman of the year two years running. He would be a solid fit to replace Michael Oher, whose performance regressed even during the Raven's Superbowl season.
Second Round- Jace Amaro (Jr, TE). Texas Tech
He'd be a steal if he falls this late into the second round, but Jace Amaro is projected as a first or second round pick and is the second tight end behind Eric Ebron. He ran a 4.74 40, and broke the NCAA record for receiving yards for a tight end, and had six 100-yard receiving games. He is an excellent pass catching tight end, which would compliment Dennis Pitta nicely and potentially give the Ravens a weapon in the intermediate passing game. There are some maturity issues, but a strong organization shouldn't be afraid to pick him up.
Third Round- Devonta Freeman (Jr, RB). Florida State
The Ravens have stood by Rice. They stood by him when he couldn't break tackles. They stood by him when he couldn't find the holes in the line. They are, at the moment, standing by him now that he is being charged with assault. He has been the Raven's most explosive player over the last few years, but his sharp decline in play and off-the-field issues need to lead the Ravens to add depth at running back for next season. Devonta Freeman gives the Ravens a quick, powerful running back with the explosion, speed, and quickness of Rice in his early years in Baltimore. He led the Seminoles with 1,016 yards rushing and 278 yards receiving. He has a low center of gravity, which he uses well. He has toughness in pass protection, and can break tackles. Freeman runs between the tackles and hits the hole well, something the Ravens were missing last season. This would be a good pick for them in the third round, and he could be a backup for Pierce in the event Rice is suspended to start the season.
Sixth Round- Marqueston Huff (FS, Sr). Wyoming
Huff has excellent speed (4.40 40-yard dash) and can hound receivers in the passing game. Newsome named obtaining an athletic safety one of their primary priorities, and he would fit the bill. He's not known for being a big hitter, which could lead to big plays down field if he doesn't wrap up properly. I would expect Omar Brown to compete for the starting free safety position coming out of camp, but with some off-season work, Huff could get himself on the field in special teams, at safety or even defensive back.