The Ravens nearly had to replace Joe Flacco in the lineup late last season when the usually durable starting quarterback was hobbled with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
Although Flacco managed to gut out the final two games of the regular season and avoid missing a start for the first time in six seasons, the situation offered a reminder that the Ravens need a viable contingency plan should their franchise quarterback ever be sidelined.
With current backup Tyrod Taylor displaying mixed results in spot action and entering the final year of his rookie contract, the Ravens are exploring the possibility of drafting a quarterback this year.
"If the opportunity presents itself that Tyrod gets a chance to play because of an injury, then it would behard to retain him because this is a quarterback-driven league and other teams would be attracted to him," general manager Ozzie Newsome said during the Ravens' annual predraft press conference. "For those reasons, we also need to be looking at bringing in another quarterback so we can have someone that is capable of going into the game as we move forward in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, in case we can't keep Tyrod, that we have someone who can go and win games for us if Joe gets hurt."
With more pressing needs at other positions, it's unlikely the Ravens would draft a quarterback within the first two rounds. But with a deep class of passers, they aren't expected to have to rush to grab one.
"I don't know if there's a better year to try to get a backup guy," said draft analyst Russ Lande, a former NFL scout with the St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns.
The Ravens have brought in several quarterbacks for official visits, including Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo, Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas, Alabama's A.J. McCarron and Ball State's Keith Wenning. Garoppolo is the highest-rated quarterback of that group and has drawn second-round grades.
An All-American who excelled at the Senior Bowl, Garoppolo passed for 5,050 yards, 53 touchdowns and nine interceptions in his career to break Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo's school records. Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage, another possible target in the second round, said in a telephone interview that he didn't visit or work out with the Ravens, but has spoken with them a few times.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, Cornell quarterback Jeff Mathews and San Jose State quarterback David Fales are among a second tier of quarterback who make sense as potential fits for offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.
McCarron led Alabama to two consecutive national championships and passed for 9,015 yards, 77 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in his career. Murray threw for 13,126 yards, 121 touchdowns and 41 interceptions as both quarterbacks thrived in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference.
"Guys like Wenning and Mathews are gifted enough kids with good enough arms, athletic and very high in intangibles," Lande said. "The Ravens could find a guy in the third, fourth or fifth round that could be a solid backup and maybe start if something happens to Flacco. It's a very strong overall group with no elite quarterbacks, so good ones will be there late.
"It's perfect for a team like Baltimore. There should be a four or five guys in the same area like McCarron and Murray. Kubiak likes guys who are smart generally, have good mechanics. They don't have to be top athletes like Tyrod Taylor. He prefers taller kids with some mobility and arm strength."
At 6 feet 6 inches, 248 pounds, Thomas has a rare combination of size, speed and arm strength. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds — faster than any quarterback at the NFL scouting combine. Some teams are even evaluating him as a potential tight end.
Thomas struggled with turnovers and deep-ball accuracy, finishing his career with 9,003 yards, 53 touchdowns, 39 interceptions and 23 fumbles.
"Logan from a physical skill set is arguably the best in the draft," Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. "Size, speed, arm strength, athleticism, he's really gifted. He's been in a couple of offensive schemes. He's had to deal with some years where the receivers weren't that productive for him and were inconsistent.
"I think the arrow's pointed up for him. He has a lot of upside, a lot of physical upside. He's a great kid, got a chance to talk with him at the Senior Bowl and really enjoyed chatting with him."
Wenning orchestrated 10 fourth-quarter comebacks, finishing with 11,402 yards and 92 touchdowns as a four-year starter. He passed for 4,148 yards and 35 touchdowns as a senior with just seven interceptions. Wenning has drawn high marks for his intelligence and poise and has decent size at 6-3, 218 pounds.
Mathews was a four-year starter who finished with 47 school records and 18 Ivy League records.
The Ravens talked with both players at the East-West Shrine all-star game.
"They're both very smart football-wise," Hortiz said. "Both know what to do with the ball. They're accurate passers. Wenning is more of an underneath passer in terms of the way he distributes the ball, but he does have arm [strength] and he showed that in the East-West, as did Mathews."
The Ravens are also closely monitoring the Houston Texans to see what happens with quarterbacks T.J. Yates and Case Keenum, who Kubiak coached. It's possible one or both could be available at some point between now and the regular season.
The Ravens could also choose to pull the trigger and draft a quarterback this week.
"Everybody sees that position very, very different," Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said. "You trust your decision-makers and scouts and you draft a quarterback you think is best if you need one because it's a quarterback league."
Backup quarterback candidates
Here's a look at five quarterbacks draft prospects that could make sense for the Ravens as potential backups to starter Joe Flacco:
1. Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois)
2. A.J. McCarron (Alabama)
3. Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech)
4. Aaron Murray (Georgia)
5. Keith Wenning (Ball State)
-- Aaron WilsonCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun