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For Ravens, too early to look at NFL draft, not too early to flex out of prime time

After 12 weeks of the season, there are 12 teams, including the Ravens, that have four wins or fewer. The obvious takeaway from that is that there are not a whole lot of teams playing good football this year.

But the number also serves as my weekly reminder that regardless of the Ravens' struggles, it's still premature to talk about who they might select in the NFL draft. They could be picking anywhere from first to 12th right now.

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Their injury situation and the fact that four of their final five games are against teams either in playoff positioning or right on the cusp of it tells me that they'll be picking somewhere on the lower end of that scale. However, it's still too early.

Offseason position needs

Speaking of the draft and free agency, how many positions can you say that the Ravens are reasonably set at as the offseason approaches?

Between Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Terrance West and Lorenzo Taliaferro, the Ravens are in good shape at running back. They don't need a tight end. And they are deep along the defensive line.

Beyond that, everything else should be in play, and that includes wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker, cornerback, safety and yes, even quarterback at some point, whether in free agency or the middle of the draft.

Don't misunderstand -- I have little doubt that Joe Flacco will be back next year, but the Ravens probably will need a better insurance policy, especially if he stands to miss most of the offseason activity as he recovers from eventual knee surgery.

Linebacker shuffle

As my colleague, Jon Meoli, pointed out yesterday, Ravens inside linebacker Daryl Smith played just 46 snaps in Monday night's victory over the Cleveland Browns.

The Browns spread the Ravens out and attacked linebackers Smith and C.J. Mosley in the middle of the field with strong results. So, the Ravens took Smith out on obvious passing downs and replaced him with the younger and quicker Zachary Orr, who played a career-high 28 defensive snaps.

It could be just a one-game adjustment or it might be a sign of things to come. Either way, you have to wonder what the future holds for Smith, a 33-year-old who has had such a solid career, and still is an effective player.

At some point, the Ravens figure to trend younger and quicker in the middle. Cutting Smith this offseason would free up a little over $2.5 million of salary cap space. Smith also could decide to retire following his 12th NFL season, although he said last month that wasn't a consideration.

Forsett's future

I think it would be wise to wait and see how things develop before concluding that the Ravens would be fine moving on from Forsett this offseason.

Sure, Allen and West flashed potential as a nice one-two punch Monday, but the Browns have the worst run defense in the NFL, and the pair didn't exactly gash them.

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Let's see if Allen can handle the workload of a top back and continue to improve every week. Let's see if West continues to grow as a person and a player, and cashes in on this opportunity with his hometown team.

Let's see if Taliaferro is getting healthier and has a chance to contribute in the future.

Forsett is a team leader and a steady performer, and his contract isn't prohibitive at all. There's no reason to be in a hurry to move on from him.

Effort on Hill's touchdown

I agree with my friend, WJZ-TV's Mark Viviano, who abhors complimenting professional athletes for playing hard and not quitting. As Buck Showalter likes to say, that should be a given.

Still, if you get a chance, watch the replay of Will Hill's 64-yard, game-winning punt return touchdown Monday.

Hill had about seven Ravens busting their butts to get up the field and cut off any potential Browns from getting to him. Ravens coach John Harbaugh called it a "thing of beauty," and I'm sure he was even prouder after watching the film.

It was a tremendous display of execution first, and then effort.

Another prime-time decision coming

With it now official that the Ravens-Seattle Seahawks game on Dec. 13 at M&T Bank Stadium has been "flexed" off prime time and moved to 1 p.m., the countdown is on for the league to make the same decision with the Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game on Dec. 27.

Obviously, the league loves the Ravens-Steelers rivalry playing out on prime time. When they met on a Thursday night in September, it marked the 14th regular-season meeting between the teams that was in prime time.

However, there are seemingly too many other matchups that figure to have playoff implications in Week 16 for the league to stick with the AFC North battle on "Sunday Night Football."

The Carolina Panthers face the Atlanta Falcons, and very well could still be undefeated by then. The New York Giants play the Minnesota Vikings in a game between two teams battling for division titles. The New England Patriots and New York Jets, a regular matchup on prime time, play for the second time this season. The headliner of the week figures to be the Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals.

I don't know which games, if any, that FOX and CBS have protected for that week. But it seems like there are enough options to make a pretty easy call on moving Ravens-Steelers out of prime time.

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