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Baltimore Ravens' draft needs: The Joe Flacco factor looms large

Roster weaknesses: Every team has them, and the draft is often the best way to address them. With the 2014 NFL Draft fast approaching, NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah will be taking an up-close look at the main areas of weakness -- and the prospects who could fix them -- for all 32 squads in the league. Be sure to catch "Path to the Draft" on NFL Network at 7 p.m. ET Monday through Friday for more in-depth analysis.

I spent four years scouting for the Baltimore Ravens. And while you hear a lot of lip service from different NFL organizations about "taking the best player available," that's truly the draft approach for general manager Ozzie Newsome and Co.

This roster has seen a lot of turnover over the past two offseasons, but I believe the Ravens will enter this draft with a simple thought in mind: getting Joe Flacco back on track. Year 1 of Flacco's $120 million contract certainly didn't go as planned, as the signal-caller posted a career low in quarterback rating (73.1) and a career high in interceptions (22). Baltimore needs the guy who led this franchise to its second Lombardi Trophy with an 11:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the 2012 playoffs. Additionally, the Ravens will look to shore up a few holes on the defensive side of the ball.

While Baltimore currently holds just four picks in the draft (in Rounds 1, 2, 3 and 6), that number will increase when compensatory selections are announced. With some retooling, this team could get right back in the mix to recapture the AFC North from the Cincinnati Bengals.

1) Offensive tackle

Like I said, the Ravens will keep Flacco in mind this May. While they re-signed left tackle Eugene Monroe, they lost Michael Oher in free agency, so the team needs another edge protector on the right side. The versatile Kelechi Osemelecould kick out to tackle if need be, but he's much better at guard.

Picking 17th overall, the Ravens will miss out on the top three offensive tackles (Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan). But Notre Dame product Zack Martin could come into play. Ironically, Martin is reminiscent of Marshal Yanda when the current Raven was coming out of college, possessing the ability to play any of the five spots along the offensive line.

2) Center

Stalwart center Matt Birk walked off into the sunset following the championship run, and Baltimore handed the starting job to Gino Gradkowski. Unfortunately, the second-year man struggled mightily last season. The Ravens need to get bigger and stronger at the pivot, allowing Flacco to operate within a cleaner pocket.

No center prospect is worthy of selection in the first round; in fact, the Ravens could wait until Round 3 to address this need. USC's Marcus Martin could be available at that point. Another guy to keep an eye on: Nevada's Joel Bitonio. Although he played tackle in college, Bitonio worked out at center during his pro day, impressing a number of teams with his efforts at the position.

3) Safety

Yes, Baltimore selected a safety (Matt Elam) in the first round of last year's draft, but the Ravens just lost James Ihedigbo in free agency. I would not be surprised if they went back to the position in Round 1 come May.

Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor would both fit nicely into Baltimore's defensive scheme. Clinton-Dix has more range, while Pryor brings a toughness/physicality to the secondary. I have Pryor rated slightly higher than Clinton-Dix, but the latter could be a better fit with Elam, who's more effective as a box safety.

4) Pass catcher

I love the addition of Steve Smith, but he turns 35 in May, so the Ravens still have to add a receiver. Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin could be tempting in the first round, given the need for size at the position, but Baltimore could also find value in the second or third round of an exceedingly deep receiver draft. How about the SEC's all-time leading receiver, Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews? Or Allen Robinson, who just set Penn State's single-season records for receptions (97) and receiving yards (1,432)?

In my last mock draft, published in late February, I had the Ravens taking North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron. If this athletic specimen were available at No. 17, he'd be very tough to pass on, especially considering how well he'd fit in the offensive scheme of new coordinator Gary Kubiak.


So what will the Ravens do with their first-round pick (No. 17 overall)? Here's what NFL Media's analysts see happening according to their mock draft projections (click here for Mock Draft Central):

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

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