Eisenberg: Time to Spend 1st-Rounder on Defense

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OK, time's up. Let's start with the most recent defensive player taken by the Ravens in the first round. Drum roll, that's right, it's Haloti Ngata in 2006 -- five years ago.

The one before that? We're going back a bit . . . to Terrell Suggs in 2003, believe it or not. And the one before Suggs was . . . give up? It was Ed Reed, a 2002 selection who will turn 33 next fall.

It's kind of a trick question because Sergio Kindle was the team's first selection last year, but he came in the second round, as did Dwan Edwards in 2004. You really have to know your stuff, but here it is: The last three defensive players drafted by the Ravens as first-round selections were Ngata, Suggs and Reed, who now form the core of the unit along with Ray Lewis.

What should we take from that? Well, that the Ravens are reeeeally good at drafting for defense in the first round. Ngata, Suggs and Reed are all major stars with more than a dozen combined Pro Bowl appearances.

But isn't it about time the team went that way again?

Don't misunderstand: I'm not second-guessing them for going offense in four of the last six years with the selections of Michael Oher, Joe FlaccoBen Grubbs and Mark Clayton. Given their longterm struggles on offense going back a decade, they needed better players on offense.

That draft focus has paid off with help from a second-round guy named Ray Rice; while the offense still struggles at times, it is more challenging for opposing defenses than it was, and certainly has a higher upside.

The defense? Long the franchise's signature unit, it has held up fairly well despite the relative dearth of first-round additions. It still carries the Ravens, finishing 10th in the league in fewest yards allowed in 2010 – the unit's eighth straight top-10 finish in that key category.

But let's face it, there is slippage. The Ravens allowed 57 more yards per game in 2010 than they did in 2008. That's a significant falloff. The defense still shows up every week and mostly shines, but in some respects, it is holding on for dear life to its reputation. It could use some new blood, some fresh, young legs at a key position.

The Ravens have tried over and over to inject that new life into the unit with second-round and third-round picks such as Kindle, Terrence Cody, Paul Kruger, Lardarius Webb, Tavares Gooden, David Pittman, Dan Cody and Edwards. But what do they all have in common? Not one was a starter for the Ravens in 2010. The team's track record with first-round defensive selections is far better.

When the Ravens' draft team took questions from reporters Tuesday, I asked GM General Manager Ozzie Newsome if he was considering going defense in the first round simply because he had gone offense so often in recent year.

"Do we go in thinking that it's definitely going to be an offensive player or a defensive player? No, we don't. We just want to get good football players," Newsome replied.

I understand that. And I understand that a slew of factors will go into their decision-making when they're "on the clock" next Thursday night. Who is still on the board? Are they worth first-round money? Do they play positions of immediate need? Which one do we really like?

Whether they play offense or defense might not factor into the equation at all. But maybe it should.

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