Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome didn't hesitate when asked what he thought the Ravens' biggest needs were heading into the 2013 season.
" The middle of the defense," Newsome said at the season-ending news conference. "We think we have to get better at defensive tackle. We know that one linebacker is retiring and another on is a free agent. We have a safety that is a free agent, and some young guys that have yet to step up. So, we would say the middle of the defense is probably the one area that we will concentrate on."
With the Ravens losing Ray Lewis to retirement, with Jameel McClain recovering from a problematic neck/spine injury, and with Dannell Ellerbe an unrestricted free agent, it would seem the Ravens most pressing need would be inside linebacker. But Newsome is known for being true to his draft board. In other words, when the Ravens are on the clock, you can bet Newsome and Co. will take the top available player according to their rankings -- unless they pull off another trade.
The Ravens are looking to shore up an area in which Terrence Cody seemed to regress in his third season and Ma'ake Kemoeatu is a free agent.
So who are the top interior defensive linemen in the draft?
Here are ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper's top five:
Star Lotulelei, Utah
Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
Jonathan Jenkins, Georgia
Sharrif Floyd, Florida
Lotulelei is viewed by some as the No. 1 overall pick in a draft loaded with linemen, and it's possible all five of these players will be off the board by the time the Ravens pick at No. 32.
ESPN's Todd McShay projects eight defensive tackles to be taken in the first round, as the Ravens using their pick on the eighth: Alabama's Jesse Williams. It's been a well traveled route for Williams, an Australian who originally commited to Hawaii, went to junior college and landed at Alabama.
" The newly crowned Super Bowl champs would love to find a future left tackle to groom, but probably won't with the last pick in the first round," McShay writes. "Possible replacements for MLB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed might also be reaches at this point. General manager Ozzie Newsome is an Alabama guy and knows Williams well. He's not flashy, but Williams is the kind of big, tough, selfless defensive linemen who can occupy blockers and make average linebackers and safeties look much better as run defenders."