Ravens position-by-position draft preview: Defensive line

Whether the Ravens have been coming off a Super Bowl victory or a season in which they fell short of the playoffs, team officials have never put a greater importance on any single draft. Their stated focus has always been on the one immediately in front of them.

It’s indisputable, though, that the 2018 version is arriving at a critical time for the organization. The Ravens have missed the playoffs in three consecutive years, the longest stretch since they failed to qualify for the postseason in their first four seasons in Baltimore. Fan frustration with one of the most stable franchises in the NFL might be at an all-time high, evidenced by the number of empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium last year as the team fought for a playoff berth. General manager Ozzie Newsome is preparing for his final season in his current position, and the 2018 season will also bring questions about the futures of several other long-term franchise mainstays, including coach John Harbaugh, quarterback Joe Flacco and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.

 

With several holes on the offensive side of the ball, the pressure is on the Ravens’ top decision-makers to turn their draft currency into immediate roster help. The Ravens will head into the three-day draft, which gets underway on April 26, with eight total picks: one each in the first (16th overall), second (52nd), third (83rd), fourth (118th), fifth (154th) and seventh (238th) rounds, and two in the sixth round (190th and 215th).

Through Wednesday, the day before the start of the draft, The Baltimore Sun will break down what the Ravens have at each position, the chance that they will add to it and what prospects could possibly be targeted with those picks.

Today we’ll look at defensive linemen.

Current defensive linemen under contract: Ends - Brent Urban, Bronson Kaufusi, Chris Wormley; Tackles - Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Carl Davis, Willie Henry

Chances that the Ravens will draft a defensive lineman in first three rounds: Low. When it comes to drafting defensive linemen, the Ravens should never be counted out. They’ve taken at least one in nine consecutive drafts with general manager Ozzie Newsome adhering to the philosophy of building the roster from the inside out. If there was a year for that streak to end, this would be it. The Ravens are loaded with veterans along the defensive line. Along with cornerback, the defensive line is probably the position where the team has the most depth. The Ravens could use an interior pass rusher, but those players are tough to find after the first round and the Ravens just have far bigger needs.

Possibly on Ravens’ radar: Da’Shawn Hand (Alabama), Maurice Hurst (Michigan), Da’Ron Payne (Alabama), Harrison Phillips (Stanford)

Outlook: At his annual offseason news conference, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti jokingly predicted that his team wouldn’t be taking a defensive tackle in the first round, given his team’s myriad offensive needs. It also was a nod to what the Ravens already have at the position. The Ravens are two or three deep at every spot along the defensive line. The Ravens have Williams and Pierce at the two tackle spots with Davis and Henry behind them. Urban is the likely starter at the five-technique spot with Kaufusi and Wormley potentially backing him up. The Ravens have done a great job developing defensive linemen, so they like to add one or two to the mix every year. However, they’ve also shown the ability to find quality undrafted defensive linemen. They’ll likely add at least one defensive lineman, but that move figures to be made either late on day three of the draft or in the undrafted free-agent period that follows. Some mock drafts have connected the Ravens with Payne, who is a nice prospect. However, it would be a tough sell to use a precious early-round pick on one of your deepest positions.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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