INDIANAPOLIS – The pencils are sharpened. The stopwatches are ready. And a phalanx of coaches, general managers and scouts will be looking on intently as draft prospects audition for the NFL.
Along with their NFL brethren, the Baltimore Ravens are armed with questions for draft prospects as they launch an intense evaluation period today at the annual scouting combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Ravens won’t officially be on the clock with the 29th overall pick of the first round until late April, but this marks a pivotal step in the process in terms of gathering information.
The medical exams and the character evaluation gleaned from interviews are regarded as the most valuable aspects of the combine beyond the Olympic style testing, including the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical leap, broad jump and short shuttle.
The Ravens have plenty of time to zero in on who they want to draft. However, there’s a strong chance their pending needs will match up well with the meat of this draft: the offensive line.
The Ravens could lose veteran center Matt Birk to retirement and there’s a strong possibility they’ll lose Pro Bowl offensive guard Ben Grubbs via free agency.
“When you talk about your interior offensive line you could have some free agency issues,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “I think one of the best classes here is the interior offensive linemen in this draft. Depending on how it plays out, I think there’s a lot of flexibility with that interior offensive lineman draft. I think for the first three rounds, you can get a lot of quality at center or guard.”
Stanford offensive guard David DeCastro is regarded as the top player at his position, but is likely to be off the draft board by the Ravens’ turn to pick.
And Wisconsin standout center Peter Konz is another strong candidate for the Ravens’ first-round draft pick.
Other offensive line possibilities include Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler, University of Georgia tackle-guard Cordie Glenn and Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams.
The Ravens could also target University of Georgia center Ben Jones in the second round. Jones had a solid Senior Bowl.
“DeCastro to me is a first round interior offensive lineman,” Mayock said. “Peter Konz is a late one to mid two. I think Zeitler from Wisconsin is also in that same range, and you might be able to get a guy like Ben Jones from Georgia late in the second round.”
Besides the offensive line, the Ravens could also use help at inside linebacker.
While Boston College standout Luke Kuechly is unlikely to be around, the Ravens could explore the merits of big, hard-hitting Alabama middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower.
Arizona State middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s draft stock has plummeted lately due to temperament issues, drawing multiple personal fouls for a lack of discipline on the field.
“I think a guy like Dont’a Hightower could be available in the first round, but there are positives and negatives about him,” Mayock said. “He’s a big, strong, downhill inside linebacker.”
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said that he intends to continue to build the wide receiver position, where veteran Lee Evans is considered likely to be released unless he restructures his contract. Evans is due a $1 million roster bonus next month, and he dropped an accurate Joe Flacco pass in the end zone during the AFC championship game.
Among the receivers the Ravens may have to choose from later in the first round: Michael Floyd (Notre Dame), Alshon Jeffery (South Carolina), Mohamed Sanu (Rutgers) and Reuben Randle (LSU).
The Ravens aren’t expected to acquire a high-profile wide receiver via free agency such as Wes Welker, Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston, Stevie Johnson, Brandon Lloyd or DeSean Jackson.
However, Reggie Wayne , Mario Manningham, Robert Meacham and Laurent Robinson could be of interest to Baltimore depending on the price.
“As far as the wide receiver position is concerned, now that’s kind of interesting,” Mayock said. “If Michael Floyd runs well, he’ll be in the top 15 or 20. If he doesn’t run well, he’ll probably slide a little bit.
“You never know where Michael Floyd could end up. Floyd or Randle could slide. You never know. They’d both be of interest to the Ravens.”
The Ravens are always interested in adding dangerous pass rushers, especially hybrid 3-4 outside linebacker-defensive ends.
The elite edge guys in a thin group of pass rushers are Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw and South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram.
“The pass rushers aren’t great here in this draft,” Mayock said. “Now if Melvin Ingram and Courtney Upshaw was around later, I think they’d be interesting with a team like the Ravens. I’m not sure either of them will be there, but they’re interesting kind of guys for the Ravens.”