After draft, Ravens have two needs left to address

When lockout ends, team must find pass rusher, backup quarterback in free agency

May 02, 2011|By Mike Preston

The Ravens filled two major needs over the weekend in the annual NFL draft, but they need to make two more acquisitions before the season starts to make them even more of a contender.

If the season started today, the Ravens would be favorites to capture the AFC title along with Pittsburgh, New England and Indianapolis, but another strong outside pass rusher and a proven backup quarterback would make them stronger.

The addition of top draft pick Jimmy Smith, a cornerback out of Colorado, will improve the Ravens' pass rush, but the team still needs a pass rusher opposite Terrell Suggs. Last year, the Ravens had just 27 sacks — the lowest total in team history.

The Ravens' only remaining option to fill that void is through free agency, and with the NFL lockout ongoing, there is no date for when the market will open.

"If we could get the opportunity to put ourselves in the position to get someone else, we would probably be looking at it very seriously," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said after the draft.

The Ravens had a chance to acquire one of college football's top pass rushers, but chose Smith over such highly touted rushers as Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers (15.5 sacks last season), Ohio State's Cameron Heyward (10 sacks past two seasons) and Temple's Muhammad Wilkerson (9.5 sacks last season).

It was a smart move by the Ravens because you don't turn down a talent like Smith when you're just a player or two away from a possible Super Bowl.

The only other instance in the first five rounds where a pass rusher was taken within two picks of the Ravens was in the fifth. Fresno State's Chris Carter (11 sacks) was selected by the Steelers at No. 162, two picks before the Ravens' compensatory picks (Nos. 164 and 165). Because they were compensatory, the Ravens couldn't have traded up in that round to get Carter. With the 165th pick, the Ravens did draft defensive end Pernell McPhee, who had seven sacks in two seasons at Mississippi State after having 33 in two years of junior college.

But the Ravens would like to have a proven player now, and hopefully they'll get second-year outside linebacker Sergio Kindle on the field for training camp.

Hole remains at QB

The second major need is at backup quarterback.

The Ravens had the perfect No. 2 last season in Marc Bulger, but all indications have him headed to another team as a starter. The Ravens drafted Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor in the sixth round, but he appears to be more of a project than a backup.

In the NFL, there is great value in having a good No. 2 running back and quarterback — a signal caller who has experience and can at least bridge the gap for several games, or fill in adequately if needed for the rest of the season.

The Ravens have too much talent to waste if starter Joe Flacco gets injured. You want a quarterback who has a history of running an NFL offense instead ofjust Taylor, who would be really limited if the lockout continues into training camp.

Draft-day drama

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti had a few choice words for the Chicago franchise after his club and the Bears botched a trade on draft day. By all accounts, it was the Bears' fault.

But Bisciotti needs to get in the ear of Newsome. After several other incidents like this on previous draft days, the owner needs to tell his GM and some of his assistants to stop being cute, and be prepared to turn in the card with a name on it regardless of the circumstances.

The Ravens could have lost out on Smith, one of the best cornerbacks in the draft. If Green Bay had been immediately behind the Ravens, Smith would have been a Packer.

Mending fences

I like the way the Ravens played kiss-and-make-up with Flacco. After ignoring him about keeping quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn and his recent comments about getting a new contract done, the Ravens let him have some input in acquiring Indiana receiver Tandon Doss in the fourth round.

Poor Doss. He will be under major scrutiny when training camp opens.

Rivals get stronger

If you thought the Ravens had a strong draft, take a look at their AFC North competitors.

"I think Cincinnati continues to get better," Newsome said. "The question with them is, is Carson [Palmer] coming back, and when is [TCU quarterback Andy] Dalton going to become a player? I thought Cincinnati did a good job. I think Cleveland is building their franchise. You can see they're taking good, solid people with every pick and that they're taking to rebuild that whole roster.

"[Pittsburgh] got two corners and they got another guy in the front seven that will learn how to play in a 3-4 defense. Their defensive ends are getting old, and they get someone like Cameron Heyward to come in and be ready to go in two or three years. [Steelers director of football operations] Kevin Colbert and those people up there, they do a really good job."

No heir apparent to Lewis

The Ravens didn't draft an inside linebacker and apparently feel that the successor to Ray Lewis, 36, might be on the roster in Dannell Ellerbe, Tavares Gooden or Jason Phillips.

"There are some guys we liked," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel. "But I think, quite honestly, we like our guys. We've got a number of inside linebackers that we think can get better for us. We've got some young guys. We've taken a few guys these past couple of years. We've signed a couple undrafted free agents who have gotten a lot better, too. We like our inside backers. We think they're getting better. We didn't see that as a big priority for us this year."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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