If the Ravens want Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower as much as some people believe that they do, I suspect their first call when Round One starts to unfold will be to the Detroit Lions, who hold the 23rd overall pick. The significance of that spot is that it’s one ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who reportedly covet Hightower. If the Ravens are convinced that Hightower is their guy and they are willing to pay the cost of moving up six spots, which would probably be a third or fourth-round pick, a deal shouldn’t be too hard to work out. Lions senior personnel executive James Harris is the former director of pro personnel for the Ravens and he remains very close with Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome. Lions coach Jim Schwartz also is a former Ravens staff member and he remains friendly with a couple of people at the Castle, including Newsome. So the Lions are definitely worth keeping an eye on and I’d have to imagine that there has already been some dialogue between the two teams.
The speculation about Hightower aside, most people I’ve spoken to still think it’s more likely that the Ravens trade back to accumulate more picks than trade up in the first round. But another team to keep an eye on is the New England Patriots, who sit at 27th and 31st in the first round. Everybody knows that Bill Belichick loves to deal and move around in the draft, and he’s found a match with the Ravens before. If Wisconsin center Peter Konz is the guy the Ravens definitely want, I could see them swinging a deal with the Patriots and moving up two spots to 27 to make sure that they get him. The Green Bay Packers sit at 28 and they need a young center just like the Ravens do. The Packers signed long-time Indianapolis Colt Jeff Saturday, but he, like Matt Birk, figures to contemplate retirement again next offseason. Konz is also a Wisconsin kid and I’m sure there will be some temptation to keep him home.
I’m still not convinced that Konz’s line-mate at Wisconsin, Kevin Zeitler, may not be the better fit for the Ravens. While I understand the long-term need for a center, the Ravens have a current need for a starting guard after Ben Grubbs departed in free agency. Zeitler is considered one of the top ones in the draft. Zeitler is tough, durable and nasty. He wouldn’t be a sexy pick, but nor was Grubbs when the Ravens drafted him 29th overall in 2007, and that worked out just fine.
A question that I’ve gotten a lot is if the Ravens decide to pass on a guard/center in the first round, is there enough talent at the position where they still could land a pretty good one with their second-round pick, which is 60 overall. I posed that exact question to former Ravens coach and current analyst for Fox Sports and NFL Network Brian Billick and he provided three names that could come into play: Kelechi Osemele of Iowa State, Brandon Brooks from Miami of Ohio and Brandon Washington of Miami. However, Billick said it would be “ambitious” to draft one of them and immediately pencil them in as a starting guard on a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
As much as team officials say that they feel that either Anthony Allen and Damien Berry is capable of stepping into a more meaningful role backing up Ray Rice, I’d still be somewhat surprised if the Ravens didn’t draft a running back at some point. Cincinnati’s Isaiah Pead may be off the board before the Ravens are on the clock in the third round, but guys like Temple’s Bernard Pierce or Washington’s Chris Polk could be available there. The reality is there is a good chance that we won’t be seeing much of Rice through the various camps as he tries to get a contract extension, so the Ravens need to add much more depth at running back.
I’m betting that the news yesterday that Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Scouting Combine was treated with little more than a shrug in the Ravens’ draft room. I can’t say for sure that Burfict, who some draft pundits once considered a potential first-round target of the Ravens, is not on the team’s board. However, I can say that I would be very surprised if he was, even if we’re talking the sixth or seventh rounds here. I think the Ravens have enough confidence in their coaching staff and locker room leadership to take a chance on a player with some character concerns and discipline issues. But as they say, the tape doesn’t lie, and Burfict’s scouting tape this past season was, by all accounts, extremely poor. Throw in the interviews he bombed at the combine – and the Ravens conducted one of them – and I’d have to think that he was off the Ravens’ board long before his latest mishap.
For those of you watching the draft tonight, you may notice a familiar face during the opening of ESPN’s coverage. The network has filmed a segment where Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis gives a pep talk to the draft prospects and talks about the effort, hard work and will needed to make it to the NFL. The speech, I’m told, is similar to the one that he gave to the Stanford basketball team last month that proved pretty popular on all the highlight shows and YouTube.