Seemingly every year since 1996, all the NFL draft analysts are asked questions about the Ravens possibly replacing inside linebacker Ray Lewis. But this year, with Lewis likely out for the rest of the season with a torn triceps and his 38th birthday looming next spring, the questions are more relevant that they have ever been.
So I jumped at the chance on Friday to hop on a conference call with ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, and I can assure that you will like what he had to say about the talent at inside linebacker in the 2013 draft class.
McShay thinks the draft is “really deep” at inside linebacker, led by star Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. But he doesn’t expect the Ravens to be in position to get Te’o, whom he believes will likely be the first inside linebacker off the board and should also be one of the first three or four defensive prospects to get drafted.
“After that, Alec Ogletree from Georgia, he got suspended for a few games, but since he has come back, he is a rare-physical-tools type of guy,” McShay said. “He still has some developing to do, but he should be a first-round pick as well. Then you have Kevin Reddick from North Carolina, Arthur Brown from Kansas State, Nico Johnson from Alabama, Jonathan Bostic from Florida, [they] are all in that second- or third-round range.”
Before you start Googling those names, I also asked him about the talent at free safety. Ed Reed will be a free agent at season’s end, and the 34-year-old has battled injuries the past few seasons.
McShay believes the safety class is pretty deep, as well, and could be deeper if underclassmen Oklahoma’s Tony Jefferson, Florida's Matt Elam and LSU's Eric Reid come out early for April’s draft.
“There are probably not any legitimately great first-round prospects, but I think there’s more depth in the second and third round than we have seen in recent years,” McShay said. “You start to look at [Shawn] Williams from Georgia, who is underrated and has first-round ability, but he has been a little bit inconsistent this year like the rest of the Georgia defense. But [Shawn] Williams is certainly talented enough to warrant like first round or early second round consideration.”
He also mentioned Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro, who he says is versatile enough to “play in space and match up against guys in the slot” while also having the size to deal with athletic tight ends, and Syracuse safety Shamarko Thomas, who is coming on strong in his senior season.
“When you start to look at the numbers there, it’s pretty remarkable,” McShay said. “Usually you see one or two first-rounders and maybe two second-rounders. But this year, if those three underclassmen -- Jefferson, Elam and Reid -- all decide to leave early, you could see as many as 10 safeties coming off the board in the first three rounds.”
It’s early, but it looks like April’s draft could set up well for a Ravens team that may be looking to inject some younger talent into their reeling defense at positions that will soon be vacated by Lewis and Reed.
“A team like Baltimore could really benefit from both of those positions when you start to look at it,” McShay said.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times