INDIANAPOLIS - Finding an answer at left tackle, both for the short-term as well as for the long-term, is expected to be one of the Baltimore Ravens' top priorities heading into the NFL draft in late April.
Bryant McKinnie's expected to leave as a free agent. Michael Oher, for as well as he played at right tackle in the playoffs, has proven to be a less than ideal option on the left side. And the Ravens don't have the cap space to make a run at impending free agents like Jake Long, Branden Albert or Jermon Bushrod.
Adding to Baltimore's problems is that it may have trouble finding an answer at left tackle through the draft.
Said ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay: "I think solidifying that future left tackle is probably the top need. ... [But] when you look at it, which offensive tackles are still going to be around? That's the big issue. Are those guys capable of becoming a good left tackle?"
Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M), Eric Fisher (Central Michigan) and Lane Johnson (Oklahoma) are all expected to be off the board well before the Ravens are on the clock with the 32nd pick in the first round and there's a significant drop-off in the quality of left tackles once those three come off the board.
"Absolutely a less than ideal position for the Ravens to find a left tackle at 32," said Rob Rang, a senior NFL draft analyst for NFLDraftScout.com and CBSSports.com. "But, at the same time, this is an offensive tackle draft class that's obviously very talented at the top, but it also has very good depth and some developmental prospects that I'm pretty excited about."
Menelik Watson (Florida State) is one of those players.
Watson played right tackle in his one season at Florida State - and he's considered to be far less refined than most of the other top-rated lineman in this year's draft, a product of not beginning to play football until two years ago - but he's a tremendous athlete with immense potential that Rang and McShay both believe has the skill set to make the transition to left tackle in the NFL.
Rang and McShay also both mentioned Watson as a player they expect to improve his stock when offensive linemen go through workouts at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this weekend. At 6-foot-5, 310-pounds, Watson, a former college basketball player at Marist, has reportedly been timed as fast as 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
"You get into that second tier of guys and Menelik Watson from Florida State has a lot of developmental upside," McShay said. "Really good athlete. ... Maybe he's an option [for the Ravens in the first round]."
Added Rang: "Menelik Watson played right tackle last season at Florida State, but he's a phenomenal athlete. And I think some teams, because of his athleticism and size, might project him to left tackle as well."
Rang also mentioned Kyle Long (Oregon) and David Bakhtiari (Colorado) as potential options for the Ravens at left tackle in either the second or third round.
Like Watson, Long played just one year of major college football - and he played left guard at Oregon, not left tackle - but he's described by Rang as a player with "the length and athletic ability that you're looking for in a developmental prospect at left tackle." Long is 6-foot-7, 311 pounds.
Bakhtiari, meanwhile, is a player Rang said is more ready to immediately contribute at left tackle at the NFL level, although many believe Bakthiari projects better at guard in the NFL than he does at tackle because of a lack of ideal arm length as well as his limitations in pass protection.
Brennan Williams (North Carolina) and Terron Armstead (Arkansas Pine Bluff) were two other players McShay mentioned as potentially being of interest to the Ravens as developmental options later in the draft.
Offensive lineman will be tested on the bench press today before going through on-field workouts and timing drills on Saturday.
"There's very good depth at left tackle throughout the draft," Rang said. "And obviously, the Baltimore Ravens and general manager Ozzie Newsome have done a spectacular job of not only being able to find talent in the first round but in later rounds as well."