Ranking the Ravens’ biggest defensive needs

February 15, 2012 | Luke Jones

Using an asterisk, I’ve ranked safety third with the assumption that Ed Reed will return for his 11th season, which is far from a sure thing at this point. If Reed decides to call it a career, the free safety position would move to the top of the defensive list of needs.

General manager Ozzie Newsome can only hope that Reed makes a decision prior to the start of free agency, so he can increase his chances of retaining unrestricted free agents Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura. If Reed returns, it’s almost a certainty that one — or both — of the reserve safeties departs via free agency for more money and an opportunity to potentially start elsewhere.

Zbikowski might be the better fit as Reed’s potential replacement and played well in the first six games of the 2010 season while Reed was on the physically unable to perform list, but Nakamura brings more versatility with his ability to line up as a dime back and his special teams prowess. If the Ravens can only retain one, they would probably prefer keeping Nakamura in the fold.

If Reed decides to ride off into the sunset, the Ravens won’t find too many promising options in April’s draft, which is not considered to be a deep one for impact safeties.

4. Defensive end

The Ravens would like to keep veteran Cory Redding, who performed well before being slowed by an ankle injury over the last few weeks of the regular season and the playoffs. The 31-year-old provided strong leadership — particularly while Lewis was sidelined with a toe injury for four games — and collected 4 1/2 sacks in 2011.

Newsome may allow Redding to walk, however, and go with Arthur Jones, who showed impressive growth after a quiet rookie season. Jones hasn’t shown much ability as a pass rusher, but the Ravens rely on Kruger and defensive lineman Pernell McPhee to enter the game on passing downs. McPhee doesn’t fit the mold of a 3-4 defensive end and will likely continue his role as an effective situational player.

If Redding departs via free agency, the Ravens should look to the middle rounds of the draft to hopefully find a gem like they did with McPhee in the fifth round last year. Brandon McKinney is also an unrestricted free agent, meaning the Ravens may need to restock their defensive line depth behind Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody.