The past four weeks for the Ravens have provided something to fans that has been widely unknown since John Harbaugh took over prior to the 2008 season. These last four weeks, the Ravens have been without all-word, future hall-of-famer, arguably the greatest middle linebacker to ever play, Ray Lewis.
Lewis, as many of you know, has been sidelined with a turf toe injury. Without Lewis in the lineup, the Ravens have gone 4-0 in his absence, remain atop the AFC North and, should they win out, will be awarded the AFC’s no. 1 overall seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye. But having a Lewis-less lineup has gotten me — and I’m sure most of the Ravens fan base — thinking about (gulp) life after Ray. It’s inevitable. It’s going to happen sooner than later. No one wants to talk about. I’m not even sure why I’m writing about it. But it’s an issue that needs to be addressed.
Jameel McClain has stepped in nicely for Lewis. He’s commanded the defense well, but he is surely aided by Terrell Suggs, who is making a strong case for Defensive Player of the Year, Haloti Ngata, Ed Reed, Jarrett Johnson, the list goes on. Even the sometimes dunderheaded Danelle Ellerbe has stepped up his game in the three starts he’s earned. (I call him “dunderheaded” because he’s done some things unbecoming of what Harbs wants out of his team. Remember in the 2010 preseason when he returned an interception for a touchdown against the Rams, but stuck the ball over the goal-line and proceeded to skip over, which caused Harbs to run the down sideline and give him an earful?)
Even though McClain and Ellerbe have played exceptionally well, I think Ozzie Newsome and company should take a strong look at some of the draft-eligible inside linebackers. Boston College’s Luke Kuechly will surely be off the board before the Ravens pick in the 2012 draft. Notre Dame’s Manti Te’O announced earlier this week that he’s going stay in South Bend for his senior season. Vontaze Burfict out of Arizona State has a chance to fall to the Ravens, so does Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower or North Carolina’s Kevin Reddick. The 2012 linebacker class is incredibly deep. Depending on where the Ravens pick (I’m personally rooting for no. 32), some of these names may still be available. If not, TCU’s Tank Carder should certainly be available.
Carder may be the best fit. He already dons the purple and black in Fort Worth, he has an awesome name and is someone who could also step in and start right away. If the Ravens are going to go draft Lewis’
replacement successor, this is the year to do it. The Ravens need to start looking into the future, and began to last season they released Derrick Mason, Willis McGahee, Kelly Gregg and Todd Heap (HHEEEEEAAAAAAAAPPP!). The Wizard of Oz has rarely let Baltimore down with his superb drafts class.
And remember, just because the Ravens won’t have a top-10 pick doesn’t mean they won’t be able to find a stud linebacker later in the draft. Ray-Ray was drafted 26th overall in the 1996 draft. He seemed to work out all right.
But, in the mean time, let’s hope A) Lewis plays Sunday night in San Diego, B) the Ravens win their remaining three games, C) the Steelers lose their next 127 games and D) Baltimore brings home the Lombardi Trophy.
If you’re looking for other potential Baltimore draftees, check out the piece Ebony Bird writer, Tynan Patrick, wrote about offensive guards earlier this week.