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Eisenberg: Ground Quickly Shifting Heading Into Draft


I'm on record. I know. Not long ago, I wrote it was time for the Ravens to draft an offensive player with their first-round pick.

My rationale was math-based. Joe Flacco is the only homegrown first-rounder in that huddle now that Michael Oher is gone, and meanwhile, the Ravens defense has four homegrown first-rounders. It's time to start balancing that out and investing first-round talent in the offense. Both units need feeding.

When I wrote that a month ago, I was pretty sure the Ravens would follow my suggestion. Not BECAUSE I suggested it, mind you. (Puh-lease.) Pass catchers and blockers were among their most urgent needs.

But the ground is shifting in a hurry, and while I'm sticking with my suggestion, it wouldn't surprise me if the Ravens ended up taking a defensive player with the 17th pick in the first round on May 8.

The top safeties in this year's draft class, Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor, might be available. Either would be hard to turn down. The Ravens are looking for a rangy free safety to twin with Matt Elam.

The best inside linebacker in this year's class, Alabama's C.J. Mosely, could also fall to the Ravens. It isn't a position of need right now, but if a playmaker-in-waiting is there, can you pass him up?

Shoot, I've even seen an interior defensive lineman, Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman, linked to the Ravens in a few mock drafts.

Since I wrote that they should go offense, the Ravens have traded for a center, Jeremy Zuttah, and signed a pair of veteran pass catchers, wideout Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels. Those moves, combined with the re-signings of tight end Dennis Pitta and tackle Eugene Monroe, have closed a lot of holes that were open on offense.

The biggest remaining offensive hole is at right tackle, where the starting job is up for grabs. My guess is the Ravens will address that if they do go offense in the first round. Michigan's Taylor Lewan and/or Notre Dame's Zack Martin could be available, and many experts say either could start immediately. (Martin is probably the likelier bet, as Lewan's stock is rising and he might be gone.) It wouldn't be the sexiest pick, but after last season's struggles, would anyone quibble with them taking a lineman?

Anyway, my point is there are now just as many holes on defense as offense, so the urgency to go offense is not as profound. I still believe they could stand to feed the talent foundation on that side of the ball with a first-round pick, especially a top-20 pick, which they seldom possess. But after reading what Owner Steve Bisciotti said at the owner's meetings last month, I should just admit that anything is liable to happen.

"Don't be surprised as fans if we turn around and take a middle linebacker and an outside linebacker at one and two. That's Ozzie's M.O," Bisciotti said, referring to GM Ozzie Newsome's predilection for defense. "If they're there and they're highly rated on our board, then we're going to pluck some positions that may not look like needs."

Bisciotti continued: "We're in the position where, if that's what we take then that's what we take, and we'll be happy with it. And fans will know that we got a player that was rated higher than those other positions of need."

In other words, after all this debate and discussion, the Ravens will probably just stick to their bedrock philosophy of taking the highest-rated player left on their board, regardless of position. That's what they did when they took Jonathan Ogden in 1996 and Haloti Ngata in 2006. They had more dire needs at other positions, but by following their board, they landed a Pro Bowler in Ngata and a Hall of Famer in Ogden.

If they were to land a safety, that would mean they had spent three first-round picks on the secondary in the past four years, quite a concentration in one area. Their last three offensive first-round picks were in 2007, 2008 and 2009, so you can see what I mean about needing to balance that out.

But with so many teams throwing the ball more than ever, stocking up on quality pass defenders is hardly the worst idea. I can think of another team that did it recently – the Seattle Seahawks. They did OK.

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