A month ago, the Ravens had six defensive starters to replace from their Super Bowl team.
Included in that group were both starting safeties and inside linebackers, as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard and Dannell Ellerbe were all gone.
It looked like the Ravens would have to use the draft to fill in those spots, but General Manager Ozzie Newsome has reloaded the roster via free agency in recent weeks, bringing in
veteran safety Michael Huff and inside linebacker Rolando McClain. Those additions have lessened the need for the Ravens to target a safety or inside linebacker in the first couple rounds of this year's draft, and may allow the front office to be more selective.
"I think they've given themselves some flexibility," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. "They've done some really good things in free agency with the players they've picked up. That's alleviated some of the concerns and some of the forces that you need to deal with on draft day."
Before the signing of McClain, a number of mock drafts had the Ravens taking either safety or inside linebacker with pick No. 32.
Kiper could still see that happening, even with the addition of McClain.
"It's a big hole," Kiper said. "Obviously it's a key need area there at inside linebacker. They don't need one, they need two. They actually need another safety as well."
At inside linebacker the options currently on the roster are McClain, Josh Bynes, Albert McClellan, recently-converted defensive tackle Bryan Hall, and veteran Jameel McClain, who is coming back from a spinal cord injury. The safety options are Huff, James Ihedigbo and Omar Brown, and Christian Thompson after he returns from a four-game suspension
Kiper currently has the Ravens drafting Florida International safety Jonathan Cyprien in the first round. Other possible first-round safety targets are Florida's Matt Elam, LSU's Eric Reid and Texas' Kenny Vacarro.
Kiper expects the top inside linebacker prospects – Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, Georgia's Alec Ogletree and LSU's Kevin Minter – all to be gone by the time the Ravens pick at the end of the first round. Of those three prospects, Minter likely has the highest probability to be available for the Ravens.
"The inside linebacker position still is in play, with a Kevin Minter possibly from LSU," Kiper said.
Overall, Kiper thinks the Ravens still need to bring in another linebacker to round out the roster, but adding McClain did give them some options for the first couple rounds.
"It would allow them not to have to force something if there's not a player there, they can pretty much avoid feeling like, 'We have to get this need filled via the draft,'" Kiper said. "That would at least lessen it to an extent, but certainly inside linebacker would still be at the top of the priority list."