An underachieving offense is where the Baltimore Ravens have placed the blame when they fail to make the playoffs. In 2013 the offense looked nothing like the Ravens of the 2012 post season run, where they scored 24 points or more during each and every game. In 2013 the offense finished 29th in total yards, 25th in points per game, and 30th in rush offense.
The only shining light came with a pass offense ranked 18th but that came as a result of always being down early in games and a dreadful run offense that could barely put together two yards per carry.
Just three months from the 2013 season and the Ravens offense seems to have improved quite a bit on paper. Teo time Pro Bowler Owen Daniels has replaced Dallas Clark and Ed Dickinson. Dennis Pitta is looking healthy and ready to be in the form he displayed in 2012. Steve Smith found a home in Baltimore looking to start at the slot. Michael Oher will no longer be getting penalty flags on false starts and Jeremy Zuttah will make the inconsistent play of Gino Gradkowski a thing of the past at center.
The offense is potentially just good enough that Baltimore might actually look to improve the defense with their first round selection at 17th. The two remaining questions reside at right tackle and at running back. The right tackle spot could potentially go to Jah Reid or Ricky Wagner, though the Ravens like to create an atmosphere of competition so drafting one could still be a possibility.
The running back position is a little bit more difficult to discern if Ray Rice gets penalized with a suspension due to his domestic violence case. But even if both Rice and Bernard Pierce end up missing play time, it is likely that one can find a stud running back in later rounds of the draft. Especially since this years draft is deep at the position, not to mention for the Ravens to select one at 17th could end up being a major reach for them.
On defense however, the major positional need lies in the free safety spot. In 2013 James Ihedigbo was great at the starting role but sadly he was made a casualty of free agency since the Ravens drafted Matt Elam in last years draft who showed to be a better fit at strong safety.
The top safeties considered to be future elites in the draft could very well be around by the time the Ravens get on the clock. The two that have stood out from the rest are Louiville’s Calvin Pryor and Alabama’s Haha Clinton-Dix.
The highest rated safety this year is Clinton-Dix. Based on draft order and potential team needs he can easily go as early as top ten, especially coming from the tough Crimson Tide defense. With his speed and flexibility, Clinton-Dix can be a nice compliment to Elam and his hard hitting style. Dix is also a sure tackler and solid at run stop, something that was lacking in last years Ravens defense.
Another pro in the draft column that Clinto-Dix has going for him is that he shares the same alma mater as Ozzie Newsome. Terrence Cody and Courtney Upshaw both have also played for the Crimson Tide. Not to mention that both players were also drafted by the Ravens early in the 2010 and 2012 drafts respectively.
If Clinton-Dix comes of the board before the Ravens get a chance at him the next likely will be Pryor as the next top safety on the board. Pryor’s style of play has been compared to that of Seattle’s Earl Thomas. Pryor is a violent hitter that comes with the added bonus of causing turnovers. In 2012 he lead the cardinals with 5 forced fumbles.
There is still just under a month left for the NFL draft, but most analysts see the Ravens going after an offensive tackle or free safety in the first round. It might seem odd to fans, but the Ravens using their first round selection on a safety for a second year in a row is not far fetched. Also, in keeping with the Ravens tradition, this could be the 5th consecutive year in a row they use the first round to draft on defense.
So when was the last time the Ravens were compiled to draft an offensive player in the first round? Oher in 2009. The Baltimore Ravens philosophy has always been to have a strong defense and have proved that every draft. The offense hasn’t been terrible but certainly not the strength of the team as most contributors on that side of the ball have come in later rounds or free agency.
The rest of the NFL might just keep on criticizing the Ravens for selecting another safety for the second year in a row, it is still something that makes sense. Last season the Ravens where a mess and mostly due to the terrible play of Michael Huff. Huff didn’t even make it through the whole season with the Ravens and his release forced Elam to move into the FS position and keeping Ihedigbo at strong safety.
The Ravens themselves are to blame for the problems but Ozzie is capable in fixing them. Bringing in Pryor or Clinton-Dix to team up with Elam will form one of the strongest defensive backfields around with two starting defensive perennial superstars. Even though no one outside of the Ravens organization really knows how their draft will be planned, getting another safety in the first round is something i think will be good for the team and their future.