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Let's start with a short trivia quiz: When was the last time the Ravens picked a defensive player in the first round of the draft? And when was the last time before that that they picked a defensive player in the first round?
I'll give you time to think of the answers. (No fair looking them up.)
OK, the answer to the first question is (drum roll, please) four years ago in 2006, when they took Haloti Ngata, a defensive tackle who has developed into a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
And the answer to the second question is seven years ago in 2003, when they took linebacker Terrell Suggs, another Pro Bowl-caliber player.
In other words, the Ravens have added homegrown first-round talent to their defense only once in the past six years.
That history is quite telling, it seems to me, with the 2010 draft about to become a reality and everyone with a laptop and a blog weighing in on the subject of what the Ravens are going to do.
The list of possible scenarios is dizzying, but this much is certain: what they're going to do is select the best player available, regardless of if he fills a pressing need. That's what they've almost always done, and as discussed before, it is a sound philosophy that has served them well. When you go with talent over need every year, you end up with better players, fewer reaches, more overall talent and a better team.
But having said that, when you step back and consider the above history, it seems clear that they need to pay attention to their defense – yes, perhaps even more than to their offense, which has been their trouble spot for years.
They've improved their offense in recent years by adding a quarterback and two linemen with their past three first-round picks, and it wouldn't be a surprise if they focus on that side yet again in Thursday's first round, taking a tight end or a wide receiver. They could use the boost, even after adding receivers Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth. Remember, it was their offense that stalled in the playoffs.
But from a long-range, building-block point of view, they're close to the point where they really need to improve their defense with another Pro Bowl-caliber player, another Ngata or Suggs. Those two were the only homegrown first-round picks under age 30 who started on defense in the playoff loss to the Colts last season.
The leadership and play of veteran stalwarts Ed Reed and Ray Lewis has enabled the Ravens to continue to play strong defense in recent years, but there was fraying, not to mention graying, at the edges of that blueprint in 2009, and at this point, I wouldn't expect the unit to perform any better in 2010. They've lost more than they've gained in free agency with Dwan Edwards and Justin Bannan departing and Cory Redding arriving.
It has been 11 years since they used their first-round pick on a difference-making cornerback (Chris McAlister) and they could stand to do it again. The NFL has become a pass-happy league, putting a premium on the ability to defend in the air, and the Ravens are especially vulnerable at cornerback with Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb trying to come back from serious knee injuries and Domonique Foxworth having given an up-and-down performance in his first season here.
Of course, they found a starting cornerback in the third round last year when they took Webb, so they might decide to address that hole – and it is a hole – in a later round this year and use their top pick to bolster their defensive line, which they also need to do. By adding a run-stopper like Alabama's Terrence Cody to go with Ngata, the Ravens would assure themselves of a formidable defensive interior for years. The idea is to create a strength at whatever position they choose, and that would do it.
Cody fits the Ravens' profile – big-time school, smothering attitude, Florida upbringing -- and probably could step right in and help in 2010. And players of his caliber won't be available in later rounds, unlike at some other positions. I like the idea of taking Cody in the first round and letting the Ravens hammer the big guy into fighting shape. But that's just one scenario. Let's see what happens.
John Eisenberg worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.