Though many have considered this year’s Senior Bowl to be fielding its worst batch of NFL talent in recent memory, that didn’t stop the Ravens’ brass from flocking to Mobile, Ala. this week to continue preparations for the 2014 draft to be held in early May.
After 73 underclassmen entered last year’s draft and nearly 30 prospects declined this year’s invitation because of injury or personal preference, it’s understandable not to find a bumper crop of first-round talent, but that doesn’t mean general manager Ozzie Newsome, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, and director of college scouting Joe Hortiz haven’t identified players who could be of interest to Baltimore.
Having needs all over the offensive line as well as at wide receiver, free safety, and tight end, the Ravens could be in the hunt for the proverbial “best player available” more than ever with few positions on either side of the ball overflowing with talent. Baltimore could also be looking to improve its depth at running back and along the defensive line once you move past the more pressing needs.
Much of the best talent in this year’s draft can be found among the record 98 underclassmen declaring early, but the Senior Bowl (Saturday 4 p.m. on NFL Network) will contain prospects projected to go from the second half of the first round all the way through the seventh and final round in May.
With each number representing a loose — and very early — projection of the round in which the prospect could be drafted, here are seven players of varying degrees of talent to watch in the 2014 Senior Bowl who could be of interest to the Ravens:
1. OL Zack Martin (Notre Dame)
6-foot-4, 305 pounds
Skinny: A four-year starter for the Fighting Irish, Martin’s performance at practices in Mobile turned plenty of heads to solidify his standing as a likely first-round pick. He doesn’t have the length you’d like to see in an offensive tackle, but draft experts think he has the technique and quickness to be a Pro Bowl guard at worst. His versatility makes him an attractive option for the Ravens, who aren’t set at any position on next year’s offensive line other than right guard.
2. WR Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt)
6-foot-3, 206 pounds
Skinny: Underclassmen such as Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, and Marqise Lee dominate the top of the wide receiver rankings, which could make Matthews a very attractive pick in the second round. Very productive in his collegiate career and considered to be good after the catch, Matthews is a cousin to Hall of Famer Jerry Rice and is a smart player with a good feel for the game. With the Ravens on the hunt for a receiver, Matthews would be a fine choice if they go in a different direction in the first round.
3. FS Terrence Brooks (Florida State)
5-foot-11, 200 pounds
Skinny: Brooks played cornerback early in his collegiate career before switching to safety and excelling for the Seminoles. A standout performer in the national championship game earlier this month, he is strong against the run but has the range to play in the back end of the defense. With 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam expected to shift to strong safety this coming season, Brooks could be an intriguing Day 2 pick to be a factor at the free safety spot.
4. OT Seantrel Henderson (Miami)
6-foot-7, 331 pounds
Skinny: The massive right tackle never realized his full potential with the Hurricanes, but his combination of size and quickness makes him an intriguing pick for any team willing to take the risk. With the Ravens’ stated desire to be much bigger across the offensive line, Henderson would be an interesting mid-round selection to take the place of free agent Michael Oher at right tackle. However, his history of suspensions due to violating team rules at Miami brings his maturity into serious question.
5. RB James White (Wisconsin)
5-foot-10, 195 pounds
Skinny: After living in the shadow of Montee Ball in previous years, White rushed for more than 1,400 yards in his senior season and was praised for his ability in pass protection during Senior Bowl practices this week. Though not an impressive physical specimen, White runs with toughness and is a capable receiver out of the backfield. With Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce both coming off poor seasons, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens take a look at a running back in the later rounds.
6. WR Kevin Norwood (Alabama)
6-foot-2, 195 pounds
Skinny: Besides the obvious Alabama connection that Newsome will like, Norwood could be an intriguing late-round option at wideout and has a reputation as a target who can effectively move the chains. Blessed with good size, Norwood is sound fundamentally and has a championship pedigree playing for the Crimson Tide. Speed is the biggest question mark for Norwood, which will likely make him a late-round pick, but he could be an intriguing developmental player working out of the slot.
7. P Kirby Van Der Kamp (Iowa State)
6-foot-4, 202 pounds
Skinny: It’s no secret that Sam Koch’s $2.8 million cap number for 2014 makes him a prime candidate to be cut, and Van Der Kamp is viewed by some to be the best punter in this year’s draft class. Whether the Ravens choose the late rounds or simply elect to go the undrafted free agent route, there’s a reasonable chance someone other than Koch will be punting for Baltimore in 2014. Van Der Kamp wouldn’t appear to be a bad choice in this batch of rookies.