Unless Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan is available when the Ravens go on the clock for the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft, general manager Ozzie Newsome and director of college scouting Eric DeCosta will be faced with an age-old dilemma.
Do they choose for need or do they select the most talented player left on their draft board?
In other words, is Southern California defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis too good to pass up?
According to most mock drafts, the Ravens will likely take Ryan if the Atlantic Coast Conference's Player of the Year somehow falls into their lap or if they can trade up to get him. If not, Ellis is one of several players who should be there for the taking.
Given that a defensive lineman is not among the immediate needs for the Ravens, could they wind up taking Ellis anyway?
Listening to Newsome and DeCosta at the team's annual pre-draft news conference in Owings Mills last week, the answer is a firm ... maybe.
"If there are two players close together, if they have the same type [performance] grades, if one player is a need and the other player is not a need, we will take the need player," DeCosta said. "But, in almost every case, if there's a significant difference in ability between the two players, we're always going to pick the better player - regardless of need."
Therein lies the quandary: Is Ellis better, even marginally, at his position than Troy cornerback Leodis McKelvin or Boise State offensive tackle Ryan Clady are at theirs? The latter two might become immediate contributors, or even starters, given the Ravens' situation in the secondary or at left tackle.
"In another draft, I think this would be a guy who would be a top-three pick," DeCosta said of Ellis, the Pacific-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2007. "But because of this unique draft, where you have Chris Long and Glenn Dorsey and [Vernon] Gholston, the picks in the latter half of the top 10 are going to have a good chance of getting Sedrick Ellis. I think he is one of the best players at his position to come out of the draft in a long time."
Ellis is in the group of elite defensive linemen along with Virginia's Long, LSU's Dorsey and Ohio State's Gholston, but unlike the others, he should be available at the No. 8 spot in the draft. Ellis would likely be a backup to Haloti Ngata and Trevor Pryce, though Pryce, 32, has missed considerable time in two of the past four seasons with injuries.
Because of his build, and the energy with which he plays, the 6-foot-1, 309-pound Ellis has been compared to Ravens nose guard Kelly Gregg. Ellis, who played behind Mike Patterson of the Philadelphia Eagles his first two seasons at USC, said he is willing to play either nose guard or tackle.
"I worked hard to get here," Ellis told reporters at the NFL combine in Indianapolis in February. "A lot of players in my position would have left a year ago, but I chose to stay at school and finish my classes and get my degree from USC and also at the same time be a great football player. I'm thankful, but I'm not surprised."
Though it seems unlikely, it shouldn't be a shock if the Ravens take Ellis.
In their history, the Ravens tend to pick players from big schools over small schools, though Troy has often played Bowl Championship Series-conference opponents and Boise State played in a BCS game two seasons ago, beating Oklahoma in a memorable Fiesta Bowl shootout.
But the Ravens have taken only one defensive tackle in the first round, choosing Ngata with the No. 12 pick in 2006.
"Defensive linemen are so unique," DeCosta said. "There are not many of them out there. If you have the chance to take a great one, I think you owe it to yourself to do that."
Former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf, considered one of the most astute talent evaluators in recent NFL history, knows what Newsome and DeCosta are going through as they await the draft, which starts Saturday.
"You have to take the player that can best fill your needs without trying to take a lesser player," Wolf said last week. "What happens in the top five or top 10, you try to take for need, but I'm not so sure you don't take the best player that's available to you."
Is Ellis too good to pass up?
Born: May 9, 1985
Hometown: Chino, Calif.
College: Southern California
Position: Defensive tackle
College highlights: 2007 Pacific-10 Defensive Player of the Year. ... Two-time All-American. ... 58 tackles (12 1/2 for losses) in 2007, with 8 1/2 sacks and seven pass deflections.
Interesting fact: USC had to buy 200-pound dumbbells to accommodate Ellis when the 160-pound weights weren't enough of a challenge for him.