Inside Linebacker: The Ravens haven’t used a high draft pick at this position since their very first draft. To their credit they haven’t had to with all the success they’ve had in the later rounds and with undrafted free agents. However the position is now in a bit of a transition. Ray Lewis is still playing at a high level but at 37 its time to at least start grooming his heir. Jameel McClain and Brendan Ayanbadejo are unrestricted free agents and Dannell Ellerbe is a restricted free agent.
Guard/Center: Ben Grubbs is an unrestricted free agent whose price tag might be too rich for the Ravens blood. Matt Birk is pondering retirement and Andre Gurode is also an unrestricted free agent. It’s becoming increasingly more likely left guard and center will have new starters come next season.
Left Tackle: Bryant McKinnie is 34 years old and struggled at times against the speed rush and making plays at the 2nd level. Besides him there is no other left tackle prospect on the roster. The future blindside protector for Joe Flacco should be acquired sooner rather than later.
3rd Receiver?: I mark this with a question for a couple reasons. Lee Evans was acquired last year to bring another deep threat to the offense but he spent most of last year inactive or seemingly out of sync. It’s hard to believe he’d return at his present cap number but if he’s willing to return at a reduced rate and the Ravens are convinced last year was an aberration then this spot could be filled already. Another case could be made for Tandon Doss, the talented 4th round pick had trouble getting on the field last year, was he just not ready from a skill standpoint or was he not 100 percent coming off the hernia surgery that limited him throughout the draft process? We’ll find out in training camp.
Backup running back: Ricky Williams had a change of heart and decided to hang up his cleats. Maybe he’ll get that itch to return when its closer to the start of the season but until then it leaves an opening. Anthony Allen is the next man up and his running style would mesh seamlessly with that of Williams but he would be entering his 2nd season and coming from a predominately option offense in college may prove to be drawbacks. At the very least quality depth should be brought in to compete for the spot.
Pass rush?: Again another question, Paul Kruger came on as a sub package rush and would certainly offer more of a threat getting to the QB as a starter then impending free agent Jarrett Johnson. Johnson however is standout run defender, and overall heady player who makes it possible for others to make plays. Would Kruger be ready to assume this responsibility? Sergio Kindle and Michael McAdoo are talented but unproven holdovers.
Return specialist: The return units for the Ravens this past season were an adventure to stay the least. David Reed is a very productive kick returner when he’s not putting the ball on the ground but he’s going to be coming off an ACL injury. Lardarius Webb handled the punt return duties and made plays but he’s also the Ravens best corner at this point. I’m sure they’d like to find another option. The good thing is returners usually translate quicker to the pro game so if the team decided to find one in the mid to late rounds they could probably find an effective player.
Nickel Linebacker: This position became seemed to become a bigger weakness as the year went along. Jameel McClain struggled to cover, Brendan Ayanbadejo was less effective in this regard and Dannell Ellerbe just wasn’t very good, especially in the playoff loss to the Patriots. The Ravens need someone that can effectively cover in space, re-direct receivers, etc.
Safety depth: Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura are both unrestricted free agents, Zbikowski could find a more lucrative offer and a better shot for playing time elsewhere. Nakamura is a core special teamer who has seen some snaps on defense. With Ed Reed’s injury concerns and age the 2 pending free agents, depth should be obtained at the very least. An heir apparent to Reed would be nice if obtainable.
Defensive line depth: Cory Redding’s play might create demand for his services that ultimately prices him out of Baltimore. He’ll be an attractive option for teams. Unlike many Ravens defenders who have moved on before him, he’s not a product of the Ravens system. Backup Brandon McKinney like Zbikowski could also opt to hunt for playing time and with former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano now in Indy. The Ravens will need to supplement potential losses with mid to later round picks and lower level free agent signings like the one that fetched Redding a couple offseasons ago if both Redding and McKinney do bolt.