Wrapping up the draft

The draft has come and gone for another year and, by now, everyone has scrutinized all 10 of the Ravens' picks for better or worse, but mostly worse. Did the team reach for quarterback Joe Flacco? Why take Ray Rice, a back-up running back, in the second round? The truth is no one knows the answers right now – assigning arbitrary grades immediately following the draft is pointless.

From what I've read, the Ravens have received a grade anywhere from a B to a C, but if Flacco turns into the next Ben Roethlisberger, everything changes. So instead of slapping on meaningless grades to the Ravens' draft picks, let's talk about something that will be determined by the start of the season - the heated position battles about to ensue.

The first battle is quite obvious and will headline Ravens news throughout the season: who will win the starting quarterback job. The options are a failed first round pick (Kyle Boller), an untested former Heisman trophy winner (Troy Smith) and this year's first round pick (Flacco).

While Boller would be the odds on favorite because he has the most experience, history shows that he has many deficiencies and is, at best, only capable of managing games. Smith and Flacco are the more intriguing alternatives, but do the Ravens, maybe prematurely, want to throw Flacco into the fire like they did with Boller. Flacco seems to think so.

"I am anxious to get in here and start learning, and I want to get out on the field to prove that I can [be the starter]," said Flacco. "It's going to be up to the coaches to make that final decision, but it's going to be up to me to prove to them that I am ready."

The smart decision would be to let him sit and observe the extremely fast-paced style of the NFL, especially compared to Division I-AA Delaware. I know the coaches will be enamored with his arm, but let's not rush this again.

Therefore, I am turning to Smith and, yes, I know he is the guy who only has two games under his belt. The Ravens know what they have in Boller and he is not a game-breaker and Flacco needs time to develop. Smith brings an added play-making dimension to the game and he doesn't seem to get rattled under pressure, at least not in his two starts and one finish to a game. Just look at the Miami game. Smith came off the bench cold in the waning moments of the game and moved the Ravens down the field to the one-inch line (only to have former coach Brian Billick settle for a game-tying field goal as if the game actually mattered). Smith provides an unknown factor which makes him enticing and, if he doesn't work out after a few starts, the team can always go with Boller or Flacco if they think he's ready.

The second battle is also in the team's second biggest weakness: cornerbacks. We saw what the young guys did last year and it wasn't pretty. The Ravens were unable to draft another cornerback, but they had Fabian Washington in their hip pocket (apparently a deal was laid out before the draft) and they decided to take a chance on him.

"The thing is, guys know about our defense and their play is elevated when they come to Baltimore," said general manager Ozzie Newsome about the acquisition of Washington. "They realize they have to take their play to another level, and that's the way Fabian thought and talked about on the phone."

The Ravens have a total of nine cornerbacks who are vying for six or seven roster spots in my estimation. I would think Chris McAlister, Samari Rolle, Fabian Washington and Frank Walker are all locks to make the roster and Corey Ivy, David Pittman, Derrick Martin and Ronnie Prude will be fighting for those last two or three spots.

Pittman makes it on pure talent alone even though, by all accounts, the coaching staff are not happy with his work ethic and his lack of production. Martin is another guy who is young and played well in spurts, but was definitely overmatched as a starter; he still gets the nod. The last player likely to be on the 53-man roster, assuming seven cornerbacks are kept, is Ivy. Ivy is tough as nails which I think new coach John Harbaugh will love and he also can play on special teams.

The last major position battle, although it is not as intense as the others, is at the running back slot. No one is questioning whether Pro Bowl runner Willis McGahee will be the starter or that Rice will be his primary backup, but after those two, it gets cloudy.

The two incumbent Ravens are PJ Daniels, a fourth round pick just two years ago who has a grand total of zero carries in his career and the diminutive (listed at 5'6, but I seriously doubt that is correct) Cory Ross who has been a valuable contributor on special teams and filling in as a scat-back. Lastly, there is this year's seventh round pick Allen Patrick. Many were surprised to see the Ravens select two running backs, perhaps this unfortunately signals someone's job is on the line. "I can say that all of our players came from our top 120, which is exciting," said director of college scouting Eric DeCosta about this year's draft class. "We tried to get big, fast, smart and tough, and I think we accomplished that." This statement leads me to believe that Patrick will likely beat out the other two running backs, especially since Patrick can also play on special teams which makes Ross expendable. The only question is whether the Ravens keep four backs, in which case, Daniels probably wins that job because the Ravens never like to give up on draft picks.

In any event, with mini camps coming up and training camp on the horizon, the Ravens have tough decisions to make about who stays and who goes. Only one thing is certain, it will definitely be fun to watch.

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