The Baltimore Ravens met a dramatic demise in the AFC title game to cap a season that bred high expectations. One dropped pass away from a Super Bowl birth, the Ravens ended their crusade at the hands of the New England Patriots. After sweeping the AFC North and securing the second seed in the AFC, Baltimore placed themselves in the “what if's” of playoff history. Not what they were hoping for.
The Ravens finished 12-4 for the 2011 season, and advanced to the title game with a home win against the Houston Texans. Then came the loss. So while the Giants lifted the the Lombardi Trophy, Baltimore fans were already discussing off-season needs. Soon after, general manager Ozzie Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh, and owner Steve Biscotti met for the annual State of the Ravens press conference.
Positions of Need
In the press conference, Newsome was asked to state the team's three biggest areas of need, and he responded by saying: offensive line, receiver, and pass rusher. Perhaps to dispel any concerns about aging legend Ray Lewis, Newsome did not mention middle linebacker, an area that the team must address.
With offensive line being a stated concern, the loss of free agent guard Ben Grubbs to the Saints makes the situation all the more dire. Evan Mathis, the third highest ranked free agent guard, chose to re-sign with the Philadelphia Eagles after meeting with the Ravens. The market for guards now looks grim.
The Ravens' concerns over offensive line and wide receiver are well-founded. Anquan Boldin is their number one receiver, but he's a possession receiver, best in the slot. Torrey Smith, a 2011 standout rookie, has great speed but questionable hands. He did make big catches when he needed to, and Baltimore is lucky to have him on board. However, two untested 2011 rookies sit directly behind Smith in the depth chart, Tandon Doss and Laquan Williams. The development of each is a toss-up. Baltimore needs to add a third wide receiver.
The offensive line is of greater concern. Quarterback Joe Flacco is going to get his contract extension, but with the current gaps in the line, he may fail to meet expectations... again. While he played well in 2011, his numbers dropped. He took the bulk of the criticism, but the offensive line failed frequently in pass protection. Against New England, the fourth year quarterback had arguably the best game of his career. Analysts around the nation noted that his offensive line was weak the entire game. And every other game.
First Round Target(s)
The draft is of utmost importance to the Ravens. They need Peter Konz. The standout center would be able to take the reins when Matt Birk leaves the stage. Furthermore, if Birk is able to stay healthy and productive in 2012, Konz could fill in for left guard. According to BaltimoreRavens.com, Konz was asked what he thought of comparisons to Birk. He smiled and said, “That's an honor.” However, it is quite possible that Konz will not be available by the 29th pick.
Dont'a Hightower is a middle linebacker, explosive and physical. Scouting reports state that he rarely gets out of position and is not thrown off by misdirection plays. He has said that it would be “a dream” to play alongside players like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. However, Hightower, like Konz, could easily fall to teams drafting earlier than the Ravens. Many mock drafts have him going to Baltimore's greatest rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
If Peter Konz is still on the table, the Ravens will snatch him up. Experts proclaim that Konz is the best center available in the draft, but he disappointed in the combine, posting only 18 reps on the bench press.
The Ravens could notch center David Molk in the second or third round. Molk posted the second best bench press in the combine with 41 reps. Still, Konz impressed the Ravens brass with his intelligence, and the game tape shows that his impressive size goes along with deceptive quickness. If he is available at 29, Ozzie Newsome will take him. The Houston Texans may beat him to the punch.
The Ravens are known to trade down and get better value because of the move. This is an unpredictable science, so to speak, but one option would be a trade with the St. Louis Rams. If Trent Richardson is available, the Rams might break the mold to take a running back early in the first round. Should this be the case, they will be hungry for a defensive tackle. The Ravens could offer the Rams their 29th pick, which would allow the Rams to draft Devon Still (the Patriots might nab Still with the 31st pick). This would give the Ravens an extra pick later in the draft, while only knocking them down to the 33rd. If neither Konz nor Hightower is available, this may be their best bet.
The Ravens, with Newsome pulling the strings, tend to go with the strategy of “best player available,” and this strategy has led to a team that is consistently successful. After four consecutive years in the playoffs, including two appearances in the AFC championship game, fans are eager for more than simply success—they're out for glory, for making history. One can only imagine how much the players hunger for the same. The NFL draft could be the place for the Ravens to find the pieces that would fit into that Super Bowl puzzle.
Ravens Draft History:
2007: 29th pick- Ben Grubbs, guard (Auburn)
2008: 18th pick- Joe Flacco, quarterback (Delaware)
2009: 23rd pick- Michael Oher, offensive tackle (Mississippi)
2010: 43rd pick- Sergio Kindle, linebacker (Texas)
2011: 27th pick- Jimmy Smith, corner back (Colorado)