We all knew it. Baltimore Ravens defenders are highly sought after on the open-market and that trend it seems has continued this off-season. With news breaking yesterday that two of the Ravens’ safeties were signed by other teams, the Ravens will be forced to look into free agency and the draft in order to find more depth at the position.
Tom Zbikowski, a four-year Raven drafted out of Notre Dame was plucked away by the Indianapolis Colts in an unsurprising move by former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano to bolster his new defensive unit as the Colts’ head coach. Haruki Nakamura, also a four-year Raven who was drafted out of the University of Cincinnati was signed away by the Carolina Panthers seemingly accepting the offer on the basis that he could legitimately contend for a starting spot on their squad.
So, all of this raises the biggest question of all: what should the Ravens now do to re-build their depth at the safety postion? With Ed Reed returning for another season and Bernard Pollard proving that he was a good fit in Baltimore last season, the Ravens will need to add a couple of new pieces to build depth, especially if the oft-injured Reed were to go down and miss any amount of playing time.
(After the "Jump", see a list of available FA Safeties and some draft prospects the Ravens could consider as well)
At the time of writing this, the Ravens currently only have two cemented starting safeties heading into next season. It’s a little bit of an unsettling feeling to know that currently, the Ravens have lost two great players in "Zibby" and "Ruki". Though neither of them ever had a huge role or were even considered the "starting" safeties, I think it gave us all great comfort to know that those two were always waiting in the wings should someone go down with an injury. Having both of those football players sitting behind the Reed’s, the Pollard’s, and the Landry’s of the Ravens’ defense, knowing that they could both step in and do their jobs well was a luxury that, obvious to all of us now, we quite literally couldn’t afford anymore.
So, who’s left to pick from out there in free agency land and who could the Ravens look to draft next April?
Notable free agent safeties still left:
LaRon Landry (Redskins)
Reggie Nelson (Bengals)
Reggie Smith (49ers)
Jim Leonhard (Jets)
O.J. Atogwe (Redskins)
To be quite honest, this year’s free agency safety class was slim pickings even before free agency began, and now that teams have snatched up a few of the top players, including Zbikowski and Nakamura, the choices have dwindled even further.
Due to the lack of free agent options on the open-market, the Ravens may look to the draft instead in an effort to build depth behind Reed and Pollard. The upcoming draft isn’t loaded with elite talent though where even the top-prospect, Alabama’s Mark Barron, has several question marks and seems to be a fringe late first round-early second round pick. The Ravens will certainly have to pick their spots on when and when not to select a safety in the draft this year because like them, several teams will be just as needy at the position due to the lack of talent during this year’s free agency and that need will cause teams to reach and drive up the cost/value of any given selection of a safety.
Here’s a quick breakdown of safeties the Ravens could have their eyes on:
Mark Barron: Known as a thumper, Barron is a hard hitting safety that’s expected to be a first round or early second round choice. Though the Ravens haven’t been previously linked to Barron in the upcoming draft, they may now consider placing a high-priority on the safety position now that Zbikowski and Nakamura have moved on to new franchises, but would it be enough to reach on a player like Barron who had a double hernia surgery at the end of last season? Barron is a unique player in that he could probably play at both strong and free safety and offers the versatility to be able to help in run support and coverage.
2011 Stats: 68 tackles/5 passes deflections/1 sack/2 INTs
Markelle Martin: One of my favorite prospects this year out of the University of Oklahoma; Martin suffered a set back a few weeks ago when he tore his meniscus at the NFL scouting combine which has kept him from showing off his skills physically. In crutches for his pro-day workouts, Martin’s draft stock will now be harder to gauge as he was projected as a second round-third round selection, but now with this injury his stock could see a drastic fall. Even still, when healthy Martin is an excellent mix of athleticism and brute force that excels in coverage but isn’t afraid to make big hits. If his injury proves worrisome enough for teams to pass on him, the team that does select him will likely get good value for the well-rounded safety in the later rounds.
2011 Stats: 74 tackles/9 passes deflected/2 forced fumbles
Antonio Allen: Allen, from the University of South Carolina, has some pretty eye popping stats but many are questioning his ability to make the transition from the collegiate level to the NFL. Allen is a mixture of interesting results. He had a fantastic senior season, but didn’t wow at the combine running just a 4.60 40 and bench pressing 225 lbs. a total of 17 times. However, his on-field performance tells a different tale and for many teams that may out-weigh run-of-the-mill results from drills during non-contact workouts.
2011 Stats: 88 tackles/2 pass deflections/1 sack/4 forced fumbles/1 INT
Janzen Jackson: Hindered by off-field problems, Jackson had all of the makings of a premiere defensive back in college and the NFL. Still dealing with the stigma of an off-the-field trouble maker, Jackson has had a rocky college career but managed to come out on the other side well enough to be considered a mid-round pick in the upcoming draft. Though Jackson hasn’t flashed elite speed, he does have great instincts and is always around the football. Due to his off-field incidents, teams will be wary when considering Jackson, but he does seem like a player that has the potential to be a starting safety with good size, range, and instincts.
2011 Stats: 31 tackles/5 passes deflected/1 forced fumble/2 INTs
As you can see above, there isn’t any player available currently on the open-market or in the draft that is considered a "sure thing". Even still, the Ravens will need to get some new blood into the mix this off-season one way or another.
While the Ravens aren’t in a bad spot with their safety depth, it is a little concerning that within one day both back-ups were plucked away to different teams. Considering that the Ravens usually only have four or so active safeties, losing half of that depth in one day is something that will have to be addressed. The Ravens didn’t just lose two back-up safeties this week; they lost two great Ravens who knew their roles and could always be counted on to do their jobs when called upon. It’s those qualities that the Ravens will have a tough time replacing.
"Zibby" and "Ruki", good luck to both of you.