Ravens beat writer Aaron Wilson talks about the players that might be available for the Ravens during the NFL draft. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
By the time the Ravens are on the clock in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night, the incoming rookie class will only be somewhat picked over by their NFL colleagues.
Although it's debatable which draft prospects will still be available for the Ravens' 26th overall selection, they have a strong track record of finding players in the bottom third of the first round: middle linebacker Ray Lewis (26th overall, 1996), tight end Todd Heap (31st overall, 2001), safety Ed Reed (24th overall, 2002), offensive guard Ben Grubbs (29th overall, 2007), offensive tackle Michael Oher (23rd overall, 2009) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (27th overall, 2011).
Drafted with the final pick of the first round in 2013, safety Matt Elam has struggled through two NFL seasons and has been put on notice by general manager Ozzie Newsome that he must upgrade his play this year.
Here's a look at five possible first-round scenarios for the Ravens, including potential trades:
The Ravens have already invested heavily in the cornerback position with a four-year, $48 million contract extension for Smith and a restructured deal for veteran corner Lardarius Webb. However, that didn't end their need at the position. The Ravens were reminded last season, when their cornerback depth was wiped out by injuries, that they need at least three viable cornerbacks.
They might not have to look far to bolster the position. The Ravens held a private workout and meeting with Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson and came away impressed with the River Hill graduate, according to sources. A former 154-pound college freshman, Johnson has developed into a polished, aggressive 6-foot, 188-pound shutdown corner.
"Kevin Johnson, I love," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "He could be the cleanest overall corner in the draft and has been rising up boards. I think he's going to go somewhere between 16 to 25, in that range. As the defensive back coaches have gotten involved, he's gotten pushed up a little bit. The coaches love him because he's an intelligent kid."
Washington cornerback Marcus Peters visited 17 NFL teams, including the Ravens, as decision-makers attempted to get a handle on character concerns that arose when he was kicked off the team following a series of disagreements with the coaching staff.
"Marcus Peters is an interesting kid," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "There are the off-field issues, but teammates rave about him. He's the best corner in this draft from a tape standpoint and the skill of playing press corner. I think he should be a top-10 pick based on ability."
The Ravens lost their primary deep threat when Torrey Smith signed a five-year, $40 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers.
They could effectively replace Smith with swift Central Florida wide receiver Breshad Perriman, the son of former NFL wide receiver Brett Perriman. Breshad Perriman visited the Ravens, according to a source. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.24 and 4.27 seconds at 6-2, 212 pounds at his campus Pro Day workout.
Other wide receiver options for the Ravens include Jaelen Strong (Arizona State), Nelson Agholor (USC), Dorial Green-Beckham (Oklahoma), Devin Smith (Ohio State) and Phillip Dorsett (Miami).
"I like a lot about Perrriman because he's big and athletic, and he reminds me a lot of Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin," said draft analyst Russ Lande, a former Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams scout. "He's more physically gifted than Benjamin. I want to see him not fight the ball and focus more, but he's definitely a first-round draft pick.
"Devin Smith is a little bit more polished than Torrey Smith. His explosiveness is rare, he makes special plays. Strong is an excellent football player, he's ready to step in and play. He's the whole package. He would be a great fit for the Ravens."
Green-Beckham and Dorsett visited the Ravens. Green-Beckham is a wild card due to a domestic violence incident, which would be problematic from a public relations standpoint one year removed from the Ray Rice controversy.
"I think Green-Beckham is a huge boom-or-bust guy," Lande said. "He scares a lot of NFL teams, but I could see the Ravens making it work with their strong locker room and organizational structure.. Dorsett destroyed people at the Senior Bowl, obliterated them with phenomenal routes. He's got to be in the conversation."
3. With McPhee gone, pass rush could use a boost
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti is a strong proponent of going in this direction, revealing that desire during a conference call with season-ticket holders.
While the Ravens have established outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil under contract, they lost Pernell McPhee to the Chicago Bears via a five-year, $39 million deal. Without McPhee, the Ravens lack a gifted pass rusher to complement Suggs and Dumervil.
"They would like to get a young outside linebacker at some point," Kiper said.
The Ravens brought in talented, troubled outside linebackers Randy Gregory of Nebraska and Shane Ray of Missouri for visits. Both players could slide due to off-field issues. Gregory admitted to a positive drug test for marijuana at the NFL scouting combine. Ray was issued a citation for possession of marijuana this week.
It might be worth exploring trade proposals to move up a few spots to acquire Gregory or Ray if they begin a freefall.
"A month ago, our perception was that there were going to be at least four edge rushers going in the first eight picks," Mayock said. "And now the perception is a couple of these guys are probably sliding down a little bit. The main one is Randy Gregory. He's got well-known off-the-field issues. We've got an All-Pro talent. If a team provides him with everything he needs in terms of structure, maybe we mitigate the boom-bust conversation."
The Ravens haven't made it a secret that they're searching for a young running back to work in tandem with returning veteran starter Justin Forsett.
The Ravens have brought in Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Indiana's Tevin Coleman, and Boise State's Jay Ajayi for visits, according to sources. Ravens running backs coach Thomas Hammock coached Gordon at Wisconsin.
Gordon and Georgia running back Todd Gurley are both dynamic players who are projected first-round draft picks. There aren't many visible flaws in Gordon's game, but Gurley is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. When healthy, his playmaking skills are rare.
"The Ravens could use a young running back like Gordon or Gurley to go with Joe Flacco," former Chicago Bears and New York Giants director of college scouting Greg Gabriel said. "I could see them being more interested in Gordon than Gurley because of Gurley's knee."
5. Play it safe
The Ravens tend to plan ahead, and they prize value when it comes to the draft.
While there isn't an immediate need on the offensive line, they are regarded as unlikely to execute two expensive guard contracts in one year for pending free agent guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele. Left tackle Eugene Monroe is coming off a rough, injury-plagued season.
The Ravens could draft their left tackle of the future with Florida's D.J. Humphries or LSU's La'el Collins (who may fall due to Louisiana authorities wishing to question him, even though they've said he's not a suspect, in the murder of his pregnant former girlfriend), and versatile Florida State offensive lineman Cameron Erving.
"They would all be very safe picks," Lande said. "You don't want to miss in the first round. Drafting one of the better offensive linemen would be a smart thing to do, and the Ravens are smart guys."