With the NFL Draft approaching, and Ozzie Newsome still Baltimore’s General Manager & Executive Vice-President; expect to hear lots of variations of the theme of ‘The Ravens will stick to their draft-board.’
While that is true, it also always over-stated. If QB Blaine Gabbert somehow falls, and is available when Baltimore is picking 26th overall, expect the Missouri QB to fall further. The obvious point being that the Ravens would not select Gabbert (even if he was number 1 overall on their board) with Flacco on the roster. The Ravens are going to do what they always do, rank the entire class and draft the best player available that most closely matches the area with of most need. If an exceptional talent falls that is not at a position of need (and is not a position where the Ravens have recently invested major $) Baltimore will take that player.
With that preface out of the way, it seems to me and everyone else that the three main areas of need for the Ravens are DE, OT, and CB.
I don’t know if you can answer that without knowing the Ravens intentions with Jared Gaither. If Gaither becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent as expected, will Baltimore be willing to spend the dollars necessary to resign him? Will they be willing to be move him back to LT as Gaither wants? If that is the intention, and the Ravens believe they can reach a deal with Gaither at a price that works for both sides, than drafting someone like Derek Sherrod (OT, Mississippi State) does not make sense.
Conversely, if the Ravens know that they have no intentions of a deal with Gaither; drafting Sherrod is probably ideal. Many scouts believe Sherrod can play LT in the NFL long-term. Like a deal with Gaither, the selection of Sherrod would give the Ravens the opportunity to move Oher back to RT, and Yanda to RG. Either way (Gaither or Sherrod), you upgrade at 3 positions. It likely improves the running game, and it allows you to better match-up against the OLB/DE pressure of Pittsburgh. When injuries occur, you have the depth to better handle the personnel losses.
In my eyes, it would be better to resign Gaither and still have the 1st round pick available to address other needs like DE. Ngata was of course Franchised, and will eventually be paid long-term. Cody will be a long-term fixture next to Ngata as a DT. The DE situation needs to be addressed. I had originally hoped that Robert Quinn would be available when the Ravens selected, but that now appears that is unlikely. It also seems apparent that Aldon Smith, and Cameron Jordan will also be off the board. Potentially the Ravens could have one or two out of JJ Watt (Wisconsin), Adrian Clayborn (Iowa), and Cameron Heyward (Ohio State) still there.
Of those three, Heyward is the one that intrigues me the most. Every scouting report you find on him talks about his excellent attitude and work ethic. You also see lots of comments that he is solid against the run, and can bull-rush opponents. The most consistent negative against him is that he lacks top-flight speed as an edge rusher.
Even without great speed off the corner, I like the idea of Heyward. With his 6 sacks this past year, Ngata showed a better ability at collapsing the pocket. Cody was described as a pure run-stuffer, but it my opinion that as his career develops next to Ngata, that he will also bring QB rush from the interior. With his size, athleticism, and the single-coverage he will regularly see; it would be disappointing if that does not come to fruition. Heyward could add to the mix. I like the idea of an every-down DE that will play the run, and bring max effort. Even if he is not the one getting to the QB, I think his presence would help the pass-rush overall. To me, an improved pass-rush is the best way to improve the Secondary.
Others think the Ravens need to add another CB to the mix. I’m fairly comfortable with the Secondary myself. The Ravens had preliminary contract talks with Wilson, and I think a deal will be worked out there. Foxworth is returning and will add to the group. Webb will be in his 2nd year after the injury, and has all the ability you could ask for. Carr started all 18 games (including the playoffs) for the Ravens last year, and a new deal will probably be worked out there as well. Is it the most-talented group in the league? Of course not, but I don’t think it is a position of great need either.
However, anytime you have a chance to obtain a CB that can be out on an Island playing 1×1 coverage against a WR; that is something that has to be considered. Each of Wilson, Foxworth, Webb, and Carr lack ideal size to match-up against some of the bigger WR’s across the league. That leads some to projecting Jimmy Smith (CB, Colorado 6’2 205) to Baltimore. Others prefer Brandon Harris (CB, Miami 5’11 195).
Which of the three positions (OT, DE, CB) do you think the Ravens most need to address?