Separating wants from needs as Ravens approach NFL draft

April 16, 2015 | Luke Jones

In football and in life, wants and needs are relative terms often used interchangeably when they shouldn’t be.

As we’re finally two weeks away from the NFL draft, the line between those wants and needs has been blurred by the saturation of too many mock drafts as well as the attempt to decipher the truths, half-truths, and outright lies told by executives around the league.

We all know the Ravens will take the “best player available” and will “stay true to the board” over the three-day event, but it’s difficult to recall a time in recent years when they’ve had this many apparent needs going into the draft. With all significant free-agent activity over, below is a look at which positions remain real needs and which ones are merely wants.

Wide receiver — NEED
Skinny: I’d be more inclined to buy into the hype about Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, and Michael Campanaro if this weren’t the same organization that thought it could find a starting receiver among Jacoby Jones, Deonte Thompson, and Tandon Doss two years ago. The trio of young receivers do show promise, but a team with Super Bowl aspirations can’t count on two former undrafted free agents and a 2014 seventh-round selection to be enough opposite veteran Steve Smith. The Ravens have done too good a job trying to convince everyone that they don’t need a receiver for them not to take one early, whether it’s a Jaelen Strong or Breshad Perriman in the first round or coming away with a wideout like Devin Smith or Devin Funchess in the second round.

Pass rusher — WANT
Skinny: Make no mistake, this one likely tops their list of wants, but the Ravens aren’t doomed if they don’t find a replacement for Pernell McPhee, who was a unique talent but not always consistent in his four years in Baltimore. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are still a formidable duo while Timmy Jernigan looks like a perfect candidate to help pick up the slack with some of the inside pressure that McPhee was so good at applying. The Ravens hope defensive end Brent Urban can also be part of that pass-rush equation, but he will need to prove he’s healthy. Perhaps outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw finally seizes the opportunity to rush the quarterback more often, but he’s never shown a consistent ability to do it at the NFL level.

Tight end — NEED
Skinny: Even if Dennis Pitta returns to football or Crockett Gillmore is ready to become a starter, another tight end is needed if the offense is serious about continuing to use the same system installed by former coordinator Gary Kubiak last season. The problem will be trying to find one as Minnesota’s Maxx Williams or Miami’s Clive Walford would be a reach at 26th overall, but both could be gone by the time the Ravens’ second-round pick rolls around. There are a few other decent mid-round options such as Ohio State’s Jeff Heuerman, Florida State’s Nick O’Leary, or even Penn State’s Jesse James, but none of the aforementioned prospects scream immediate starter, which will put substantial pressure on Gillmore going into the 2015 season if the Ravens don’t add another veteran.

Running back — WANT
Skinny: There’s been plenty of conjecture about the Ravens selecting Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon or Georgia’s Todd Gurley in the first round, but you’ll have a tough time convincing me there’s enough value there unless either rapidly becomes one of the top four or five backs in the NFL. The release of Bernard Pierce shouldn’t faze anyone considering he was a major disappointment over the last two years anyway. The combination of Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro is enough with such a formidable offensive line in front of them. With an eye toward the future, the Ravens will still have a good chance to grab a solid back in the middle rounds such as Northern Iowa’s David Johnson, Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford, or Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon, but it’s not the pressing need some have made it out to be.

Cornerback — NEED
Skinny: There’s validity to general manager Ozzie Newsome’s assessment that the position will be in better shape with the return of Jimmy Smith, but let’s not pretend the pass defense was playing that well before his injury last year. Rashaan Melvin showed promise as a solid depth corner, but neither he nor Asa Jackson — who will be coming off a knee injury and wasn’t very good when he played in 2014 anyway — should be penciled in as a No. 3-caliber corner. With Smith having a history of injuries and Lardarius Webb turning 30 this season, the Ravens are again begging for trouble if they put too much confidence in their current cast of corners. If it’s not a first-round talent such as Kevin Johnson or Marcus Peters, a second-round corner such as Quinten Rollins or Ronald Darby would be quite desirable.

Interior offensive lineman — WANT
Skinny: Center Jeremy Zuttah had offseason hip surgery and guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele are scheduled to become free agents next winter, making it a slam dunk that the Ravens would like to add another interior lineman to go with 2014 fifth-round choice John Urschel. It isn’t a necessity for 2015, but Newsome could find himself in a tough spot a year from now if the Ravens don’t pick up a lineman in the middle-to-late rounds this year.

Defensive tackle — WANT
Skinny: Even if Timmy Jernigan is ready to step into the gigantic shoes left behind by Haloti Ngata, the Ravens lack an obvious backup to swing between the 3-technique and Brandon Williams’ nose tackle spot, which could be an issue if they don’t add a bulky defensive lineman. A mid-to-late-round talent with upside such as Ellis McCarthy of UCLA would make a lot of sense to give the defensive line a boost in short-yardage situations.

Safety — WANT
Skinny: Not that the combination of Will Hill and the newly-signed Kendrick Lewis will make anyone forget about Ed Reed, but there just aren’t any safeties in this draft beyond Landon Collins of Alabama who represent a clear upgrade over what the Ravens already have. The return of 2014 third-round pick Terrence Brooks from the knee injury he suffered late last year will be an improvement over anything else they would likely come away with in this draft.