Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec shares his thoughts on the Ravens' pick in some early mock drafts, a big offseason for Courtney Upshaw and more.
The NFL draft is still about 2 1/2 months away, but the predictions and mock drafts have already begun in earnest. Predictably, most mock drafts have the Ravens either taking a defensive back, like Washington's Marcus Peters or Louisiana State's Jalen Collins, or a pass catcher, like Arizona State's Jaelen Strong or Michigan's Devin Funchess. You can't go wrong predicting either as those are probably the team's two biggest areas of need. But I think the Ravens would strongly consider taking a pass rusher if a guy they really like falls to them at No. 26 overall. And if they don't get an edge rusher in the first round, I'd expect them to grab one soon after that.
Think about it: The Ravens likely will lose their top interior rusher, Pernell McPhee, in free agency. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are 32 years old and 31 years old, respectively. While valuable as an edge setter, Courtney Upshaw really hasn't developed into an every-down pass rusher, and he's set to become a free agent after the 2015 season. The Ravens really don't have anybody else. The top free-agent pass rushers will get paid big money on the open market, so the draft will probably be the best opportunity for the Ravens to add somebody who can pressure the quarterback.
Speaking of Upshaw, there's a long offseason ahead, so this note is a tad premature. But Upshaw, who has seemingly dealt with weight and conditioning questions at the start of every training camp, has to look at this offseason as a major opportunity. Not only will he be playing for a contract, but McPhee's expected departure could lead to an every-down role for Upshaw if the former Alabama standout proves up to it. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees loved having McPhee, Suggs and Dumervil rushing the passer from different spots on third downs. Upshaw could be a candidate to enter that mix.
One last comment on the draft: It would really surprise me if the Ravens took a running back in the first round, but it's worth noting that they'll probably have a better scouting report on the draft's top-rated running back, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, than any other team. Thomas Hammock, now with the Ravens, was Gordon's position coach for three seasons at Wisconsin.
Teams can start applying the franchise tag on prospective free agents Monday. The Ravens don't have an obvious candidate for the tag this offseason, but the process is certainly something that they'll monitor. One reason why is if the top prospective free-agent wide receivers -- Demaryius Thomas of the Denver Broncos and Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys -- get franchised as many people around the league expect, the market for Ravens free-agent wide receiver Torrey Smith could be bigger. It also will be interesting to see if the New England Patriots use the franchise tag on standout safety Devin McCourty. It's not a likely scenario by any stretch, but McCourty sure would make a lot of sense for the Ravens.
The team announced Tuesday that it's annual "State of the Ravens" news conference will be held Feb. 24. Owner Steve Bisciotti, team president Dick Cass, general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh will take questions from the media in a news conference that is traditionally held earlier in the offseason. I've gotten some questions about the timing of it, but I wouldn't read too much into it. Bisciotti doesn't live in Maryland full time and other Ravens officials have had other obligations. The first week of the offseason, Harbaugh dealt with Gary Kubiak's departure and the search for his next offensive coordinator. The following week, Harbaugh and his staff were coaching the Pro Bowl. Then, after the Super Bowl, several of the top Ravens officials had their annual meeting at Bisciotti's Florida home. Next week is the NFL scouting combine. So, there hasn't been a whole lot of time where the Ravens' top decision-makers have all been at the team facility at once.