TACKLE NEEDED EARLY, AS ARE SAFETY AND WR
With the 2014 NFL Draft fast approaching, the positions of need the Ravens have are well documented.
The question is when they will address those needs.
Except for the Ravens Report first-round mock draft, I won't attempt to fill in the team's current eight-pick lineup by predicting particular players that could best fill those needs.
(For a look at some of the top collegiate players, click here to see Ken Zalis' scouting reports.)
I will try to discern which positions will be prioritized with the Ravens' picks, which are subject to change via trades.
It won't be much of a surprise if Baltimore's pick lineup is altered because of a transaction with another team -- as general manager Ozzie Newsome and assistant general manager Eric DeCosta have declared, "We like picks." The Ravens will likely display their desire for enough quantity to get quality.
For now, we will use the Ravens' present selection configuration to determine when they will attempt to fill their needs.
It's important to keep in mind that the Ravens are notorious for avoiding need drafting, opting often to go for the best player available, regardless of position or need.
ROUND ONE (17th overall selection)
OFFENSIVE LINE: Many mock drafts have the Ravens taking one of the draft's many outstanding college safeties, such as Louisville's Calvin Pryor. The team has specifically stated that selecting a playmaking free safety is the goal, as it would like to move 2013 first-rounder Matt Elam to strong safety. But the Ravens might start their 2014 draft selections with an offensive player, because they have made a defensive player their top pick during five of the last eight drafts. Plus, a young cornerstone right tackle would be the final piece in a retooled line the Ravens will have to have as they try to rejuvenate their offense.
ROUND TWO (48th overall selection)
SAFETY: Some might deem it foolhardy for the Ravens to wait this long before taking the kind of safety they need, but that's why it's probably likely the team will have made a trade by this point in the proceedings. Even so, such a move probably won't help the Ravens gain many second-round spots upward, but if they covet players such as Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward or Washington State's Deone Bucannon, they will likely be on the phone with other teams attempting to do so.
ROUND THREE (79th overall selection)
WIDE RECEIVER: This pick could be one of several packaged for a move up to an earlier round. But even with the team's current crop of receivers -- which features Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown, Steve Smith, Jacoby Jones and Deonte Thompson -- it would be no surprise if another receiver came with this pick, if only for the purposes of adding depth behind other prospects such as LaQuan Williams and Aaron Mellette. Picks in this general neighborhood have been used during recent years on players such as Tandon Doss, David Reed and Tommy Streeter, and it could happen again.
ROUND THREE (99th overall selection -- compensatory)
LINEBACKER: This is a slot where the Ravens will definitely pick, because teams cannot trade compensatory picks, which are awarded by virtue of the quality of free agents a given team lost during the previous offseason. During recent years, the team has built up a cadre of talent at inside linebacker, such as Daryl Smith and 2013 draftee Arthur Brown, the de facto starting pair, as well as special teamers such as Josh Bynes and Albert McClellan. But the team is expected to add at least three more inside players through the draft and the undrafted free-agent crop to foster competition and depth.
ROUND FOUR (134th overall selection -- compensatory)
QUARTERBACK: The Ravens have been blessed not to have needed backups such as Todd Bouman, Marc Bulger and Tyrod Taylor to take over the offense for any length of time, because of starter Joe Flacco's durability. With head coach John Harbaugh coming out publicly with an expression of disappointment in Taylor's limited-duty performance, it would behoove the team to assume its luck won't hold out forever, especially if the offensive line struggles again.
ROUND FOUR (138th overall selection -- compensatory)
RUNNING BACK: There has appeared to be little doubt that the Ravens would take someone at this position, what with the injury and legal situation respectively facing incumbent running backs Bernard Pierce and Ray Rice. The Ravens signed free-agent running back Justin Forsett, but with running backs' shelf lives not lasting long and the run game de-emphasized around the league, Baltimore may seek a younger, cheaper alternative through the draft. More help should arrive in the undrafted free-agent crop.
ROUND FIVE (175th overall selection -- compensatory)
OFFENSIVE LINE: This is the time during the draft when small-school players, who the Ravens largely avoided during the franchise's early years, come into sharper focus. At similar points during previous drafts, the Ravens have taken offensive linemen from locales such as Weber State (David Hale), Morehouse College (Ramon Harewood) and Colorado State-Pueblo (Ryan Jensen). Plus, depth in both interior lines is a must during training camp, when the team uses up most of its hard-hitting quota in pads.
ROUND SIX (194th overall selection)
DEFENSIVE LINE: At nose tackle, the Ravens currently have a slightly out-of-position Haloti Ngata and the underachieving Terrence Cody, the latter of whom re-signed with the Ravens during free agency. Holding down roster spots at defensive end are players with various questions, such as Kapron Lewis-Moore, who didn't play in 2013 because of a knee injury; underachieving veteran Chris Canty; and emerging talent DeAngelo Tyson, who was a seventh-round pick in 2012. Defensive end Arthur Jones had four sacks and 53 tackles for the Ravens in 2013, and after his free-agent defection to the Colts, this unit will feel his absence, at least initially.
Joe Platania is in his 21st season covering professional football.