The Ravens have done a lot this offseason to surround quarterback Joe Flacco with more options in the passing game, and to provide him with better protection to give him more time in the pocket.
Re-signing Eugene Monroe and trading for Jeremy Zuttah helped upgrade the line. Retaining Jacoby Jones and adding Steve Smith and Owen Daniels provide the offense and Flacco with more dynamic weapons.
While the offense has clearly been upgraded, infusing some youth to go along with these veteran acquisitions wouldn’t be a bad direction for the Ravens to go in early in this years draft. If this is the path they take, going “all Irish,” and selecting players from the University of Notre Dame in the first two rounds could pay high dividends.
Right tackle is still a question mark. The Ravens like Rick Wagner and he got some valuable experience as a rookie, mainly in the jumbo package. He will likely compete for the job in training camp, and Zack Martin from Notre Dame would provide some great competition.
The Ravens are linked to Martin in quite a few mock drafts, and for good reason. He was one of the most durable linemen in Notre Dame history with 52 consecutive starts for the Irish. Irish head coach Brian Kelly described him as “the best lineman I’ve ever coached.”
Martin and Taylor Lewan are considered the second tier of elite linemen behind Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews who will certainly be gone by the time the Ravens are on the clock. While Lewan is more physically impressive, his pattern of off the field incidents is concerning. Whatever Martin gives up physically in comparison to Lewan, he makes up for with the intangibles of leadership and hard work, and those are tough to teach.
If Lewan and Martin are both there when the Ravens pick, Martin is the better pick.
Another product of Kelly’s system that would be a great fit for the Ravens is tight end Troy Niklas, who is a projected second-round pick.
Word out of the castle is the Ravens brought Niklas in for a visit this week. At 6-foot-6 270 pounds Niklas would fit the mold of the big blocking tight end the Ravens are looking for.
After converting from defensive end, Niklas served as a productive red zone target for the Irish. Playing 20 games at the position, he reeled in 32 catches for almost 500 yards and five touchdowns.
The Ravens do appear to be set at the tight end position for 2014 after signing Owen Daniels. But, Daniels has had problems staying healthy, and may be a one-year rental. This would give Niklas time to adjust to the pro level and learn under two elite tight ends in Daniels and Dennis Pitta.
And given Gary Kubiak’s fondness of tight ends, all three could make an impact on the field in 2014.
The leap from college to the NFL is a big one, but playing for a big program like Notre Dame gives players potentially as much a taste of “the real thing” as possible.
Both Niklas and Martin are considered mature, NFL-ready guys and could make an immediate impact for the Ravens in 2014. That’s why going all Irish in the first couple rounds could be a smart move for Ozzie and the Ravens.