As draft nears, Ozzie Newsome and Ravens front office prepared to answer myriad questions

After months of talk and projections, NFL draft week is finally here for the Ravens.

By now, you likely know the particulars. The Ravens have the 16th overall pick and eight total selections in the draft, which begins Thursday night. They have one pick in every round except the sixth, in which they have two.

Here are some of the biggest questions facing the Ravens as they prepare for the draft:

Will the Ravens be able to find a trade partner and move back in the first round?

The ideal scenario for the Ravens is to be on the clock at 16 and have several of their first-round targets still available and several teams interested in moving up into their spot. If they could move back to the low 20s or somewhere in that area and pick up an extra second-day pick, that would have to be viewed as a huge win. Picking in the low 20s would likely still allow them to get one of the top wide receivers or tight ends, or a plug-and-play offensive lineman. However, this draft is highly regarded for its depth, not its elite talent, meaning that teams might not want to give up mid-round picks at the expense of moving up in the first. But all it takes is a couple of coveted players to fall for teams to change their minds and want to move up. The 16th slot could be a nice landing spot for a team that covets Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Are there scenarios in which the Ravens could take a defensive player first?

There probably would be a fan mutiny if the Ravens select a defensive player first. But while fans don’t want to hear it, the Ravens might be in position to get far better value at 16 on a defensive player than an offensive player. I say that because other than the top quarterbacks, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, this isn’t a top-heavy offensive draft. The chances of a top defensive player falling into the Ravens’ lap at 16 are much higher. Perhaps, one of the top inside linebackers, such as Georgia’s Roquan Smith or Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds, falls; or maybe ultra-talented University of Texas-San Antonio pass rusher Marcus Davenport, Florida State defensive back Derwin James or Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick is available. General manager Ozzie Newsome has always adhered to the “best-player available” approach. A guy like Smith or James, who could add another dimension to the defense, would be tough to pass up.

Do the Ravens love Calvin Ridley?

The player connected to the Ravens most often in mock drafts is Ridley, the Alabama wide receiver. It makes sense. The Ravens have been tireless this offseason in their pursuit of wide receivers. Newsome’s fondness for Alabama players is well documented. But what we don’t know is whether the Ravens love Ridley and believe he has No.1 receiver potential. Ridley’s stock has seemingly dropped in the pre-draft process. He had a sluggish performance at the scouting combine. There are concerns about how he’ll hold up physically and how he’ll combat big, strong cornerbacks. Several evaluators and analysts, including NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, believe Maryland wideout DJ Moore is a better prospect than Ridley. But all that matters is what the Ravens think. If they believe in Ridley, they should select him at 16. He would complete their offseason transformation at the position.

How comfortable are the Ravens with Matt Skura starting at center and James Hurst at right tackle?

If the season started next week, the starting offensive line would feature from left to right: Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Skura, Marshal Yanda and Hurst. Stanley, Lewis and Yanda seem entrenched at their spots, but this draft will reveal just how content the Ravens are with Skura as the starting center and Hurst as the starting right tackle. There will be opportunities in the first couple of rounds to find a day-one starter at both positions. At tackle, Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey is a logical first-round target in an otherwise uninspiring tackle class. At center, Iowa’s James Daniels, Ohio State’s Billy Price and Arkansas’ Frank Ragnow are expected to be taken anywhere from the second half of the first round to the first half of the second. None of these guys would be sexy picks, but there’s something to be said for getting an immediate starter at a key position. If the Ravens don’t address the offensive line until the third day, that’s a pretty good indication that they believe Skura and Hurst are adequate replacements for Ryan Jensen and Austin Howard.

Are the Ravens desperate for a tight end?

On paper, a pass-catching tight end looks like the Ravens’ biggest need, and this year’s draft offers some good options, including South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst, South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert and Penn State’s Mike Gesicki. The quandary is that where the Ravens are picking in the first round is probably too early to take a tight end from a value standpoint. Yet, it’s possible none of the top tight ends will be on the board when the Ravens pick in the second round at No. 52. That means that the Ravens’ options are picking Hurst at 16, trading back in the first round and trying to get him in a better spot, or trading up in the second round to increase their chances of landing Goedert or Gesicki. Of course, the Ravens might also like a few of the second- and third-tier tight end options who they might be able to get in the middle rounds. Either way, the Ravens badly need to come out of this draft with a tight end who can make plays down the field.

How determined are the Ravens to find a successor for Joe Flacco in this draft?

The Ravens are in the quarterback market, but it doesn’t appear they are in the first-round quarterback market. Beyond that, it’s unclear how motivated they are to add a quarterback in this draft. If it’s a priority to find a quarterback who could sit behind Flacco for a year or two and then succeed him as the starter, the Ravens are going to likely have to use a second- or third-round pick on that player. Because of the importance of the position and the number of teams that are looking to groom a young quarterback, the second-tier signal callers will likely go a round or two earlier than they probably should. If the Ravens covet Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph or Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta, they are probably going to need to use a second-round pick to make sure they get one of them. If the plan is to use a late-round pick on a developmental guy that they’ll try to store on their practice squad in 2018, you’d have to question whether that’s the best use of their draft currency, given their myriad needs.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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