By Jonas Shaffer, The Baltimore Sun
5:02 PM PDT, April 24, 2012
The Pro Bowl guard is gone. The bookend tackles aren't great. So how does a center become the player most linked to the Ravens' first-round pick?
For Peter Konz, at least, it's by offering a quick fix and a long-term answer. With left guard Ben Grubbs off to New Orleans, the Ravens need immediate help at one interior line position. With center Matt Birk's uncertain future, they'll need help at another before long.
That's where Konz comes in. Among the handful of prospects the Ravens could consider Thursday night with their No. 29 overall pick, perhaps none better accommodates the team's best-player-available criteria and front-five uncertainties than the versatile Wisconsin center.
"He could probably come in at left guard, which I think is the weakest spot on the line," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "A guy like Konz could be your starter guard and maybe he takes over at center full time."
Beyond the transitional issues that can complicate a player's switch in positions, Konz certainly isn't spotless. Regarded as the draft's top center prospect, the 6-foot-5, 314-pound redshirt junior posted a modest 18 reps on the 225-pound bench press at the NFL scouting combine in late February.
Konz, a Pro Football Weekly All-American, also was never completely healthy in any of his three starting seasons at Wisconsin. He had a blood clot in both lungs in 2009, suffered a sprained ankle in 2010 and dislocated his ankle last season.
At full strength, however, there may not be a better option along the offensive line than the one-time Badgers tackle.
If the Ravens miss out on Konz, their next-best option could be a Wisconsin teammate. Guard Kevin Zeitler, who is considered the second-best guard prospect after Stanford's David DeCastro, started 22 games in his Badgers career and was named an All-Big Ten selection last season. More impressively, he led college football last year with 142 knockdown blocks and had 33 blocks that resulted in touchdowns, according to NFL Draft Report statistics.
Ultimately, Zeitler could prove a better immediate stopgap solution to the team's questions at left guard than Konz. The Ravens have moved second-year player Jah Reid to Grubbs' old spot, but the 6-foot-7, 335-pounder is unproven at his new position, and there's no depth behind him.
The outlook is similarly bleak at left tackle, where starter Bryant McKinnie is approaching his 12th season, and possibly his last with the Ravens. McKinnie allowed 8.5 sacks last season — more than a quarter of the Ravens' 31 total last season — and weight concerns have intensified the agitation over the 32-year-old charged with protecting quarterback Joe Flacco's blind side.
If Iowa's Riley Reiff, Stanford's Jonathan Martin or Ohio State's Mike Martin is on the board when the Ravens are on the clock, team officials may have to weigh the value of a first-round talent at tackle against one at an , interior spot. Both positions, it seems, are likely to be addressed in the draft this week. The questions that bear monitoring are when, and with whom.
"I think we have players in every round that we like," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said at the team's pre-draft news conference. "One of the things we try to do is ascertain the value, league-wise, and then look at our value, how we value players. And usually, there's a match there for us. At any point in any round we have a couple of players to choose from in any given position, for sure."
Any number of draft-day decisions could make the Ravens' list of offensive-line targets for the No. 29 slot moot, as worthless as the piece of paper they'll hand to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell declaring their draft pick.
They could have a different first-round pick Thursday night, or they may not have one at all. They could prefer Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower, or Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill may be the best player available.
But should it matter?
"You think about the wide-receiver position — does it supersede the line?" ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. said of the Ravens during a conference call Thursday. "The line is so critical."
Baltimore Sun reporters Matt Vensel and Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.
A list of some of the offensive linemen available in this year's NFL draft.
Centers – Peter Konz (Wisconsin), Ben Jones (Georgia), David Molk (Michigan), Philip Blake (Baylor), Gino Gradkowski (Delaware)
Guards – Cordy Glenn (Georgia), Kevin Zeitler (Wisconsin), Amini Silatolu (Midwestern State), Jeff Allen (Illinois), Brandon Brooks (Miami-Ohio), Kelechi Osemele (Iowa State), Joe Looney (Wake Forest), Brandon Washington (Miami),
Tackles – Mike Adams (Ohio State), Jonathan Martin (Stanford), Bobby Massie (Mississippi), Mitchell Schwartz, (California), Zebrie Sanders (Florida State), Brandon Mosley (Auburn), Levy Adcock (Oklahoma State),
When: Thursday, 8 p.m. (Round 1); Friday, 7 p.m. (Rounds 2-3); Saturday, noon (Rounds 4-7)
TV: NFL Network, ESPN, ESPN2
Ravens picks: First round (No. 29); second round (No. 60); third round (No. 91); fourth round (No. 130, compensatory pick); fifth round (Nos. 164 and 169, compensatory pick); sixth round (No. 198); seventh round (No. 236).
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun