Ravens start the search for talent

INDIANAPOLIS -- The stopwatch hasn't started ticking yet. The heavy metal hasn't begun clanging in the weight room. And the first spiral or errant throw hasn't been launched.

A different clock has started ticking, though, as hundreds of players have assembled at the annual NFL scouting combine to try to sufficiently impress coaches, general managers and scouts to get them to invest a draft pick and millions of dollars in them in April.

Fifteen minutes. That's how long teams are allotted by the league to interview players at the combine as they try to get inside their heads and get a handle on intangibles, which are routinely hard to gauge. Questions run the gamut from football strategy, schemes and injuries to criminal rap sheets, psychological profiles as well as serious family background issues.

Players are traditionally well-prepared for every question with many even employing interview coaches like former NFL executive Ken Herock to prep them for the meetings with teams.

"I think that's when you have the coaches involved and the general manager and they can ask questions from all different angles and maybe take them off the standard question-and-answer platform and kind of loosen them up," Baltimore Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. "You try to relax them and get their background information and get through that and then just start talking with them about football. That's when they start talking about what they know and what they're really here for.

"You can ask questions and get a quick rapport and put them at ease and keeping the questions coming from different angles can get a guy maybe off his rehearsed routine and maybe into who he is. It's the opportunity to meet the kids and get a feel for their personality and football intelligence and their passion for the game. You really get to see their character."

With the influx of several juniors, this looks to be a talented draft class. However, it didn't necessarily shape up that way last fall.

"At one point, you're a little worried," Hortiz said. "Once the juniors came out, it became a pretty strong draft. Early on, it was considered to be a weak year. Now, it's showing its strength."

Although the Ravens have made the playoffs for three consecutive years with last season ending in the AFC divisional round with a devastating loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, they still have several areas of need on the roster. Among the positions that general manager Ozzie Newsome could address through the draft: wide receiver, defensive end or outside linebacker, cornerback, offensive tackle and center.

"Given our roster makeup, we do have a veteran team," Hortiz said. "We certainly do have some areas where we would like to get better at. There's a lot of areas we can improve on, but I don't think you pigeonhole yourself into one position, two positions. That's Ozzie's philosophy. We're going to take the best player available."

The Ravens could definitely use an explosive wide receiver, a true deep threat. Among the possibilities are Torrey Smith (University of Maryland) and Jonathan Baldwin (Pittsburgh) as legitimate first-round options followed by secondary options like Titus Young (Boise State), Leonard Hankerson (Miami) and Greg Salas (Hawaii).

The Ravens could also explore the merits of cornerbacks such as Jimmy Smith (Colorado), Aaron Williams (Texas) and Brandon Harris (Miami), but it might be a reach to draft anyone but Smith with the 26th overall pick of the first round.

Drafting an offensive tackle, depending on whether Jared Gaither is retained and if Michael Oher is shifted back to the right side, could be a wise move.

It's an extremely deep tackle class, but Nate Solder (Colorado), Anthony Castonzo (Boston College), Tyron Smith (USC) and Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin) all might be gone by the Ravens' slot. Where the meat of this draft exists is across the defensive line.

NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock predicted that as many as nine defensive ends could go in the first round.

The Ravens could potentially have several pass rushers still available to them when it's their turn to pick, including Cameron Jordan (Cal), J.J. Watt (Wisconsin), Aldon Smith (Missouri), Cameron Heyward (Ohio State), Muhammad Wilkerson (Temple), Christian Ballard (Iowa), Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue) and Akeem Ayers (UCLA).

"The first round will probably be dominated by defense," Mayock said. "It's the best defensive end class I've seen. I've got eight or nine defensive ends with first-round grades. If you're looking for a corner at the end of the first round, you might have a problem. If you're looking for a defensive end, a defensive tackle or maybe an offensive tackle, you're in luck.

"So, it's about whether your needs meet up with the strength of this year's draft. I don't think there is a fit for the Ravens at corner at No. 26. I do think a receiver will be there, and I do know that some of those defensive linemen and linebacker types that they like will be there."

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