Late For Work 3/24: Could RB Ezekiel Elliott Be Dark-Horse Pick For Ravens?

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Could RB Ezekiel Elliott Be Dark-Horse Pick For Ravens?

I've been meaning to address the Ezekiel Elliot-to-Baltimore buzz for a while, but the flurry of free-agent signings in Baltimore and the owners meetings have pushed it down the news cycle.

The buzz started a couple weeks ago when ESPN's Todd McShay named the Ohio State running back as a backup option to tackle Ronnie Staley for the Ravens at No. 6 in the NFL Draft. Then, NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah put fuel on the fire when he projected Elliot to Baltimore in his mock draft.

While Elliott is an extremely talented back, the Ravens seem to have bigger needs, including at cornerback and pass rusher, among others.

But we all know Ozzie Newsome. The Ravens GM always takes the best player available. Plus, it's rare to see running backs taken that high in the draft these days.

Is there an actual chance that Newsome would pull the trigger on Elliot with his sixth pick, Jamison Hensley?

"It will come down to whether the Ravens believe Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott is the next Adrian Peterson," the Ravens' ESPN reporter wrote earlier this month. "The short careers of running backs – they traditionally decline starting at age 27 – makes it prohibitive to take one so early in the draft. But, if the Ravens believe Elliott can be the top running back in the league, he becomes part of Baltimore's conversation at that spot."

The Ravens are already stacked at the running back position with Justin Forsett as the presumptive starter, followed by Buck Allen, Lorenzo Taliaferro and Terrance West. They even have an "unofficial agreement" with former No. 3 overall draft pick Trent Richardson.

Nobody on the roster, however, has matched Peterson's production over the years. Forsett has been to the Pro Bowl in one breakout year, but ended last season on injured reserve with a broken arm. Head Coach John Harbaugh didn't declare him the definite starter.

"The featured back will be the best back, and to me Justin Forsett certainly fits the bill," Harbaugh said at the combine. "He's proven that already."

Those comments left some room for speculation.

"The Ravens also didn't say Justin Forsett is their featured back this season, which suggests team officials are open to upgrading this position," wrote Hensley.  "Baltimore was also eyeing Todd Gurley in last year's draft before he was taken No. 10 overall. So, yes, Elliott would be a surprising pick for some and the odds are against it happening. But I can't totally rule it out."

Ravens Select Cyborg In DC Comic Draft

While we're talking the draft, NFL.com had fun with a mock draft with DC Comic characters. They had the Ravens selecting Cyborg with the sixth-overall pick.

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"Cyborg was projected to be the top pick but a litany of injuries caused his stock to plummet," the website wrote. "He also declined an invite to this year's combine to upgrade his operating system, a process that took two to three weeks.

"Scouts believe if Cyborg can stay healthy he'll fill a big hole in the Ravens O-line, with his high IQ and elite pass protection ability. With a revitalized O-line, Joe Flacco's new three-year extension and the signing of free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace, the Ravens looked poised to make another run at a title."

Ravens Playing 'Good Cop, Bad Cop' With Monroe?

Well, Owner Steve Bisciotti threw everyone for a loop this week when he strongly defended Eugene Monroe as the starting left tackle in 2016.

"He is our left tackle going into next year," Bisciotti told Garrett Downing and The Sun. "I think a lot of the speculation about us moving on from him clearly comes down to the fact that he's been hurt a lot, because he's played pretty well when he's been in there. We've always been happy with him when he's on the field."

This came after what WNST's Luke Jones calls a "lukewarm" attitude toward Monroe from Harbaugh and Newsome. Harbaugh said earlier in the day there would be competition at left tackle (although he says that about virtually all positions except quarterback), and Newsome didn't give Monroe a ringing endorsement when he was still trying to re-sign Kelechi Osemele.

"Perhaps this is the Ravens' version of 'good cop, bad cop' in trying to motivate their left tackle for 2016," wrote Jones.

New Touchback Rule Could Backfire

The league has approved a one-year rule change to touchbacks. For 2016, any kickoff that goes out of the back of the end zone, or a returner kneels it, the line of scrimmage will be placed at the 25-yard line instead of the 20.

The purpose of the rule is to discourage returners from bringing the ball out of the end zone because kickoff returns are where a substantial number of concussions occur.

But the rule just might backfire.

Harbaugh told reporters that Justin Tucker won't kick it to the end zone as much anymore. Then there was this tweet by Seattle kicker Graham Gano.

"The touchback rule will be evaluated for one season in 2016, before the league decides whether to institute it permanently," wrote CSNMidatlantic.com's Clifton Brown. "We'll see if [Justin] Tucker and other kickers make this rule change just a one-year deal."

Will Ravens Go After Any More Cast-Off Veterans?
Harbaugh made it clear the Ravens aren't finished adding players, and we're actually getting into the wave of free agency where Baltimore is most typically active.

Just because they jumped in early this year, doesn't preclude them from picking up bargain players now that the initial wave of higher-priced big names are off the market.

"The Ravens always seem to be the team that saves a few dollars for a rainy day before using them on a useful veteran, often one who has been prematurely let go by his previous employer," wrote ESPN's Bill Barnwell.

Daryl Smith, Steve Smith Sr., Justin Forsett and Elvis Dumervil are all players the Ravens scooped up after being cast off by their former teams. There's still a chance the Ravens could preserve at least one 2017 compensatory pick depending on what happens with Courtney Upshaw, so signing cap casualties would be helpful.

The Ravens reportedly are $7 to $8 million under the cap, and could create more space depending on what happens with Dennis Pitta.

"[Baltimore] would seem like a logical fit for one of the veteran guards left in free agency, such as Louis Vasquez or Geoff Schwartz, given that they lost Kelechi Osemele to Oakland without finding a replacement," wrote Barnwell.

"And while Baltimore will unquestionably look hard at cornerbacks in this year's draft – to the extent that they could take Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey if he falls to them at No. 6 – they could be in the market for somebody like [Leon] Hall or Antonio Cromartie if the price is right."

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