In advance of the first round of the 2012 NFL draft, Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston gives his take on six college prospects who are linked to the Ravens in the latest mock drafts from prominent national analysts.
--- Peter Schrager, FOXSports.com: Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Alabama. “Hightower played both inside and outside linebacker at Alabama and was also used at DE in some sub-packages. Ray Lewis isn’t getting any younger and there still isn’t an eventual “replacement” in-house. Hightower may start out as an OLB, then move to MLB. Either way, he’s another great young addition to the D. Jimmy Smith, the pick from a year ago, showed flashes in his rookie season. Baltimore’s loading up for the eventual post-Lewis & Reed Era. Another reason to like Hightower to Baltimore? Ozzie Newsome’s a ‘Bama guy.”
Preston’s take: He’s a stud. He reminds me of Levon Kirkland, a big, physical specimen -- an intimidator.
--- Pat Kirwan, CBS Sports: Andre Branch, OLB/DE, Clemson. “Branch is a hybrid player in the mold of Suggs. He recorded 48 plays behind the line of scrimmage in 47 games, he also has 15 QB hurries and 10 passes defended. With Jarrett Johnson gone he fills a need.”
Preston’s take: They need a pass rusher at outside linebacker who can set the edge, but there’s some questions about him being able to stop the run.
--- Don Banks, Sports Illustrated: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech. “As much as the Ravens need some youth on the offensive line and might be tempted to turn in their card for Wisconsin center Peter Konz, they're intrigued by Hill's field-stretching potential. After watching the Steelers amass a young and impressive receiving corps in recent years, Baltimore knows that getting another weapon for Joe Flacco makes plenty of sense.”
Preston’s take: He’s raw. Extremely raw, but he’s a physical specimen who’s tall and extremely fast.
--- Charles Davis, NFL Network: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin. “Veteran Matt Birk is drawing near time to exit the stage. The best center in the draft would benefit from a year of tutelage before taking over the pivot for the Ravens.”
Preston’s take: He would definitely challenge Jah Reid for starting at left guard and would become an eventual replacement for Matt Birk. He would be a good choice, but he lacks explosion on initial contact.
Preston’s take: In the past, they haven’t taken a lineman from a small school [in the early rounds].
--- Todd McShay, Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl, ESPN’s Scouts Inc.: Courtney Upshaw, OLB/DE, Alabama. “Upshaw has impressive power when setting the edge against the run and when finishing as a pass-rusher. He can also provide flexibility with his ability to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 or end in a 4-3. There are questions, though, about whether he has already maxed out his football potential.”
Preston’s take: He would be a great complement to Suggs and underrated as a run stopper. He’s big and he can run.