No ‘Heir-Apparent’ To Lewis In Draft

Mel Kiper doesn’t see Ray Lewis’ replacement being available in this year’s draft.

Posted by Garrett Downing on Wednesday, March 21st, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Categories: 2012 Offseason, Garrett Downing

Ray Lewis already said he’s planning to come back for his 17th season. 

But how many years does the future Hall of Famer have left?

The Ravens know Lewis won’t play forever – even though the 36-year-old linebacker continues to defy the odds by playing at a high level in his twilight years – and they know soon enough they will have to find a replacement at inside linebacker.

This year’s draft, however, may not be the place to look, according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper.

“If you’re looking for the heir-apparent for Ray [Lewis], it’s not going to provide that opportunity,” Kiper said on a national conference call earlier this month.

The Ravens have the 29th pick in the first round, and by that point, Kiper expects the top inside linebackers to be off the board.

Kiper has Boston College’s Luke Kuechly and Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower as his top two inside linebackers, but he doesn’t expect either to be available when the Ravens draft in the first round.

Kuechly, who will compete for scouts again today at Boston College’s pro day, is expected by many to get drafted in the first 15 picks, but a recent mock draft from National Football Post has Kuechly falling to the Ravens in the first round. That mock draft is an outlier to the others, as most draft experts expect Kuechly to go earlier.

It’s more of a guessing game whether Hightower will last through the first round. Some mock drafts have the Ravens taking him at No. 29, and if Hightower falls to Baltimore, then Kiper thinks he could be a candidate to step in for Lewis when he retires.

“He could be a 3-4 inside linebacker; there’s a lot of roles he could play,” Kiper said about Hightower. “Not many 265-pound linebackers can run and get the job done like he can.”

If Kuechly and Hightower are both gone before the Ravens pick in the first round, then Kiper doesn’t see a natural fit at linebacker in the next few rounds for the Ravens. 

“I don’t see any other options early, because most of these guys are going to go at points where it’s not going to make a lot of sense,” Kiper said.

Later in the draft, the Ravens may have an option in Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

At one point, Burfict was routinely mentioned as a likely option for the Ravens in the first round, but that no longer is the case after his stock plummeted since the combine.

Burfict ran the 40-yard dash in 5.10 seconds and didn’t handle questions well when asked about some of his struggles in college. He blamed his college coaches for the decline in his production last season and brushed off an altercation with a teammate by saying that he was provoked.

Once considered a likely first- or second-round pick, Burfict is now mentioned more in the fourth- or fifth-round discussion.

“I think he’s the kind of guy, if you see him sitting in the fourth- or fifth-round, you maybe say, ‘OK, let’s roll the dice here that maybe we do have the heir-apparent to Ray Lewis,’” Kiper said.

If the Ravens decide to pass on Burfict late in the draft, then Kiper says he doesn’t see another prime prospect to become Baltimore’s star linebacker-in-waiting.

“I don’t see a guy that would fall into that mold,” Kiper said.

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