Late For Work 1/18: Ravens Should Be Smiling Because Draft Talent Matches Their Biggest Needs

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Ravens Should Be Smiling Because Draft Talent Matches Their Biggest Needs

Take a look at Head Coach John Harbaugh's offseason wish list.

Now read how top draft evaluators are describing the strengths of the 2017 NFL Draft.

You'll find they match up quite nicely.

This class has "the deepest/most talented group of [cornerbacks] that I've seen in several years," tweeted NFL Network analyst and former Ravens scout Daniel Jeremiah.

"The 2017 cornerback class could be special," wrote ESPN's Mel Kiper, later adding, "This is a defensive draft. It's incredibly strong there – 15 of my top 25 prospects are defenders, including eight of the top 10. And it's deep too, with pass rushers and defensive backs galore.

Jeremiah agreed that the draft is also "loaded" with edge rushers, and he added safeties and running backs to the list of deep positions. Kiper ranked center as the third-deepest spot.

Folks, these are all positions the Ravens are likely to address this offseason.

Pass rusher? Yes, please. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil aren't getting any younger.

Safety? Yes, please. Lardarius Webb and Kendrick Lewis have been pegged by some media members as potential cap casualties.

Running back? Yes, please. The Ravens like what they have in young backs Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon, but the duo has a similar style and the offense lacks a game breaker with elite speed. Harbaugh has said the Ravens are looking to add another running back.

Center? Yes, please. Harbaugh said "priority one" is beefing up the offensive line. With Ronnie Stanley (LT), Alex Lewis (LG) and Marshal Yanda (RG) slated to start next year, center seems like a logical place to beef up. Rick Wagner (RT) is slated for free agency.

Corner? YES, PLEASE! Perhaps the biggest need of all is cornerback. And, judging by the experts' comments above, that position might be the crown jewel of the draft.

"That is a key spot," Harbaugh said at the end of the season. "We need to add more corners, there is no question about it. [We need to add] corners that can play at the highest level. If we can do that, it is going to dramatically impact our defense."

The Ravens' secondary play drastically improved last season, but the group appears too dependent on the health of Jimmy Smith, who has played in all 16 games just twice in his six-year career.

The team is very happy with rookie Tavon Young's standout year on the outside, but the defense could be better off with him at nickel and adding a corner with prototypical size on the outside. Shareece Wright lost his starting job until Smith was knocked out with an injury, and it's not a good sign when the owner says you played "poorly" down the stretch.

We'll have plenty of time to break down the many cornerback candidates the Ravens could target in April, but for now, here is Kiper's top 10, four of which made his overall top 25 big board.

  1. Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State
    1. Teez Tabor, Florida
    2. Quincy Wilson, Florida
    3. Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
      5. Cordrea Tankersley, Clemson
    4. Sidney Jones, Washington
      7. Tre'Davious White, LSU
      8. Jourdan Lewis, Michigan
      9. Desmond King, Iowa
    5. Gareon Conley, Ohio State

Reviewing 2016 Draft Class

As we contemplate the possibilities of the 2017 draft, WNST's Luke Jones looked back on last year's class, noting how happy the Ravens must be with their rookie production. As good as the group was, it still has plenty of room for growth, as two of the top three picks didn't significantly contribute.

Here's how Jones sees the long-term outlook for each pick:

OT Ronnie Stanley (Round 1): "Considering Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden wasn't even asked to play left tackle as a rookie, the Ravens are pleased with Stanley, who is on track to be a potential Pro Bowl pick one day."

LB Kamalei Correa (Round 2): "Baltimore enters the offseason viewing Correa as a limited rusher and as more of an inside backer, making the choice to pass on talents like Noah Spence and Myles Jack more questionable."

DE Bronson Kaufusi (Round 3): "Kaufusi needed to add lower-body strength and flexibility, so it'll be interesting to see how he projects with Lawrence Guy a free agent and Brent Urban entering the final year of a rookie deal."

CB Tavon Young (Round 4): "The Ravens would be wise to add a corner with better size that would at least allow Young to move inside in the nickel package, but he deserves to be in the mix for a starting role." 

WR Chris Moore (Round 4): "The 6-foot-1 receiver shows some potential as a complementary vertical threat and will be in the mix as a kick returner, but this will be an important offseason for his development."

OL Alex Lewis (Round 4): "The clear favorite to be the starting left guard in 2017, Lewis has the potential to develop into an above-average starting guard and to be a solid left tackle backup moving forward."

DT Willie Henry (Round 4): "The free-agent status of nose tackle Brandon Williams will play a big part in determining how many opportunities Henry and 2015 third-rounder Carl Davis will see in the rotation."

RB Kenneth Dixon (Round 4): "The Ravens have talked about adding another running back with high-end speed, but Dixon showed impressive toughness and is the early favorite to be the starter in 2017."

OLB Matt Judon (Round 5): "Judon flashed promise and leapfrogged Za'Darius Smith, but the Ravens need him to step up substantially with Terrell Suggs a year older and Dumervil a potential salary-cap casualty."

WR Keenan Reynolds (Round 6): "The 5-foot-10 receiver has a long way to go, but the Ravens didn't want to risk him signing a reserve-future deal elsewhere, proving they still see potential in the former Midshipmen star."

CB Maurice Canady (Round 6): "A* *6-foot-1, 193-pound frame makes Canady a developmental candidate as an outside cornerback, but he will be competing for a roster spot in training camp."

Smith Sr.'s Awesome Response To Potentially Becoming A Panthers WR Coach

Ricky Proehl is stepping down as the Carolina Panthers wide receivers coach. In explaining his reason for leaving, Proehl cited a promise to his son to watch all of his games when he became a starter at University of North Carolina.

That leaves a coaching vacancy that Carolina must fill, and it only seems natural for Panthers fans to want Steve Smith Sr. to return and coach the young talent on the roster.

The only thing is, Smith is interested … at all.

Smith could play another year if he wanted. Owner Steve Bisciotti said he wouldn't be surprised if Smith showed up in his locker room to suit up in September. The Ravens would gladly accept him.

But the 37-year-old isn't returning because he also wants to spend more time with his children. His oldest son is playing college soccer at DePaul, and he's got three younger ones at home.

"If the current Coach is stepping down to be with his kids, one of the reasons I'm retiring to be home more. Why would I take the job," Smith tweeted.

One Safety Drops Out, But Weddle Still Not Going To Pro Bowl … Yet

Is it possible for the Pro Bowl snub, Eric Weddle, to feel any worse?

Yup.

The Broncos announced Tuesday that safety Darian Stewart has been named as the replacement for Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, who withdrew from the game.

Stewart got the nod over Weddle because the Ravens safety wasn't even named a first alternate. He is a second alternate, which means a second safety would have to back out in order for Weddle to take his family of six to Orlando.

New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty will play in the AFC championship game Sunday, and if his team beats the Pittsburgh Steelers, that should open up a spot for Weddle.

The Broncos will be well represented, as Stewart joins cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris on the AFC roster. Linebacker Von Miller is also on the team. It will be Stewart's first Pro Bowl appearance, and as a former Raven, Baltimore can be happy for the 28-year-old veteran.

That said, it could be easily argued that Weddle deserves the nod.

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