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Eisenberg: Four Biggest Questions If Season Started Today


I didn't come up with the idea. Ozzie Newsome did.

"We have 63 players on our roster right now, and if the commissioner asked us to play tomorrow, I think we could line up and play and be pretty good," the Ravens' GM said Wednesday at the team's pre-draft media session.

Interesting. Let's take that ball and run with it. If the early-May, pre-draft Ravens did indeed have to play tomorrow, what would they look like when they lined up? What questions would we be asking, and do those questions offer hints about what the Ravens might do in the draft next week?

OK, if they had to play tomorrow (preferably at home against the Cleveland Browns, by the way), these would be their four biggest questions in my mind:

Can Rick Wagner be a starting right tackle? Head Coach John Harbaugh has said the 2013 fifth-round draft pick is the starter as of now, but he mostly just played in the jumbo package as a rookie. The only other option on the roster is Jah Reid.

Is Arthur Brown ready to be a starting inside linebacker? The 2013 second-round pick played little against the run as a rookie and at times had trouble getting on the field, but the organization believes he is ready to replace Jameel McClain.

Who is starting at safety alongside Matt Elam? In January, Newsome said he wants to see a playmaker anchoring the back end of the defense. The only in-house candidates right now are young guys without that track record.

The replacement for defensive tackle Arthur Jones is … who? Everything the Ravens do on defense starts with stopping the run, so it's big. Jones, Haloti Ngata and Chris Canty were the starting front in 2013, and an opening arose when Jones signed with the Colts. Is Brandon Williams ready? Can Terrence Cody step up?

Yes, the team is facing other questions, none bigger than whether running back Ray Rice will be eligible to play when the 2014 season begins. I've thought he might face a suspension of a few games, but the vagaries of NFL-style justice are hard to predict. In any case, since this is just a hypothetical exercise, I'll leave the question alone for now.

What does it say about the Ravens that those are their four biggest questions heading into the draft?

For starters, it says they're in pretty good shape. While all four questions certainly raise key issues, they aren't exactly cornerstone-of-the-franchise stuff. In the big picture, they're pretty small.

Things would be different if the Ravens had to play tomorrow and, say, didn't know who their quarterback was. That's when you worry.

But between a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, a blind-side left tackle anchoring the line, a bunch of quality receivers, a pair of Pro Bowl-caliber pass rushers, solid young blood in the secondary and an All-Pro kicker, the Ravens have the outline of a contending team. They've taken some positives steps with their numerous offseason moves.

So can we learn anything else from the fact that those four questions are their biggest right now? Can we glean any secrets about what might unfold in the draft next week?

Good luck with the latter. Although we're all doing it, trying to guess what the Ravens might do is a bit like trying to race the wind. It's a hollow exercise. Sixteen teams are going to make selections before the Ravens are "on the clock" in the first round Thursday night, and what those teams do will largely determine what the Ravens do at No. 17. There's simply no telling what circumstances they'll face when it's finally their turn.

But having said that, it's interesting that three of those four questions involve the defense. The Ravens offense was the bigger problem in 2013, but the organization has aggressively addressed that, bringing in a new coordinator, new coaches, new personnel, new everything. That's altered the need list. While the defense also has been addressed, it probably needs more work at this point from a personnel standpoint.

That tells me I shouldn't be surprised if the Ravens wind up taking a defensive player in the first round next week.

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