Ravens have present and future needs to fill on defense

The Ravens enter next week’s NFL draft with a few holes on the defensive side of the ball, and a few more that could open up in a year or two. In the past, the Ravens would have filled the immediate needs in free agency, but the lockout will force them to take care of some of them in the draft.

Starting strong safety Dawan Landry and cornerbacks Josh Wilson, Chris Carr and Fabian Washington are all expected to become free agents when a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. Given the uncertainty of whether those players will return to Baltimore, the Ravens are expected to draft at least one cornerback, and they might also address the safety position.

Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said Tuesday at the team’s annual draft luncheon that if the Ravens want to find a capable cornerback in this draft, they’re going to have to do it early.

“I think it’s a decent year for corners,” he said. “Typically, they come off the board quick. Anybody that has any kind of size and speed, typically, will fly off the board in the first three rounds, and that’s almost been the case every single year.”

The Ravens, who have the 26th pick in the first round, have been linked to Colorado’s Jimmy Smith, Miami’s Brandon Harris and Texas’ Aaron Williams in mock drafts. Virgnia’s Ras-I Dowling, Louisville’s Johnny Patrick and USC’s Shareece Wright are among a handful of second- and third-round cornerback prospects.

The safety class isn’t as deep, but DeCosta believes some productive safeties can be found throught the draft.

“The numbers are down there for sure at that position this year, but there are some good players,” he said. “There are some guys that are going to be first-, second-, third-round-, fourth-round-type selections that are going to help you win football games, no doubt.”

UCLA’s Rahim Moore, who could go late in the first round, is the draft’s top-ranked safety. Picking off 14 passes in three seasons, he was an interception machine in college. Moore is fast and instinctive with excellent ball skills, and like many young safeties, he idolizes Ravens Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed.

“Rahim Moore is a guy with a lot of pick production in his past,” DeCosta said. “[He] had his past 10 picks as a sophomore and came out this year as a junior. [He’s a] great player; great instincts [and] ball skills.”

Reed, 32, is one of a few Ravens defenders who could be moving on in a year or two (along with Ray Lewis, Kelly Gregg and Cory Redding). Might the Ravens, anticipating that future need as they have often done in the past, select Moore late in the first round and pair him with Reed in their secondary?

Or what about selecting an inside linebacker early in this year’s draft to replace the 35-year-old Lewis?

“The thing about getting a good young linebacker would be special teams,” Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome said. “We want to have the best special teams in the National Football League. And if you get good young linebackers, normally they can run, they can hit, they can play in space and do some things.

“So, we’ll always be looking for that. And whoever has that opportunity to be the one to replace Ray -- I don’t know whether that guy is here now or will be in another class that we would draft -- but we will always be looking to draft linebackers because we want great special teams.”

With the championship window for Lewis and Reed closing, the Ravens will likely take care of more pressing needs early in this draft. The Ravens need a big, physical cornerback -- heck, they simply need cornerbacks right now -- and they could certainly use one of the many first-round caliber pass rushers if one they like is on the board at pick No. 26. The Ravens say they feel no pressure to draft a defensive player in the first round -- the last was Haloti Ngata in 2006 -- but this may be a year where need, present or future, meets value on defense.

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