Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome hedged his bets at the team's end-of-season press conference earlier this month after he was asked "in a perfect world" what position he wanted to address with his top draft pick, the sixth overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft.
"In a perfect world?" Newsome repeated.
Before he could continue, Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti jumped into the conversation.
"Tackle, safety, corner, pass rusher," Bisciotti said quickly, drawing laughs.
Newsome exhaled and said, "Pass rusher, yes … one of those four. Thanks, Steve!"
Obviously, Newsome wasn't about to commit to being focused on one position. That would hurt him in the poker game that unfolds among GMs in the months before the draft. And if he ended up taking a player at another position, it would seem like a fallback.
But the fact that Newsome is exhibiting positional correctness doesn't mean I have to hold back. In my "perfect world" for the Ravens, a big, hairy, game-changing pass rusher will be sitting there, ready to be plucked and put in purple, when it's their turn in the first round.
Yes, they could also use an elite offensive tackle or cornerback, especially the latter. And frankly, when you're drafting that high, all that really matters is you score a bulls-eye, i.e., select a player who becomes a key puzzle piece, hopefully a star, regardless of position, as opposed to blowing the opportunity.
But the question referenced a "perfect world," meaning things break just as they want. To me, that would present the ideal time to add the next Terrell Suggs to their brew of talents.
I thought that before Denver's pass rush battered New England quarterback Tom Brady in Sunday's AFC title game, emphasizing the importance of pressuring quarterbacks and disrupting opposing passing games. In today's pass-happy NFL, no skill is more consistently valuable.
In my view, among the reasons why the Ravens experienced a losing season in 2015, few were more important than the fact that they went from No. 2 in the league in sacks (and a playoff run) in 2014 to a tie for No. 17 in sacks in 2015. Suggs' season-ending Achilles injury, suffered in Week 1, produced a negative ripple effect. The pass rush was adequate but seldom dominant.
Suggs is expected back in 2016 and so is Elvis Dumervil, who led the team in sacks for a second straight year in 2015 and ended up making Sunday's Pro Bowl, a nice reward after a challenging season. If all goes well with the veteran duo, the Ravens' pass rush could climb back in the league's upper echelon.
With that in mind, it could easily be argued that cornerback and offensive tackle are more pressing, immediate needs. The Ravens would love to steady the ship at left tackle, a crucial position, or in the secondary, which has been in flux.
But I'm thinking big picture, long term, when I put a new sackmaster at the top of the wish list. Suggs turns 34 in October and is coming off a second Achilles tear. Dumervil just turned 32. The Ravens are hoping for more from them, but it's time to start preparing for "life after." The No 6 pick gives them a chance to add a long-term cornerstone.
"We're definitely looking to add somebody – not just there, but in a lot of other areas, too," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said at the end-of-season presser. "I don't want to pick it out and say that's just the one spot, but pass rush is really important."
Need a visual for the kind of player I'm envisioning? How about the Raiders' Khalil Mack? The Ravens loved him before the 2014 draft but didn't pick high enough to get him. Mack was the No. 5 overall selection and made All-Pro this year, in his second pro season.
Ohio State's Joey Bosa is regarded as a player of that caliber in this year's draft, but he might be the No. 1 overall pick, and it's not clear whether the other top pass rushers in the class, such as Oklahoma State's Emmanuel Ogbah or Clemson's Shaq Lawson, warrant going at No. 6. That could lead to the Ravens taking a player at another position. (If it's Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey, I'm in.)
But there are months of scouting to go, so opinions can (and will) change. If the Ravens get the player they want and he happens to be a game-changing pass rusher, their smiles will light up a springtime night.