We wrap up the pre-draft look at the team needs — only one day late — with a look at one of the teams that I thought would be drafting in the bottom two of the first round.
The Ravens have been knocking on the door for the past three years, but they’ve been unable to kick it in. Here’s where they need to focus on beefing up the roster, if they hope to get it done in two-oh-one-one.
CB: Whether it’s veteran Nnamdi Asomugha (on whom Ray Lewis was working at the Pro Bowl, according to Paul Gutierrez of CSNCalifornia.com) or rookie Jimmy Smith, the Ravens need to address one of the most glaring weaknesses on their otherwise stout defense. They also need to decide what to do with Josh Wilson and Chris Carr, both of whom are poised to become free agents.
WR: The Ravens have cornered the market on possession receivers. But those guys can’t do quite as much without a legitimate deep threat to stretch the field. Last year, Donte’ Stallworth was supposed to fill that role, but he caught only two posses after missing two months with a broken foot. The Ravens could be one of the few teams with interest in Terrell Owens or Randy Moss, if they don’t add a speedster like Torrey Smith in the draft.
LB: On the outside, they need a guy who can complement Terrell Suggs. On the inside, it’s time to start thinking about grooming replacement for Ray Lewis. And the best way to do that is to let the next Ray Lewis learn from the current one.
OT: The once-promising Jared Gaither, who was flipped from the left side to the right side last year, showed up much lighter than a right tackle should be, and back trouble knocked him out for the entire season. Michael Oher has done well on the left side. The question is whether to find a new left tackle, moving Oher back to the right, or to find a new right tackle. Oher probably prefers to stay where he is, given that left tackles tend to make a lot more money. Which is probably why Gaither wasn’t thrilled with being sent from the left side to the right side last year.
RB: With the position becoming increasingly fungible and Willis McGahee moving toward the end of the line and Le’Ron McClain eligible for free agency, using a low-round pick on a large, between-the-tackles ball carrier could provide a great complement for Ray Rice, a budding star who’d be better off in the long haul if he has some quality help now.
S: Though Ed Reed isn’t talking about retirement (this year), they need to be ready for it to happen. Then there’s the fact that Tom Zbikowski seems to be far more interested in boxing, to the point that he’ll retire if the Ravens can win a Super Bowl. (Of course, most Ravens fans would happily part with Zbikowski if it means the team will have won a Super Bowl.)
QB: Marc Bulger likely won’t be back as the backup to Joe Flacco. A young, mid-round guy who could be developed quietly would serve as potential protection against an eventual push by Flacco to go elsewhere. Given his objection to the firing of Jim Zorn and complaints about the team’s reluctance to sign him to a long-term deal, there’s a vague sense that things could eventually go badly between the Ravens and Flacco.
Overview: For an elite team, the Ravens still have plenty of holes. They’ve done well despite more than a few weaknesses, thanks to a solid nucleus and a strong head coach that keeps them competitive. Like the Eagles in the NFC, however, getting close on a consistent basis eventually won’t be good enough.
This year, the challenge will be to plug a few potential leaks while at the same time addressing those shortcomings that kept them once again from getting past the Steelers.