Adding defensive playmaker up front is key to Ravens displacing Steelers

April 23, 2011|Peter Schmuck

If it's the week before the NFL draft, you can be sure the wily Ravens are sending out mixed messages.

General manager Ozzie Newsome just told the team's website that he's going to "do things" to help Joe Flacco become a great quarterback, whatever that means. Head coach John Harbaugh was quoted Thursday in the same place saying that the Ravens are headed into the draft under the necessary assumption that 2010 top pick Sergio Kindle will not be a major contributor in 2011, which might make you think the emphasis in the first round will be on the other side of the ball.

Here's hoping it is, because the key to displacing the Pittsburgh Steelers and outflanking the New England Patriots and New York Jets isn't another wide receiver. It's another defensive playmaker to put the fear of Terrell Suggs or Haloti Ngata into the minds of the AFC's top quarterbacks.

Kindle was supposed to be that guy until he tragically tumbled down two flights of stairs and fractured his skull. He might show up opposite Suggs next season — if there is a next season — but he's just as likely to be told by a string of doctors that pro football is just too big a threat to his long-term health.

"I think the best thing to do is put it aside,'' Harbaugh said, "say that's a bonus, and if Sergio becomes the player we all hoped he would be when we drafted him, that would be great. I think there's a chance that could happen, but let's just go forward assuming that we're going to build the best team we can be."

That's why I'm putting my money on the deep pool of defensive ends and outside linebackers in this year's first round. Depending on which mock draft you're looking at, there are as many as eight high-quality players at those positions that could be chosen during Thursday night's prime time NFL draft show.

Don't know about you, but I'm a little tired of watching Ben Roethlisberger break out of the pocket and find Mike Wallace or Hines Ward for a big gain at a critical moment in what always seems to be a critical game against the Steelers. I know the Ravens broke his nose during the regular season, but what I remember most about that game was a certain Steelers pass rusher whose last name is hard to spell blowing up Flacco and knocking Baltimore out of a bunch of home playoff games.

Newsome and the rest of the panel at the Ravens annual draft luncheon/media conference talked repeatedly about their emphasis on drafting playmakers in the first round. They insisted that it's possible to be a playmaker at just about any position, but I haven't heard too many offensive linemen described that way.

It's probably fair to assume that the Ravens will not use their first pick to choose a quarterback or a running back. The mock draft consensus has them going for talented Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith, but when was the last time Newsome did exactly what everybody expected? There is some sentiment toward another vertical receiver — and Maryland's Torrey Smith probably will be the best available at that point — but that shouldn't be the top priority. He might still be there in the second round.

Predicting the 26th pick in the draft is a pretty iffy business considering everything that goes on leading up to it. There is some logic to choosing a defensive back, since there is so much free agent uncertainty surrounding that part of the Ravens roster, but Newsome should be able to reel those guys back in after the labor settlement.

Which brings us back to the players who can strengthen the Ravens defense up front and might be available late in the first round. They won't trade up, so the cluster of top 20 defensive ends in the middle of the draft likely will all be gone, perhaps leaving Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward, Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn or Temple defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson, all big boys who can rush the passer, block out the horizon and stop the run.

Of course, Ozzie knows best, but I wouldn't mind seeing any of those guys lying on top of Big Ben in Week One.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on "The Week in Review" on Friday's at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and WBAL.com.

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