The Ravens are, from top to bottom, perhaps the most complete roster in the NFL. That doesn’t mean that they are without needs, or that they lack the ability to upgrade. In this segment I will be taking a position by position look at where the Ravens could use an upgrade or where they my have holes opening up in the near future. Today I will be focusing on finding a ILB to ease the loss of Ray Lewis.
Ray Lewis is having one of the better seasons of his career but the Ravens know that the Ray Lewis era is coming to an end. It is widely anticipated that if the Ravens win the superbowl Ray Lewis will ride off into the sunset. While there is no way to replace arguably the best defensive player in NFL history, the Ravens must find a way to ease the transition.
Currently on the Roster the Ravens have two competent, starting caliber players in Dannell Ellerbe and Jameel McClain. Both McClain and Elerbe are good players. McClain is reliable and rarely makes mistakes but is physically much less talented. Ellerbe is extremely talented but also extremely undisciplined, he is prone to mental errors that sometimes cost the Ravens yards and points. Neither McClain nor Ellerbe is a real replacement for Ray Lewis. Any Replacement for Ray Lewis needs to come from the draft, the 2012 draft offers one of the best ILB groups to come out of college in several years.
1. Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State- Burfict is the unquestioned top LB in the draft. He has good instincts but his athleticism is what really sets him apart. He has the natural athleticism to play any LB position and could even play DE in some packages. Burfict would work well in the Ravens defensive system where hybrid players are valued above all others. The problem with Burfict is his attitude. He could be considered a loose canon. Burfict is the type of player that isn’t always in control of his emotions, he feeds of them but at times that gets him in trouble. He has become known for having on-field “temper tantrums” and is a common member of after the play scuffles. Burfict could be a huge bust if he cant learn to get his temper and emotion under control when he plays. Burfict would have to slide and the Ravens would have to trade up for any chance to get him, he is considered a top 10 pick but could slide into the 15-20 range where the Ravens could theoretically go after him.
2. Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College- ill call him LK to save time. In short, LK is a tackling machine. He has over 190 tackles this season for BC. His tackling form is almost flawless. In a world where almost no one actually wraps up when they tackle, guys like LK are a very hot commodity. That said LK is extremely undersized and he isn’t very athletic. I expect his 40 time along with most of his combine measurables to be fairly pedestrian. To me LK is a complimentary player to a guy like Ray Lewis more than he is a replacement for him. LK is going to be a fine player in the NFL, he will be consistent and reliable, but that isn’t enough to bump Ellerbe or McClain off the field, I cant see LK being a good option for the Ravens.
3. Donta Hightower, ILB, Alabama- I love Alabama players. They come out of college ready for what they will face in the NFL. Bama is also annually one of the most talented teams in the country so there are lots of examples of how good these guys are. Hightower is a very nice young player, good instincts, great athleticism and speed. He is a pretty good tackler. The problem with Hightower is that while he does everything well, he isn’t really exceptional at anything. Hightower will be a second round player and if Teo and Burfict aren’t available the Ravens would do well to trade back into the top 10 of the second round and pick up a few extra picks and Hightower, similar to what they did in 2010 when they traded back and grabbed Sergio Kindle.
4. Bobby Wagner, MLB, Utah State- Bobby Wagner is the guy that appears to be laying no. 25 out in the above picture, i love the look on that guys face. Wagner is a player that is on the rise after being named to the first team all-WAC. He is very undersized at just 6’ 230lbs, but he is very fast and strong for his size. Wagner is a project and he needs to bulk up at the NFL level but in a couple years he could be a good player and will likely be available in the third round.
Unfortunately Manti Te’o has declared he will return to school for his senior season at Notre Dame making a stellar MLB class a little bit weaker. Te’o would have been my favorite player in the draft had he come out. With Te’o definitely coming out next year, there should actually be a pretty strong class in the next draft as well so the Ravens wont need to address their ILBs immediately.
for more on the Ravens MLB options read this great article by my fellow Ebonybird.com author Brett Nieves.