Baltimore Ravens 2012 NFL Draft Needs
The Baltimore Ravens went 12-4 and won the AFC North in 2011. Pretty impressive. Even more impressive was how they marched into the AFC title game and nearly kept the Patriots out of the Super Bowl. In fact, if Lee Evans hadn’t dropped a sure touchdown in the end-zone, the Ravens probably would have met the Giants in the biggest game of the year.
Oh, yeah, and that 32-yard missed field goal by the normally reliable Billy Cundiff…
Instead of talking about a Baltimore Super Bowl appearance, however, we’re stuck talking about plugging some new holes on offense, and making sure their vaunted defense doesn’t suddenly get too old, too fast.
Here’s an in-depth look at the Ravens’ biggest holes heading into the 2012 NFL Draft, and what they might do in the first few rounds to fill them:
Offensive Needs: WR, OL, RB
The Ravens appear to be OK on the offensive line for at least one more year. However, they lost guard Ben Grubbs to the Saints, tackle Bryant McKinnie will be 33, and Matt Birk is inching closer and closer to retirement. It’s not their biggest immediate need, but it’s absolutely their biggest question mark as a whole moving forward.
If they’re as afraid as their fan base about what could happen if they don’t address this soon, they could go after Wisconsin center Peter Konz with their first pick. That would at least lock-up Birk’s eventual replacement, while Konz could possibly even fill-in at guard until Birk is done. Tackle could then be addressed in the middle rounds, where the Ravens could find someone to groom behind McKninnie.
As crucial as offensive line depth and youth is for the future, the Ravens could arguably benefit a lot more right away from another first-round wide receiver talent. Torrey Smith is a blazer with some nice potential, but he was very inconsistent in his rookie year. Lee Evans was an absolute bust free agent, and Anquan Boldin is nothing more than a solid possession receiver at this point in his career. The Ravens need another big-play guy that can stretch the field and make some plays after the catch. Everyone wants Michael Floyd or Kendall Wright, but that just isn’t happening. Baltimore would be looking at Reuben Randle, Stephen Hill or Mohamed Sanu in the first round, or possibly even Alshon Jeffery, depending on if they’re high on him or not.
None of the receivers mentioned above are safe bets to be hanging around when Baltimore picks again in the second round (60th), so they have to decide early how bad they want a wide receiver upgrade from this draft. If they wait until round two or three, the Ravens are probably looking at guys like Chris Givens, Tommy Streeter, and Brian Quick.
Lastly, the Ravens need to do something about the void Ricky Williams left with his retirement. Williams is up there in age, but he was still pretty serviceable and spelled Ray Rice when he needed it. If they think he’ll end up coming back, they can wait until pre-season and sign a couple undrafted free agents if it doesn’t work out. But the smart thing to do would be to grab a guy who can complement Rice and grow with him in the back-field.
They won’t want smaller guys that are in the mold of Rice, so forget about LaMichael James, Isaiah Pead, and so forth. The Ravens also won’t go for another running back early, so don’t expect them to touch the position until the third round at the absolute earliest. Instead, they’ll probably grab a decent backup in the fifth or sixth round, where guys like Tauren Poole and Dan Herron should be available.
Defensive Needs: LB, S, CB
It’s pretty simple. Ray Lewis is still playing at a very high level, but he’s ancient and he’s either going to drop off, get hurt, or retire in the very near future. The Ravens are still a very competitive team, but if they don’t find an answer for Lewis’s departure, they’ll be hurting in the middle of their defense.
That means drafting Dont’a Hightower with their first pick becomes a real possibility, or they could even reach for Vontaze Burfict. Luckily, Burfict’s stock has been slipping like crazy, so there’s a chance Baltimore could actually fill another need early, and then see if they can’t swoop Burfict up in round two. Of course, you can never rule out the Ravens trading up and drafting the prized inside linebacker of this draft – Luke Kuechly (as unlikely as that appears to be).
Beyond Ray Lewis, the Ravens also need to think about an eventual replacement for the aging Ed Reed, who is 34 and constantly thinking about retirement. That makes Mark Barron a man to talk about at 29. The only problem is, he’s the best safety in the draft, so he could easily be gone quite a few picks earlier.
If they pass on safety or can’t get Barron, Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith could be an interesting pick in the second round. Sticking (and finishing) with the secondary – the Ravens simply need some depth here. It’d be nice to land a versatile guy like Chase Minnifield in the third round (if he can drop there), where the Ravens could get a guy to coach up as an eventual starting corner, while helping out on return duty until he’s ready.
This draft is all about rounding out the offense and keeping an eye on the future. The Ravens can’t exit this draft without some type of plan in place for aging starters such as Birk, Lewis, and Reed. Those positions absolutey need to be addressed. If Baltimore can get even one impact guy and some young guys to build on behind their aging studs, this will be a successful draft.