Eighteen years ago during their inaugural draft, the Ravens landed future Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis late in the first round.
It was a masterful selection, especially since there were questions surrounding Lewis at that time due to a lack of ideal size. Lewis wound up winning a pair of NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, providing leadership for two Super Bowl championship teams.
Now that Lewis has retired, the Ravens are tasked with replacing him to bolster an inside linebacker spot weakened by Dannell Ellerbe signing with the Miami Dolphins and Jameel McClain still not medically cleared from a spinal cord contusion. Plus, trouble-prone middle linebacker Rolando McClain was arrested this week and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
If the Ravens don't utilize their first-round draft pick (No. 32) Thursday to address the position, they're expected to acquire an inside linebacker at some point in the draft.
"It's a strong class," Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said. "There are probably more players this year at the inside linebacker position that are draftable than in the last five or six years. Guys come in all shapes or sizes. You've got your really good athletes. You've got your guys who can play downhill, play real physical.
"I think there are a lot of really good players at the inside linebacker position. I think we're in pretty good shape. At some point in the draft, whether it's the first round or the seventh round, we're going to draft one and I'm confident that whoever we draft in that position is going to come in and help our football team."
Should the Ravens draft an inside linebacker in the first round, there are three leading candidates with enough positive attributes to make an argument for immediately filling the spot: Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, Georgia's Alec Ogletree and LSU's Kevin Minter. In each case, though, there are enough drawbacks.
Te'o is the most scrutinized player in the draft.
First, he was duped through a high-profile Internet scandal involving a fake girlfriend, causing him embarrassment. Then, Te'o was thrashed by Alabama in the BCS national title game. He compounded that issue with a slow 40-yard dash of 4.82 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.
Not regarded as a great athlete, there are concerns that Te'o might never become an impact player.
"I think Manti would be a very smart choice for Baltimore even if he never makes the Pro Bowl," said draft analyst Russ Lande, a former NFL scout who's the scouting director for National Football Post. "He's a leader, tough, hard-nosed, a vocal guy. During his rookie year, the vets are going to razz ... him. Eventually, he can take command. I think he'd be a great fit for the Ravens. He could get there because middle linebackers always fall."
There's also a strong chance Te'o, who intercepted seven passes last season and finished with 437 career tackles, doesn't make it to the Ravens' pick.
The Chicago Bears (No. 20) and Minnesota Vikings (No. 23) are considered two potential landing destinations for Te'o.
The Ravens say they don't have any reservations about Te'o.
"We've had a lot of conversations with him, that's what we do," DeCosta said. "We spent a lot of time with him. I personally have a great comfort level with him. I think he's a quality kid. I think he's very, very intelligent. I think he's a heck of a football player and I think he's going to make some team extremely happy."
Character concerns could depress the draft stock of Ogletree, a converted safety known for his athleticism and ability to run, hit and cover.
Ogletree was arrested for driving under the influence the week before the combine, served a four-game suspension last season for violating the school drug policy and was arrested three years ago and charged with theft.
"The wild card is Ogletree," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "If he slides and he could and he's staring you right in the face at 32, he's got an exciting physical talent with some question marks attached to his character."
Ogletree has 4.69 speed, but appeared to play faster and recorded 197 career tackles and six sacks. He delivered a punishing tackle to bruising Alabama running back Eddie Lacy in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
"If Ogletree's there, I think they take a chance on him because he's a rare specimen," Lande said. "I've heard from a number of people that he's not a bad kid, more of a loner and a follower. You put him around good people and he might not get in trouble. People talk about him being dumb, but he called all their defensive signals. I don't think intelligence is an issue."
Minter is expected to be available at the end of the first round.
Shorter than Te'o and Ogletree at 6-foot, 245 pounds with average 4.72 speed and a 34 1/2 inch vertical leap, Minter is instinctive, tough and productive. He consistently defeats blocks and is a sound tackler and blitzer with 206 career tackles, 18.5 for losses and five sacks.
Is Minter just a two-down linebacker with strong intangibles? Or is he talented enough for the Ravens to plug in and play right away?
"Minter is a great fit for Baltimore," Lande said. "He's not a great athlete, but he's a physical, aggressive player who violently takes on blocks and makes a bunch of tackles."
The Ravens' options beyond the first round could include everyone from fast, undersized Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, Florida's Jon Bostic, Oregon's Kiko Alonso, North Carolina's Kevin Reddick and Rutgers' Steve Beauharnais.
A transfer from the University of Miami, Brown is a true sideline-to-sideline defender who made tackles all over the field to pile up 218 tackles for his career. However, he has trouble keeping on weight.
"Brown reminds me of Ray coming out of Miami because he's 225 to 230 pounds and he can run," Lande said. "He's a great athlete with a nose for the ball."
NFL draft: Top Inside linebackers
1. Alec Ogletree;Georgia;6-2 244
2. Manti Te'o;Notre Dame;6-1 243
3. Kevin Minter;LSU;6-0 245
4. Arthur Brown;Kansas State;6-0 236
5. Kiko Alonso;Oregon;6-3 236Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun