Ravens position-by-position draft preview: Linebacker

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 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 linebackers.

Current linebackers under contract: Outside - Terrell Suggs, Matthew Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams; Inside - C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Kamalei Correa, Albert McClellan, Bam Bradley

Chances that the Ravens will draft a linebacker in first three rounds: Possible. The Ravens are unlikely to target another edge rusher after selecting Bowser and Williams in the second and third rounds last year. They could, however, add an inside linebacker to the mix to play alongside C.J. Mosley. Onwuasor made some strides in that spot last year and the Ravens haven’t given up on Correa, a second-round pick in 2016. But they are in position with the 16th overall pick where one of the draft’s top inside linebackers could fall to them. It wouldn’t be a popular pick with the fan base. But if there is one spot on defense that is a bit unsettled, it’s weak-side linebacker.

Possibly on Ravens’ radar: Rashaan Evans, ILB (Alabama), Malik Jefferson, OLB/ILB (Texas), Darius Leonard, ILB/OLB (South Carolina State), Uchenna Nwosu, OLB (Southern California), Roquan Smith, ILB (Georgia)

Outlook: Would the Ravens be able to resist a guy like Smith or even Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds, the top two inside linebackers in the draft, if they are still on the board at No. 16? The team would benefit greatly from adding a fast and physical linebacker that can patrol the middle of the field and help out Mosley, particularly in coverage. Tight ends killed the Ravens last year and a linebacker who can match up well would address that concern. Evans, who is a guy the Ravens like, also brings a pass-rushing dimension. If the Ravens believe Onwuasor will continue to improve or the light will turn on for Correa, then they’ll likely stay with what they have. The same holds true for outside linebacker. Assuming everyone is healthy, the Ravens will have a hard enough time finding snaps for Bowser and Williams behind Suggs, Judon and Za’Darius Smith. Team officials have said many times that you can never have enough pass rushers, but adding another high-round pick to the mix would seemingly be an admission that they aren’t as high on Bowser or Williams as they were when they drafted them a year ago.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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