Ozzie Newsome has identified the middle of the Ravens defense as the biggest area in need of improvement this offseason. The Ravens general manager pointed specifically to defensive tackle as a spot where they would like to upgrade.
The good news for the Ravens is that this year's draft is stacked with talented interior defensive linemen.
"As far as defensive tackle, it's flat out loaded," ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper said. "It's a loaded group."
The draft guru has seven interior defensive linemen going in the first round of his latest mock draft. His current first round projections are Star Lotulelei (Utah), Sheldon Richardson (Missouri), Sharrif Floyd (Florida), Sylvester Williams (North Carolina), Johnathan Hankins (Ohio State), Kawann Short (Purdue) and John Jenkins (Georgia).
Out of those players, Hankins, Short and Jenkins are the players most likely to be available for the Ravens at the back of the first round. Kiper currently has the Ravens taking LSU linebacker Kevin Minter with pick No. 32.
Fellow ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has the Ravens going another direction and taking Alabama defensive tackle Jesse Williams in the first round.
"He's not flashy, but Williams is the kind of big, tough, selfless defensive lineman who can occupy blockers and make average linebackers and safeties look much better as run defenders," McShay said.
If the Ravens decide against taking an interior defensive lineman in the first round, they should still be able to nab a quality player later because the group isn't just top heavy.
"You go into rounds two, three and four and you're going to find guys," Kiper said.
One player that Kiper specifically highlighted as a mid-round option was Brandon Williams out of Missouri Southern. Williams, 6-foot-2, 341 pounds, has come on strong in recent weeks and could help his stock with a good showing at the combine.
"He could be in that second or third round mix, in that next grouping, that's going to have a nice career in the NFL," Kiper said.
Heading into next year, the Ravens currently have Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody for the defensive tackle and nose tackle positions. Ngata is a perennial Pro Bowler and one of the league's most dominant defenders when he's healthy, but he's battled nagging injuries the last two years. Cody, a former second-round pick, is heading into his fourth season and hasn't yet established himself as the run stuffer that the Ravens want out of their nose tackle.
Adding another big defender to the mix would give the Ravens someone to challenge Cody for the starting nose tackle job and also provide additional depth if Ngata were to get hurt.
And this year's draft looks to have plenty of talent to help the Ravens in that department.
"If you need nose tackles," Kiper said, "you got it all covered in terms of the defensive tackle spot in this year's draft."