Each day leading up to the NFL Combine, which begins Feb. 24, 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. First on the list: Wide Receivers.
Ravens needs: The Ravens desperately need to do something about their lack of playmakers in the passing game, unless they want to see Joe Flacco spend another season throwing mostly dump offs to Ray Rice. When even Mark Clayton is admitting the team needs to go out and get a No. 1 wide receiver, you know there is an issue here. Even if the Ravens wanted to stand pat, they would have a difficult time doing so, considering that Clayton is a restricted free agent, Kelley Washington is an unrestricted free agent, and only Derrick Mason and the multiple personalities he showed in the locker room two days after the season was over -- when he retired and un-retired in the span of three sentences -- know whether or not he's going to be back.
Top Players Available: Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State; Damian Williams, USC; Golden Tate, Notre Dame; Brandon LaFell, LSU; Arrelious Benn, Illinois.
Analysis: Drafting wide receivers in the first round is like dating a young Hollywood starlet. Sure, they're all divas, but in the beginning, it's difficult to tell the difference between the Anne Hathaways and the Lindsay Lohans. Ozzie Newsome has used two first-round picks on a wide receiver (Travis Taylor, 2000; Mark Clayton 2005) and both times, the results were disappointing at best. If by some miracle Bryant fell to the 25th pick, the Ravens would definitely snatch up the former Oklahoma State standout, but that's unlikely to happen. Remember, this is a team that refuses to deviate from its strategy of picking the "Best Player Available," which is why mock drafts that have them picking Golden Tate or Brandon LaFell have about as much insight as the guy two stools down from you in the bar.
Tate is generously listed at 5-foot-11, and caught a lot of screen passes in college. He doesn't run great routes, doesn't have elite speed, and has average hands. But no one hypes their players like the Golden Domers, and I say this as a good Irish Catholic. Those who look at Tate and see another Percy Harvin are kidding themselves.
LaFell has great tools but mediocre hands. There is even a Facebook group titled "Donate and Let's Buy Brandon LaFell a Pair of Hands" presumably started by LSU fans. Damian Williams has decent size and runs excellent routes, but average speed. He's worth a long, hard look if he's there and some of the other players the Ravens want are not. But in the end, the value likely isn't going to be there at this position for the Ravens, no matter how hungry fans are for a wide receiver.
Chance the Ravens pick a wide receiver in first round: In my opinion, it looks increasingly unlikely. Someone would have to really impress them at the combine.
UPDATE: The signing of Dante Stallworth, in my opinion, makes it even less likely the Ravens will reach for a wide receiver early, even though Stallworth is, at best, a good No. 2 receiver. I doubt the Ravens are done trying to upgrade that position -- and for Flacco's sake, they'd better not be -- but the collective bargaining agreement is going to make a big splashy move difficult. Danario Alexander of Missouri would be an interesting look in the second or third round. He led the country in receiving yards last year, and has great size (6-foot-5) and is a good route runner, but doesn't have elite speed. He did also have three knee surgeries in college, but at times has looked like a first-round talent. He would be an intriguing project for the Ravens.