NFL draft position-by-position breakdown: Linebackers

What are the chances the Ravens select a linebacker in the NFL draft?

The Ravens’ insistence on taking the best player rather than targeting their biggest need adds to the shroud of mystery that annually surrounds the organization heading into the NFL draft.

While draft pundits have been consistent in projecting the Ravens to use their 26th overall pick on either a wide receiver or a cornerback, general manager Ozzie Newsome has shown that he’s not afraid to do the unexpected.

It would be foolish to dismiss the possibility that Newsome will use the pick to further bolster a position of perceived strength or even trade it to add to the team’s middle-round draft haul.

Until April 30, the first round of the 2015 NFL draft, The Baltimore Sun will examine the Ravens’ depth at each position, the potential of them adding to that spot early in the draft and some of the players who they could target.

The Ravens will enter the three-day draft with 10 picks: one in each of the first, second, third and sixth rounds, and three each in the fourth and fifth rounds.

We've already looked at running backsquarterbacks, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line and defensive line. Today, we’ll examine the defensive line:

Linebackers under contract: Outside — Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw; Inside — Daryl Smith, C.J. Mosley, Arthur Brown, Albert McClellan, Zach Orr

Chances the Ravens draft a linebacker in first three rounds: High. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti raised some eyebrows when he declared a pass rusher as the team’s “quietest need.”

The Ravens are set at inside linebacker, but Suggs and Dumervil aren’t getting any younger, Upshaw is a free agent after the 2015 season and the Ravens didn’t replace Pernell McPhee in free agency.

It’s been a goal of the Ravens the past couple of years to find a young pass rusher that they can develop. This year’s draft offers several top options, and it’s not impossible that one could fall to the Ravens at No. 26.

Possibly on Ravens’ radar: Outside — Bud Dupree (Kentucky), Randy Gregory (Nebraska), Eli Harold (Virginia), Lorenzo Mauldin (Louisville), Nate Orchard (Utah); Inside — Stephone Anthony (Clemson), Bryce Hager (Baylor), Benardrick McKinney (Mississippi State)

Outlook: So much of what the Ravens do defensively is predicated on applying pressure to quarterbacks. Dumervil and Suggs combined for 29 sacks last year, a team record for two teammates, but they are 31 and 32 years old, respectively.

As Bisciotti has said, two pass rushers just aren’t enough anymore in the pass-happy NFL. The Ravens need to replace McPhee’s 71/2 sacks and consistent quarterback pressure. Pass-rushing prospects like Shane Ray, Vic Beasley and Gregory will likely all be gone by the time the Ravens are on the clock. However, a guy like Dupree could slip and Harold should be available, or the Ravens could opt for a developmental pass rusher in the middle rounds.

Inside linebacker is not really a need, with Smith and Mosley rarely coming off the field and Brown still waiting for an opportunity. However, the team has done its homework on McKinney, arguably the top inside linebacker in the draft.

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