2014 NFL Draft: Baltimore Ravens Spotlight
2014 NFL DRAFT TEAM SPOTLIGHTS: ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN | CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAC | KC | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | OAK | PHI | PIT | SD | SF | SEA | STL | TB | TEN | WAS
This is the 17th of a team-by-team series, analyzing five prospects that each team should consider in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Losing defenders Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe to free agency after defeating San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII left significant holes in the Ravens' defense, but the decision to trade wideout Anquan Boldin to the 49ers may have played an even more critical role in the club's disappointing 2013 campaign.
The loss of Boldin left Joe Flacco without his most dependable target, an issue exacerbated when tight end Dennis Pitta went down with injury.
General manager Ozzie Newsome addressed the lack of weapons aggressively in the offseason, landing Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels, who will be reunited with his former head coach Gary Kubiak, now serving as John Harbaugh's offensive coordinator.
With reinforcements made at the skill positions, Baltimore enters the draft with two clear needs -- free safety and right tackle. If top prospects are available to Newsome at either position in the first round, that is almost surely the direction he'll go.
Baltimore Ravens' 2014 draft picks: 17, 48, 79, 99, 134, 138, 175, 194
Primary needs: RT, DE, S, WR, RB
General manager: Ozzie Newsome, 12th year
Five draft picks that clicked:
• CB Jimmy Smith, 27th overall, 2011
• WR Torrey Smith, 58th overall, 2011
• DE Arthur Jones, 157th overall, 2010
• QB Joe Flacco, 18th overall, 2008
• RB Ray Rice, 55th overall, 2008
Five players who should be on the Baltimore Ravens' draft radar:
Player, school (overall rating, position rating)
FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (17, 1): The Ravens invested their 2013 first-round pick on safety Matt Elam, but his physicality and aggression make him better suited to crash the line of scrimmage than operating as a deep center fielder. This is precisely the role in which Clinton-Dix excels, showing impressive instincts, fluidity and burst. Elam's partner in the deep patrol -- veteran James Ihedigbo -- signed with Detroit in the offseason and while Baltimore attempted to address the gap with a free agent addition of their own in Darian Stewart, the fact that the safety-needy Rams elected to let him test the market is a sign that perhaps Newsome and Co. should be targeting a safety early in the draft to improve the position.
OT Ja'Wuan James, Tennessee (46, 6): While Michael Oher may not have lived up to his incredible pre-draft hype but now that he'll be manning the right tackle position for the Titans rather than the Ravens, his length and strength in the running game could be missed. The Ravens could see James, a four-year starter for the Vols, as a similar prospect to Oher, capable of providing Flacco with a clean pocket and using his long arms and natural power to drive defenders off the line of scrimmage, as well as release to the second level in the screen game.
DT Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina (85, 10): The loss of Arthur Jones in free agency to the Colts and age of starters Haloti Ngata (30) and Chris Canty (31) could make adding a powerful five-technique a priority for Baltimore early in the draft. Quarles signed with South Carolina as a highly regarded prep prospect and steadily improved, exploding as a junior to become the Gamecocks' most dependable defensive lineman. In leading the team with 13.5 tackles for loss (including 9.5 sacks), Quarles earned First Team All-SEC honors from the media and opposing coaches, alike, and may just be scratching the surface of his potential. Of course, Quarles often only had to take on one lineman as opponents focused on teammate Jadeveon Clowney. Quarles' combination of burst, length and strength makes him a valuable commodity to 4-3 and 3-4 defenses alike and therefore if he were available in the third, Baltimore would be wise to pounce.
RB Devonta Freeman, Florida State (116, 9): When Kubiak was initially signed he pronounced, "As Ray Rice goes, we'll go." The strong words were meant to inspire confidence in the former Pro Bowler coming off a disappointing 2013 season -- but that was before an ugly domestic violence issue off the field which clouds his future. The Ravens have publicly supported Rice but the running back position is too critical to their success now to address it, especially given that the 2014 crop -- while lacking an elite first round talent -- is actually quite good. Freeman, at 5-foot-8, 206 pounds is a Rice clone, showing good vision, agility, burst and underrated power due to his low center of gravity. He also possesses terrific hands out of the backfield.
CB Walt Aikens, Liberty (146, 21): The Ravens boast solid starters in Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb at corner but suspect depth behind them. Aikens isn't your typical small school prospect. The highly regarded prep prospect signed and played immediately with Illinois but an arrest for theft got him kicked off the team. Aikens' talent is unquestioned. He was a three-time Big South All-conference honoree and stood out at the Senior Bowl. He may have been this year's biggest combine snub and proved as much during his Pro Day workout, registering an impressive 4.49-second 40-yard dash at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds. Aikens is certainly a work in progress but he possesses the length and aggressive nature to fit in well in Baltimore's man-heavy scheme.