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Eisenberg: Time To Use First-Round Pick On Ravens Offense


While many analysts expect the Ravens to take an offensive player with their first pick in the draft in May, other realistic scenarios exist.

They could always trade out of the first round, as they did in 2010 and 2012. Or they could draft a defensive player in the first round, as they did in 2011 and 2013. It's never easy to predict what Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome might do.

This much we know: Uncertainty will prevail right up until the moment they're on the clock. There's no telling which prospects might fall, who might be available, what choice exists. Newsome will have options.

But having said all that, it really is about time for them to invest in a first-round pick on the offensive side of the ball.

When tackle Michael Oher signed with the Tennessee Titans last Friday, it meant the Ravens now have just one homegrown first-rounder on their offensive roster. Drum roll, please … Joe Flacco, come on down!

Kind of startling, isn't it? The defense has four homegrown first-rounders projected to start in 2014 (Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Jimmy Smith and Matt Elam), but the offense has only Flacco.

That certainly provides an interesting context for the offense having finished in the bottom third of the league in many statistical categories in 2013. The Ravens haven't poured their most precious resources, i.e., first-round picks, into the unit. It could be argued that they got what they paid for, and that needs to change.

Of course, the first round isn't the only place where you can obtain top-tier talent. A 2012 study by the Sporting News, going back over a decade of drafts, found that almost 70 percent of the players who earned Pro Bowl selections were NOT first-round picks. Since 2007, the Ravens have selected Ray Rice and Torrey Smith in the second round, Marshal Yanda in the third round and Dennis Pitta in the fourth round. They're all major contributors. Rice, Yanda and Pitta signed their "second" contracts to stay with the team long-term, and Smith is likely to follow their lead.

Meanwhile, Oher, the team's first-round pick in 2009, was not deemed a priority when he hit free agency last week after five years in Baltimore.

The Ravens had drafted Oher hoping he could replace Jonathan Ogden as their blind-side tackle, and he was a good soldier in many respects, durable, hard-working, versatile, willing. But he was more comfortable on the right side and his run blocking fell off considerably in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus. He had started 80 straight games and the Ravens were willing to bring him back, but not for anywhere close to what Tennessee offered.

Meanwhile, the money for the second contract that Oher was supposed to sign as a homegrown first-rounder went to Eugene Monroe, the left tackle obtained in a trade last season. He was deemed to have a higher ceiling than Oher.

The fact that the Ravens had to do that vividly illustrates that investing first-round talent in a unit doesn't always guarantee its success. The Ravens actually know that, having gone offense in the first round five times between 2003 and 2009, with Kyle Boller, Mark Clayton, Ben Grubbs, Flacco and Oher, only one of whom is still around.

But even with the understanding that useful players can come from anywhere, I have to believe you're eventually at a disadvantage if you don't inject top-pick talent into a unit. After that five-times-in-seven-years flurry, the Ravens haven't gone offense in the first round since Oher in 2009. That was five years ago.

Granted, Monroe was another team's first rounder (Jacksonville, 2009) so Flacco is guaranteed some high-pedigree company in the offensive huddle. But there are plenty of other positions where the Ravens are looking to upgrade – offensive line, wide receiver, tight end – and a first-round pick would be welcomed.

It's an especially inviting prospect with the Ravens drafting unusually high this year. They have the 17th pick, their highest slot in eight years. It would be just their fourth first-round pick above the No. 20 slot since 2002. The other three times, they came away with Suggs, Ngata and Flacco.

Adding a player of that potential to the offense, regardless of his position, could make quite a difference in 2014 and beyond.

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