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Offensive line could be addressed during the first round
OWINGS MILLS — Itâ€™s not an absolute lock, but thereâ€™s an extremely strong chance that the Baltimore Ravensâ€™ first-round draft pick will fit a specific job criteria.
Beefy, but mobile 300-pound football player versed in the three-point stance and adept at thrashing defenders sought for high-priced, high-pressure position. References and game film are required.
Itâ€™s no secret in NFL circles that the defending AFC North champions will probably use the 29th overall pick to draft an offensive lineman. Most mock drafts have attached an offensive lineman to the Ravens pick, and thatâ€™s not only because All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden had been pondering retirement.
Even though Ogden has now decided to return, this could be his final season. Plus, the team could use an influx of versatility or a center candidate to potentially succeed veteran incumbent Mike Flynn.
The Ravensâ€™ diverse wish list for offensive linemen tilts heavily toward tackle candidates, but they also are perusing the guards and centers.
If Central Michigan left tackle Joe Staley is still around at No. 29, itâ€™s a safe bet that Baltimore would turn the card in.
The 6-foot-6, 306-pound converted tight end is one of the most athletic players in the draft. In front of representatives from all 32 NFL teams at his campus workout, Staley covered 40 yards in 4.79 seconds. Thatâ€™s faster than many linebackers, tight ends, fullbacks and quarterbacks who will be drafted this weekend.
Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta thinks Staley could be gone by the 20th pick, which is when the New York Giants will be on the clock. The New Orleans Saints at No. 27 and New England Patriots at No. 28 are reportedly high on Staley, too.
â€œHeâ€™s very athletic with very few flaws in his game from the standpoint of ability and character,â€ DeCosta said of Staley, who gained 80 pounds since his freshman year. â€œLeft tackle is almost like a skill position because itâ€™s very hard to find them. He has the tools you look for.â€
Another popular prospect often linked to the Ravens is Texas guard-tackle Justin Blalock, who probably projects best to guard. He had the highest score in the Wonderlic intelligence exam with a 41 and bench pressed 225 pounds 40 times.
The Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year is a brutish blocker who punishes defenders and displays the requisite agility by not allowing a sack in the past 27 games.
â€œYou know heâ€™s very intelligent,â€ DeCosta said. â€œYou know heâ€™s very strong and explosive. Heâ€™s a very, very good player.â€
Blalock visited the Ravens along with Tennessee guard-tackle Arron Sears, Arkansas tackle Tony Ugoh, Towson tackle Jermon Bushrod and Missouri Southern sleeper tackle Allan Barbre, a 302-pounder with 4.83 speed.
Sears won the SECâ€™s blocking trophy last season as a left tackle and has played every line position except for center. DeCosta said Blalock and Sears project best to guard, but said the team values the flexibility they offer.
â€œIt opens up your offense a little bit,â€ he said. â€œIt gives you more sophistication.â€
The Ravens are extremely high on USC center Ryan Kalil, a technically sound 6-2, 299-pounder whom they regard as nearly as athletic as guard-center Chris Chester.
Kalil, whose father played in the NFL, is known for having a nasty streak and for being quick enough to track down linebackers downfield.
â€œHeâ€™s very smart with a lot of charisma and personality, which is important at the center position,â€ DeCosta said. â€œVery quick, just not a big body. Thatâ€™s the biggest concern with Ryan is his strength and ability to anchor.â€
Added NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock: â€œIâ€™ve given Kalil a first-round grade, which is atypical for a center. I think heâ€™s the best technician. I think he has a chance to be really special.â€
Like many NFL teams, the Ravens give high marks to Auburnâ€™s Ben Grubbs, whoâ€™s considered the best pure guard in the draft.
The 6-2, 313-pounder is a converted tight end and defensive lineman who visited the Saints, as did Kalil.
â€œGrubbs is an athlete, I would say the top player at his position,â€ DeCosta said.
Added Mayock: â€œHeâ€™s the kind of guy that could step in the first day and be a starter in the NFL.â€
Ugoh is an exceptional athlete as a shot put champion, but many scouts have questioned his desire and whether he prefers track and field.
Further down the board, the Ravens were complimentary of Iowa tackle-guard Marshal Yanda, who was coached by former Baltimore offensive line coach Kirk Ferentz.
â€œVery intelligent,â€ DeCosta said. â€œIowa linemen are very well-coached and he has excellent technique. Heâ€™s a player that we like.â€
Boston College guard-center Josh Beekman is a bulky lineman whom DeCosta compared to Ravens offensive guard Jason Brown for his build and position flexibility.
Other second-day prospects Baltimore has been tracking includes: Notre Dame tackle Ryan Harris, Akron offensive guard Andy Alleman and Barbre.
â€œBarbreâ€™s an attractive option on the second day,â€ DeCosta said.
The Ravens expressed confident that there are enough good offensive linemen to supply themselves and several teams with blockers for the future.
DeCosta said it reminds him of a year ago when the Ravens passed on safeties Calvin Lowery, Pat Watkins and Ko Simpson before selecting eventual all-rookie selection Dawan Landry in the fifth round.
â€œSometimes, the buy is better for us to wait,â€ DeCosta said. â€œIf the difference between this tackle and another one isnâ€™t that big a difference and we can pick up a better player in the second round, you do that every time.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland