With three picks in the top 70, Ravens should target tough guys

Mike Preston says if the Ravens hit on this draft, they'll become contenders again. If not, it's time to make

If the Ravens want to be serious contenders again, this is the draft where they have to find impact players.

Their last two drafts appear to be solid but in 2016 the Ravens have the No. 6 overall pick along with Nos. 36 and 70. They should be able to come away with three starters in those spots.

If they do, then they could fill several holes, and one of the oldest teams in the NFL has a promising future. If not, the Ravens have to take a hard look at what went wrong with their drafting from the time they moved here in 1995-96 until now. If not, they must consider if changes need to be made.

"I guess it would be easy to say if you look at these drafts compared to 1996 though 2004, when we drafted two Hall of Famers early on, you have a lot more chance to be successful than when you're picking from anywhere from 20 to 32 which are the positions we have been in [lately]," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said.

"Unfortunately, we lost 11 games and we're back in top ten again," he continued. "But I would say these drafts have not been up to my standards, not up to [assistant GM Eric DeCosta's] standards, not up to Ravens standards, according to what we did early on."

The Ravens' most pressing needs are at left offensive tackle, pass rusher and cornerback. The consensus among experts is that Mississippi's Laremy Tunsil is the only tackle worth taking with the No. 6 pick, but he likely won't be available.

But the Ravens might be able to draft a cornerback like Florida State's Jalen Ramsey, a defensive end like Oregon's DeForest Buckner or Ohio State's Joey Bosa, or an outside linebacker like UCLA's Myles Jack.

The Ravens have the ammunition to trade up because they have nine picks overall, including four in the fourth round.

"Our position at No. 6 is where you're going to get a very good player," Eric DeCosta said.. "There are going to be linebackers and cornerbacks that are playmakers. I like guys at the top because we haven't been able to select these kinds of players for a while."

So hopefully, the Ravens get a player with nastiness and attitude. The Ravens have team leaders, but this team is just too nice. On defense, only end Timmy Jernigan and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs have that edge.

On offense, it's just guard Marshal Yanda and receiver Steve Smith who are tough guys. Last year against Seattle, Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett and Yanda were in a heated exchange and Bennett walked into the Ravens' huddle to have more words with Yanda.

Not one Ravens player threw him out. That would never have happened in the mid to late 1990's with guard Jeff Blackshear, center Wally Williams or tackles Jonathan Odgen and Orlando Brown.

They were tough guys. The Ravens need more like them. They need some players with the same aggressiveness of Vontaze Burfict, Cincinnati's inside linebacker, or the same cockiness of a Bennett.

Those players are out there; the Ravens just have to find them.

"I think there is some depth at that position," Joe Hortiz, the Ravens' director of college scouting, said about finding a pass rusher. "I think you can still find value if you don't strike early."

The Ravens used to find those players when they first moved to Baltimore. Drafting high in the first round, they selected running back Jamal Lewis, tackle Jonathan Ogden, linebacker Peter Boulware and cornerback Chris McAlister (not to mention Ray Lewis, who they took at pick No. 26).

Besides ability, they had one other common characteristic: They were Alpha males. They had attitude.

The Ravens have been one of the NFL's top teams since 2000, and winning has forced them to select later in each round. But since 2008 and up to 2014, the Ravens have struggled in the draft, particularly with players selected in the second to fourth rounds.

Only nine players picked in those rounds have had noticeable impact: tight end Dennis Pitta, receiver Torrey Smith, guard Kelechi Osemele, linebacker Courtney Upshaw, defensive tackle Brandon Williams and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

Meanwhile, 14 players taken in those rounds have been failures: linebackers Tavares Gooden, Sergio Kindle, Arthur Brown and John Simon; defensive tackle Terrence Cody, receivers Marcus Smith and Tandon Doss; and offensive linemen Jah Reid and David Hale.

The last two Ravens drafts have promise, with Jernigan, tight end Crockett Gillmore and defensive lineman Brent Urban in 2014, and tight end Maxx Williams, defensive linemen Za'Darius Smith and Carl Davis, and running back Buck Allen selected last year.

But few are tough guys. The Ravens don't have a lot of players other teams gameplan around.

"Honestly, I'm proud of our draft classes," DeCosta said. "We have won a Super Bowl fairly recently, right? I think we've made the playoffs a lot of years, right? I think if you look at all those draft classes, with the exception of maybe one, we've had at least two or three quality starters. And I also think – and you should research this – no team in the NFL has lost more players or had more money spent on their players over the last seven years than us.

"Have we drafted a ton of Pro Bowlers? No we haven't. But I'm proud of the players that we drafted, and I think we'll get back to being a really good team soon. I'm not going to stress out about it"

The Ravens haven't been to the playoffs in two of the last three years. From 2008 to 2014, they have been asleep in the draft. But now they get a chance to make a major statement in a few weeks. They get a chance to draft some impact players, and they better not blow it.

It's their chance to become a serious contender again.

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2016 NFL Draft

When: April 28-30 (First round begins at 8 p.m.)

Where: Chicago

TV: ESPN and NFL Network

Ravens' picks: 

1st round- 6

2nd round- 36

3rd round- 70

4th round- 104, 130, 132, 134

6th round- 182, 209

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