By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun
8:00 AM EDT, April 14, 2014
The draft hype will start kicking into high gear this week now that we are less than a month away from the first round on May 8. However, the direction the Ravens go with their first pick remains as unclear as ever. For years, the Ravens’ top decision-makers have talked about taking the “best player available” and staying “true to our board.” But almost always, the Ravens -- and every other NFL team, for that matter -- use their first draft pick to attack one of their biggest needs. That was true in 2011 with the selection of cornerback Jimmy Smith, in 2012 with the addition of outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, and again last year in picking safety Matt Elam. I’ve only covered two Ravens drafts, but I can’t remember the last time the team took a “luxury” pick with their first selection. But a couple things make predicting which way the Ravens will go at No. 17 overall more difficult than in past years. One, the projections of when the quarterbacks will fall in the first round this year is all over the map, and that obviously affects what players will get to the Ravens. Two, it’s hard to determine the Ravens’ biggest need. Is it a right tackle or a free safety? Do they view finding a replacement for departed defensive tackle Arthur Jones as a priority? Are they in love with one of the wide receivers who will be available when they are on the clock? How concerned are they with their cornerback depth? Those questions will be answered in a little more than three weeks.
I continue to believe that it would be extremely hard for the Ravens to resist taking an offensive tackle at No. 17, assuming either Michigan’s Taylor Lewan or Notre Dame’s Zack Martin will be available. With all their offensive line difficulties last season, getting a long-term answer at right tackle would fit in nicely with the Ravens’ offseason focus. They then could look for a safety in the second round, when guys like Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward and Washington State’s Deone Bucannon should still be on the board. That would allow them to focus on adding depth at running back, wide receiver, defensive end, middle linebacker and cornerback over the final five rounds.
Not acquiring a defensive lineman either in free agency or early in the draft would not only be a show of faith to DeAngelo Tyson and Brandon Williams, but it would also be a good indicator to how the Ravens feel about defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore. He has kind of become the forgotten man because he missed all of last season to rehabilitate a knee injury that he sustained in his final game at Notre Dame. When the Ravens drafted him in the sixth round, they were prepared to give Lewis-Moore a “redshirt” year. But he still got to practice for a few weeks and be in the meeting rooms all year. Before Lewis-Moore hurt his knee in the BCS national championship game, some pundits projected him as a second-day draft pick. Now healthy, Lewis-Moore will get the opportunity to prove them right.
Deonte Thompson certainly has to be relieved that the charges that he was facing from his February drug-related arrest have been dismissed. But the reality is that he still has an uphill battle to make the Ravens’ roster out of training camp. A former undrafted free agent, Thompson has made the team two straight years on the strength of his work in training camp practices. However, he hasn’t been able to carry that work into the regular season -- both practices and in games -- and the benefit of doubt that he’s gotten is just about up. Barring injuries, the Ravens already have four wide receiver spots locked up by Steve Smith, Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown. They also are expected to draft a wide receiver. That would seemingly leave one spot for roster holdovers Thompson, Aaron Mellette, Kamar Aiken and Gerrard Sheppard (Towson). The Ravens also love finding and developing undrafted free agent receivers as Thompson, Brown and LaQuan Williams (Poly, Maryland) have all followed that route the past three years.
I might be in the minority, but I think tight end Ed Dickson will have a solid season for the Carolina Panthers. He gets to play behind a quality No. 1 tight end in Greg Olsen and with a quarterback in Cam Newton who can utilize different offensive weapons. But more than anything, Dickson probably just needed a change of scenery. He was never going to have the rapport that Dennis Pitta had with Joe Flacco. He also would have continued to hear the murmurs from Ravens fans every time he dropped a pass. Now, he has a clean slate and a chance to rebuild his confidence. Talent and athleticism have never been the issues for Dickson, but confidence certainly has.
Tyrod Taylor said late last month that he relishes competition, and he certainly had no problem with the Ravens’ stated desire to bring in another quarterback to challenge Taylor for the backup job behind Flacco. Actions speak louder than words, of course, which is why Taylor’s decision to train extensively with former NFL Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia has to please team officials. I don’t know whether the two have worked together in the past, but Garcia, who made plays with both his arm and his legs in a 12-year NFL career, would be a great mentor for Taylor. Flacco’s three-year backup may be the most athletic player on the team, but Taylor obviously hasn’t shown in limited game opportunities -- and in practice -- the ability to consistently do the other things that the position requires. Garcia should help him in those areas. Remember, Taylor won’t be just trying to win the backup quarterback job in training camp. He’ll be trying to show other teams entering his final season before free agency that he’s more than just a backup.
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