Of the Ravens’ eight draft picks in 2014, four are compensatory selections: one third-rounder (No. 99), two fourth-rounders (Nos. 134, 138) and one fifth-rounder (No. 175). The compensatory picks were awarded for the Ravens’ 2013 free agent losses, which included outside linebacker Paul Kruger and inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.
Kruger was a 2009 second-round pick of Baltimore, with Ellerbe an undrafted free agent in the same class. By their fifth NFL campaigns, both were key members of a Ravens club that won Super Bowl XLVII. In that Super Bowl, Ellerbe played every defensive snap for Baltimore, while Kruger added two sacks off the bench.
Less than two months later, Ellerbe and Kruger departed in free agency. They had earned their paydays. And in the end, the Ravens had earned some 2014 draft picks to find the next wave of young contributors to a team that rarely lacks for talent.
Here are the Ravens’ top needs entering the 2014 NFL Draft:
Offensive tackle: The Ravens are set at left tackle after re-signing Eugene Monroe. Also, the Ravens might be able to cobble together a workable solution at right tackle with the personnel on the roster. Second-year player Ricky Wagner and fourth-year pro Jah Reid are among the options for the job, and third-year left guard Kelechi Osemele could probably swing outside and hold up well up enough (though the club tenatively plans to keep him at his current spot, per coach John Harbaugh). However, if the Ravens find a plug-and-play starting right tackle in Round One, they would have plenty of reason to consider addressing the offensive line right off the bat in the 2014 draft.
Safety: Safety Matt Elam doesn’t turn 23 until September and could be a fixture in the secondary for years to come. However, the Ravens could use a long-term solution opposite of Elam, who played free safety a season ago. Were the Ravens to add a free safety, it’s believed Elam could slide to strong safety.
Cornerback: The Ravens have an above-average starting CB tandem in Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb, and the club has both players under contract beyond 2014. Still, the Ravens are not especially deep at cornerback, with Corey Graham’s departure to Buffalo leaving the club a little thin. The Ravens have drafted at least one cornerback in each of the last three years.
Running back: Ray Rice could face NFL discipline if he is found guilty or pleads guilty or no contest to aggravated assault stemming from a February incident with his fiancée. Also, Rice’s 2013 play left much to be desired, as did the play of third-year back Bernard Pierce. On their best, Rice and Pierce comprise a very good backfield duo. However, the Ravens might want to add another back just to be safe.
Wide receiver: Multiple other positions were considered for the final spot in our rankings. The Ravens probably could stand to add a young defensive lineman in the draft. Also, bringing in a quarterback to compete with Tyrod Taylor would make sense. The Ravens might also want to add a young tight end behind ex-Texan Owen Daniels.
In the end, though, wide receiver gets the nod as the Ravens’ fifth-most pressing need. With Torrey Smith and Steve Smith as the starters and Marlon Brown and Jacoby Jones in reserve, the Ravens have a solid core at wide receiver. However, Steve Smith turns 35 in May, and Torrey Smith can test unrestricted free agency after the 2014 season. In short, the Ravens probably have just enough at wide receiver for the time being, but they could stand to add a prospect at the position.