Ravens officials have already established this offseason that one of their foremost priorities is acquiring help for quarterback Joe Flacco and a struggling offense. There will be opportunities to do that both in free agency and the draft.
The way ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. sees it, though, it’s more likely the team will use their first-round pick at No. 16 overall on a defensive back.
“They’ve got to get a corner; they’ve got to get a safety,” Kiper said this afternoon in a conference call after ESPN published his first mock draft earlier in the day. “That might be the direction they go at 16.”
Kiper, a Baltimore native, projected the Ravens to pick versatile Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, a Heisman Trophy finalist. Kiper conceded that there’s some uncertainty with what position Peppers will play at the next level, calling him a “tweener and more of a rover back.” He said that the comparisons between Peppers and the Arizona Cardinals’ Deone Bucannon, who was drafted as a safety but is now used primarily as a box linebacker, are valid.
“Peppers can play a lot of roles for a creative defensive coordinator,” Kiper said.
The Ravens clearly have a need at safety. Veteran Eric Weddle will return after a solid first season with the team, but fellow starter Lardarius Webb and 2015 starter Kendrick Lewis are viewed as potential salary cap casualties. Reserve safeties Matt Elam and Anthony Levine Sr. are also unrestricted free agents.
The team’s need at cornerback is even more significant. The Ravens struggled mightily without top corner Jimmy Smith on the field. Shareece Wright and Kyle Arrington are potential cuts and Jerraud Powers is a free agent, creating much uncertainty behind Smith and Tavon Young.
Kiper predicted that a lot of corners will go in the first round and he projected three to be taken before the Ravens are on the clock at 16: Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore to the New York Jets at six overall and Florida teammates Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson going to the Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles at picks 13 and 14.
Kiper said both Tabor and Wilson would be good options for the Ravens if they slide in the first round, and also cited Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey, Washington safety Budda Baker and Washington cornerback Sidney Jones as other good options.
He projects Hooker, who has drawn some comparisons to former Ravens safety Ed Reed, to go to the Washington Redskins with the pick right after the Ravens.
“If you get down to that point, I think the safeties will have a higher grade – Hooker and Peppers and even Budda Baker might have a slightly higher grade,” Kiper said. “That’s why the safety might be a little more in play unless a Tabor or a Wilson would slip down to the pick at 16.”
In an NFL Network mock draft, former Ravens scout Daniel Jeremiah has the Ravens selecting Wilson in the first round.