The 2014 NFL draft is less than a week away, and compared to recent years, the upcoming draft may be the most important for the Baltimore Ravens during the Harbaugh Era.
Entering the draft with their highest pick since 2008 (started 8th overall before selecting Joe Flacco with the 18th overall pick), Baltimore’s 17th overall pick in the draft adds intrigue to what is often a late first round pick that the team holds.
With a higher pick comes a higher chance of landing an instant impact player and potential long-term starter. Sitting right in the middle of the first round leaves Baltimore just out of reach of some of the draft’s premier prospects, but still high enough to take advantage of the second tier of players available.
The front office offered a preview of what could unfold next Thursday night during the annual draft luncheon on Wednesday
Nothing more than the usual can be taken from the vague (as expected) comments provided by Ozzie Newsome and Co., but the fact that Newsome did note that the Ravens have already received phone calls from teams interested in potentially moving up in the draft fuels the chances of Baltimore trading down, something fans have grown accustomed to.
That’s just one of many options the Ravens will have on Thursday night.
Here’s a look at the best-case scenarios for Baltimore in the first round.
1. Alabama Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix – You don’t have to do much digging to discover that Clinton-Dix has already been noted as a best-case scenario for the Ravens. In a draft that presents several hybrid safeties, Clinton-Dix is a true free safety in every definition of the position.
Clinton-Dix possesses a rare combination of length and range that provide justifiable belief he can develop into a true playmaking free safety and imposing threat on the back end. He isn’t at that level right now, and he has yet to establish himself as a consistent ball hawk in the secondary. But with time and experience (only 19 career starts), Clinton-Dix could be groomed into that type of safety, and would perform well paired with Matt Elam.
Along with his coverage ability, Clinton-Dix is a sure tackler given his size (6’1), which should aid him during his rookie year as in Baltimore he would need to be able to hold down the last line of the secondary, sometimes on his own.
2. Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan – The Ravens will surely be out of the running to select top offensive tackles Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews, but if Lewan is still on the board at 17 then he may be too good to pass up.
A left tackle at Michigan, Lewan can step in as a day one starter at right tackle, and would likely be an instant upgrade over Michael Oher, even as a rookie. He carries a nasty, hard-nosed attitude on the field, one that unfortunately is sometimes carried off the field, which does raise concern. He isn’t a perfect prospect by any means, but as a four-year starter with above average athletic ability, it’s hard not to think he would be a valuable addition to the offensive line.
3. Trade down – Of course, easier said than done, but if the Ravens are sitting on the clock at 17 with players such as Clinton-Dix and Lewan off the board, perhaps attempting to slide back a few spots could be of intrigue. Baltimore doesn’t need more picks this year as the team enters the draft with eight, but if at that point in the draft the most desirable remaining player on their board could be had in the 22-26 range, why not take the free picks?
Barring – outside of the two players mentioned above – any projected top-10 pick falling all the way to 17, it would behoove Baltimore to entertain the idea of trading back if there’s a trade partner. The Ravens could move back and still be in position to grab a safety like Jimmie Ward or a linebacker such as C.J. Mosley.
4. Take an impact player, even if it isn’t at a position of need – This is different than just saying “best player available” as that term can be misinterpreted at times. Yes, obviously the Ravens take the best player on their board, but positional needs can dictate a player’s value on the board/where the Ravens could select that player. It’s not a coincidence that the Ravens selected Elam last year when they just happened to not have a starting strong safety on the roster at the time (James Ihedigbo technically wasn’t a starter this time last year).
That being said, the Ravens may not have any worthy candidates at right tackle or free safety, the two glaring needs, and if a trade partner can’t be found, staying put and grabbing a premier player even at a non-need position wouldn’t be a horrible scenario.
That player could be Mosley, whose long list of injuries may be perilous to his draft stock. Or it could be a prospect like UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, whose potential outweighs his skill set right now, which could leave a slight chance he’s still on the board at 17, in which case he would be a darn good addition to the defense.
Or it could be a cornerback, perhaps the local product in Kyle Fuller from Virginia Tech. The cornerback position isn’t a glaring need for Baltimore, but ideally upgrading the third cornerback position (in any round) is among the list of priorities after right tackle and safety.
Baltimore has a roster that’s good enough to make the playoffs in 2014, and with a few more pieces, could be good enough to make another long playoff run.
Adding an instant impact player at 17 – regardless of position – would further aid Baltimore’s strong offseason.