Casserly: Ravens need to address inside linebacker
Over the past 10 days leading up to the NFL Draft, which begins Thursday, we have been counting down the Ravens biggest needs heading into the draft.
We've finally reached No. 1: Inside linebacker.
The minute Ray Lewis announced that last season would be his "last ride," a huge hole opened up in the middle of the Ravens defense. To be sure, Lewis of last year was not nearly the player he was in his prime, and no one should have expected it. And if the only loss in the middle of the Ravens defense was the 37-year-old Lewis, the need wouldn't be quite so glaring.
But the loss of Lewis -- whose impact is both physical and obviously emotional -- has been compounded by the free agency departure of Dannell Ellerbe, and the questionable status of Jameel McClain, who is recovering from a spinal cord contusion.
Brendon Ayanbadejo, who started three games at inside linebacker when both Ellerbe and Lewis were injured, is also gone.
If McClain is not able to return on time or near 100 percent -- though the Ravens say all reports indicate that he will be -- the Ravens will have essentially lost their top four inside linebackers from last season.
They thought they had addressed that need in part with the signing of former Raiders first-round draft pick Rolando McClain, but his arrest earlier this week in Alabama has only muddied the picture.
Whether the Ravens give Rolando McClain another chance, his penchant for finding trouble has to give the Ravens pause and emphasizes that the inside linebacker group remains a major question mark.
Because of that, many draft pundits expect the Ravens to grab an inside linebacker with their first pick in the draft, which barring any trades will come at No. 32, the final pick in the first round.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and LSU's Kevin Minter have both been cited as possible matches for the Ravens, but they might not still be around at No. 32.
The Ravens will stay true to their board, and if the best player on their board at No. 32 is a safety, they will draft a safety. The Ravens, though, have 12 picks in this draft, and it would be a surprise if they don't address inside linebacker early, for it's the biggest need on the team.
Here is the countdown of the Ravens top 10 needs entering the draft:
No. 10 - Edge rusher
No. 9 - Offensive guard
No. 8 - No. 3 tight end
No. 7 - Special teams
No. 6 - Backup fullback
No. 5 - Center
No. 4 - Safety
No. 3 - Wide receiver
No. 2 - Offensive tackle
No. 1 - Inside linebacker