COMMENTARY | For the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, perhaps nothing will be more important to their pursuit of another championship than the play of their rookies.
Going through an offseason that saw many key veterans depart, the Ravens turned to the draft where they ended up with 10 draft picks. The abnormally high number of draft picks was part of the Ravens' plan, as they made it clear through their offseason roster moves that they want to get younger on both sides of the ball.
They added two prospective defensive starters in the first two rounds of the draft in safety Matt Elam and linebacker Arthur Brown, but the late-round picks may be the ones who need to step up as both depth and production commodities in order to ensure the Ravens make the playoffs yet again in 2013.
On the third day of the draft, the Ravens started it off by taking do-it-all offensive player Kyle Juszczyk and outside linebacker John Simon in the fourth round.
After the fourth round is where the focus will be, though, as the Ravens selected five of their 10 draft picks in rounds five through seven.
In the fifth round, the Ravens made a predictable move, selecting Wisconsin offensive tackle Ricky Wagner. The move is predictable, because the Ravens typically target versatile linemen in the draft, with Jah Reid and Ramon Harewood being recent draft picks of the same type.
Long term, it's hard to predict if Wagner could be a starter in Baltimore. He fits best at right tackle but with Michael Oher currently holding down that role, Wagner may be relegated to a backup role for his first few years with the Ravens.
This season, Wagner can be expected to be used as both a tackle and a guard, and possibly be the Ravens' first backup at both tackle positions. His versatility and similar playing style to Reid and Harewood figures to lead to one of the two veterans being left off the final 53-man roster.
In the sixth round, the Ravens selected offensive lineman Ryan Jensen and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore.
Expectations should be almost nonexistent for Lewis-Moore this season, as he is recovering from an ACL injury and may be placed on injured reserve.
Jensen, however, figures to at least make the roster, with center and guard being his main designations after playing offensive tackle in college. Right now, he is competing with Gino Gradkowski and A.Q. Shipley for the starting center job, although his chances of winning the job are less than slim.
He projects as a swing guard/center backup who may see some time on special teams, similar to the role Gradkowski had last season.
In the seventh round, the Ravens finished their 2013 draft by adding wide receiver Aaron Mellette and cornerback Marc Anthony.
In a crowded but wide open wide receiver battle, Mellette figures to both make the roster and have a role this season. His forte in the NFL won't be special teams, but he could experience some playing time on offense.
He isn't the type of receiver who will take the top off of an opposing defense but in the intermediate game, he could have success and could have double-digit receptions this season.
Anthony may not be as fortunate, however, as he faces an uphill battle to even make the final roster. In a crowded cornerback group, Anthony will be competing with veteran Chris Johnson and rookie Moe Lee for the sixth and final cornerback spot on the final roster. That's if the Ravens even decide to keep six cornerbacks, as they may opt to only keep five, making it all but impossible for Anthony to make the roster.
Perhaps if Anthony provides some value at safety as well, his chances of making the team will increase. If not, he'd be a priority for the practice squad, although it's always a risk trying to sign a draft pick to the practice squad as another team can sign that player.
Overall, the Ravens' late-round draft picks promise to have no shortage of an impact during their rookie years. Wagner, Jensen and Mellette figure to be frequent contributors, while there is still a chance Anthony could make the team and crack the rotation.
Kyle Casey is a sports writer living in Baltimore, Md. He maintains his own football site, End Zone Report, and is the editor of Cat Crave.
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