Each day leading up to the NFL Combine, the Sun's Kevin Van Valkenburg will blog about a different position, assess the Ravens needs, and evaluate whether or not the Ravens might use an early pick on that position, and if they did, whom it might be. Next up on the list: Defensive line
Ravens needs: Let's not sugar coat it. The Ravens absolutely have to find a way to put more pressure on the quarterback in 2010. Even though they were arguably the league's top defense, the Ravens had only 32 sacks last season, Only 10 teams in the league had fewer sacks, and the Patriots (who had 31) were the only one of those teams to make the playoffs. Although getting pressure on the quarterback has always been important, the NFL is changing so much -- and emphasizing offense so much -- it's now more important than ever. Trevor Pryce will be 34 this year, and although he played well late in the year, he had only 6.5 sacks. Kelly Gregg -- who will be 33 -- actually had a strong season coming off a knee injury, recording 63 tackles and three sacks. And Haloti Ngata is emerging as one of the best defensive tackles in the game. Terrell Suggs didn't have his best year by any stretch, but he's also hurt by the perception that he should be posting double-digit sack numbers every year like Dwight Freeney. Suggs is not the pass rusher Freeney is by any stretch, but he's actually a more complete player, and more of an outside linebacker than a straight-up defensive end. He had nearly three times as many tackles that Freeney did last season despite missing three games with injuries. If all the Ravens asked him to do was rush the passer every play, he'd likely have better sack numbers, but the defense might not be as effective. That said, the Ravens do need someone who can spell Pryce and eventually take over for him, and it should be someone whose main job is to line up with their hand on the ground and blow by a tackle. Paul Kruger should contribute more this season, and the Ravens are likely going to try and retain Dwan Edwards -- who showed strides this year -- but getting a fast, athletic, defensive end is something the Ravens will be looking for in the very near future.
Best Players Available: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska, Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma; Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida; Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech; Everson Griffen, USC; Carlos Dunlap, Florida; Brian Price, UCLA; Dan Williams, Tennessee; Terrence Cody, Alabama; Jared Odrick, Penn State; Lamarr Houston, Texas; Corey Wootten, Northwestern; Alex Carrington, Arkansas StateAnalysis: Defensive lineman, especially defensive tackles, are almost as difficult to judge coming out of college as wide receivers. The first round is littered with busts drafted way too high. One theory: You end up giving a 320-pound man a virtual fortune at age 22, and suddenly he becomes 350 pounds and eats his way out of football. Suh and McCoy look like sure things right now, but the chances that one of them becomes the next Dewayne Robinson, Jonathan Sullivan or Jimmy Kennedy are pretty good. Defensive ends are a little different. They usually have to have what general managers describe as a "high motor" to be successful in college, so questions about their desire are easier to evaluate. (At least in theory.) Pierre-Paul has a ton of potential and would look great in purple, but he'll be long, long gone by the time the Ravens pick. One intriguing player the Ravens could take a long look at is Carlos Dunlap, Florida's 6-foot-7, 280-pound defensive end who should run a 40 somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.7. Dunlap had some minor character issues in Gainsville -- he was charged with DUI and pleaded no contest -- but that could work to the Ravens advantage if he falls to late the first round as a result. There were also some questions about his desire, but no matter what you think of Ray Lewis at this point in his career, there is no denying he gets young players to play hard. One of the things the Ravens prize the most in their defensive players is versatility, so Everson Griffen and Corey Wootten could be interesting prospects because it appears they are athletic enough to play either defensive end or outside linebacker (sort of like Suggs plays outside linebacker). Everson will likely go in the first round, but Wootten could be available in the second or even third. One other name to remember: Kevin Basped of Nevada. The 6-foot-6, 240 pound defensive end had 19.5 sacks the last two years for the Wolfpack, and has the potential to be a steal in the fourth round.
Chances the Ravens will pick a defensive lineman: Someone like Dunlap would have to fall to them at 25 to use a first round pick on a pass rusher, which isn't out of the question, but it's more likely the Ravens will try to mine for gold in the the second or third rounds.