As the countdown continues toward this year’s NFL Draft, our series of mock drafts now focuses upon the only NFL team to win a playoff game in each of the past four seasons, or to earn a postseason berth in each of those years. The Ravens continued those impressive streaks in 2011, by capturing the AFC North with a 12-4 record, and finishing an impressive 6-0 against their divisional rivals for the first time in franchise history. But after a 20-13 playoff victory over Houston in the Divisional Round, their year ended with abrupt disappointment in the AFC Championship Game. But despite being on the verge of a Super Bowl appearance just months ago, challenges have emerged in the offseason. Multiple contributors to their recent success have departed in free agency, and the defensive unit that finished within the top four of nearly every major statistical category in 2011 was impacted particularly hard. Starting at OLB, where five year starter Jarret Johnson exited for San Diego. Former DC Chuck Pagano’s promotion to the HC position with Indianapolis also created a mass exodus, as DT Brandon McKinney, DE Cory Redding, and S Tom Zbikowski all chose to join him. But arguably, Baltimore’s most problematic loss was on the offensive side, when Pro Bowl OG Ben Grubbs signed with New Orleans. Also, GM Ozzie Newsome must contemplate selecting the eventual replacement for the Ravens’ heart and soul, as 13-time Pro Bowler Ray Lewis prepares for his 17th season. And eight-time Pro Bowler Ed Reed enters his 11th year, making the safety position another area of need.
1st Round (1.29): Peter Konz (C) – Wisconsin
The Ravens could choose to secure inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower, or safety Mark Barron, which would infuse youthful talent into their defensive unit, and secure an heir apparent for one of their aging icons. However, the offensive line requires the most immediate attention, and the will take advantage of their good fortune, that Konz remains available at #29. He possesses every trait that is necessary to succeed as an interior lineman. And not only could Konz seal the gap at LG created by Grubbs’ departure, but would be capable of eventually sliding to center once 35-year old Matt Birk retires.
2nd Round (2.28): Ronnell Lewis (OLB ) – Oklahoma
Lewis could also be employed at DE, although lining him up at either position would immediately address a major area of need. He possesses the full array of physical skills that are necessary to effectively rush the passer, including a solid first step, and a good motor. This also benefits him with his effectiveness against the run. All of which results in his presence enabling the team to partially offset the loss of Johnson, and Redding. There are some character concerns, but that won’t prohibit his selection in the second round.
3rd Round (3.28): Mychal Kendricks (ILB) – California
He may not still be available this far into the third round. But some teams will likely prefer an ILB who possesses more size, and Newsome will seize upon the opportunity to select him. He performed in a hybrid 3-4 at Cal, was a strong tackler, and was excellent in pursuit. Kendricks also contains a high motor, and the Ravens could choose to employ him as a blitzer. His instincts and arsenal of skills, make him a great fit in this slot. If he is not available, former TCU Horned Frog Tank Carder should be, and the second team All-American also has the instincts and speed to contribute immediately as an ILB.
4th Round (4.35): Antonio Allen (S) – South Carolina
The Ravens utilize this compensatory pick on a strong, physical tackler, who can supply a menacing presence. All of which seems perfect for the Ravens. Especially considering that the team severely lacks depth at safety beyond Reed and Bernard Pollard. He operated as both a SS and LB for the Gamecocks, and will have more presence as an intimidating force than a pass defender.
5th Round (5.29): Andrew Datko (OT) – Florida State
Baltimore needs to find the eventual replacement for Bryant McKinnie, who will be 33 in September, and is entering the final year of his contract. While the 6’6”, 321 pound Datko has been projected anywhere from round three to round six, he certainly possesses the size and athleticism to warrant a selection here. His quickness and coordination, should also enable him to seal the edge. While he may not be ready to start in the NFL immediately, he doesn’t have too.
5th Round (5.34): Eric Page (WR) – Toledo
Baltimore’s second compensatory selection will be used to grab this playmaker, who collected 125 receptions for 1,182 yards and 10 TDs in his final collegiate season. He should probably be drafted higher, but his size (5’8”, 186 pounds) might create initial concern. However, he was a very productive three-year starter, whose speed and overall skill set will provide an excellent complement to Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. He has also been a dynamic kick returner, which further accentuates his value.
6th Round (6.28): Mike Harris (CB) – Florida State
The Ravens opt for a physical corner, that will further supplement their current stable of DBs, and provide yet another intimidating presence for their defensive unit. The former JUCO transfer is a good tackler, particularly for his 5’11”, 195 pound frame. While that is his most enticing attribute, Harris is also instinctive, and possesses decent speed. His athleticism should enable him to contribute immediately.
7th Round (7.29): (DE) –Ernest Owusu (DE)
Baltimore concludes its draft by collecting a 6’5”, 275 pound DE, whose stock is on the rise. Owusu’s production during his four year career at Cal was not overly impressive, and he wasn’t invited to the combine. But he benched 225 pounds 39 times, and ran the 40 in 4.76, during Cal’s Pro Day, which thrust him somewhat into the limelight. But concern over his underwhelming collegiate numbers will enable the Ravens to secure him.