Kiper: Ebron would be a 'heck of a pick' for Ravens

The NFL draft is more than three months away, and how players perform at the NFL Scouting Combine later this month and then at their individual Pro Days could change how they are perceived by NFL teams.

However, at this point, longtime ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper believes North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron would be a "heck of a pick" for the Ravens if he is still on the board when Baltimore picks in the first round in early May.

The Ravens will pick either 16th or 17th, pending the result of a coin flip with the Dallas Cowboys.

"They need a tight end desperately added to this team," Kiper said during a teleconference Thursday.

Tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are both set to be unrestricted free agents.

Baltimore has said that retaining Pitta will be a priority, but the Ravens could look to add a tight end early in the draft even if Pitta is back.

General manager Ozzie Newsome said at Baltimore's season-review news conference in January that the Ravens plan to add at least one new weapon for quarterback Joe Flacco, whether that be a wide receiver or a tight end.

It's also worth noting that new Baltimore offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's offenses with the Houston Texans often had more than one tight end on the field at the same time.

"Ebron, to me, is a guy to me who could really help Joe Flacco and be a viable pick at that point," Kiper said. "He could even go earlier. And if he goes earlier, then maybe you look at Marqise Lee, a wide receiver from USC, or Mike Evans, a wide receiver from Texas A&M."

Here are some other Ravens-related tidbits from Kiper's teleconference:

- Kiper is high on Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward, a potential Ravens target.

"Jimmie Ward is an outstanding playmaker," KIper said. "He's not the big safety [at just 5-10, 191], but I think he fits today's NFL with his coverage ability and the fact he's around the action so much and makes so many impact plays. I think he could go second or third round. I think he is going to be a fast riser."

- Kiper believes as many as 6-9 wide receivers could go in the first round of the draft.

Evans and Lee have been linked some to Baltimore in various mock drafts, but Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks could be an option for the Ravens as well at some point during the first two rounds.

Cooks was listed at just 5-foot-10 and 186 pounds, but he had 128 catches for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013. He also ran for 217 yards and two touchdowns.

"I think you look at what Steve Smith did in Carolina, and the next Steve Smith could very easily be Brandin Cooks," Kiper said.

Smith is listed at just 5-9, 185, but he has been selected to five Pro Bowls since 2001.

"[Cooks] doesn't have tremendous size, but he's a heck of a football player," Kiper said.

- If Baltimore doesn't take a wide receiver early on, Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis could be an option in the third or fourth round.

Kiper compared Abbrederis' skill set to that of Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who had 85 catches for 1,314 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013.

Abbrederis had 78 catches for 1,081 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, including 10 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown in a game against Ohio State during which he was primarily matched up against highly-rated cornerback Bradley Roby.

"[Abbrederis] will be a nice, solid receiver in the NFL," Kiper said. "Great hands. Tremendous route runner, probably the best route runner of any receiver in this draft."

- Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan is another player that would likely be of interest to the Ravens if he is still available when they pick in the first round, but Kiper doesn't expect Lewan to be there.

Some draft pundits have Lewan projected to go around where Baltimore picks, but Kiper said Lewan is very much in the running with Auburn's Greg Robinson and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews to be the top tackle taken.

Either way, he said that he expects Lewan, Robinson and Matthews to all be among the first 11 picks in the draft.