Top Question For Each Draft Pick

Here are some of the pressing questions for the Ravens rookies.

Posted by Garrett Downing on Sunday, April 29th, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Categories: 2012 NFL Draft, Garrett Downing

The draft is over and the Ravens have their new crop of rookies.

Baltimore’s eight draft picks addressed a variety of needs on both sides of the ball, but there are still questions for each player to answer heading into next season.

Take a look at some of the most pressing:

Pick 35: DE/OLB Courtney Upshaw
Will he be able to play the SAM linebacker position?

Upshaw comes to the Ravens looking to step into the outside linebacker position that opened up when veteran Jarret Johnson left in free agency. He will have to beat out Paul Kruger, who Head Coach John Harbaugh said is the “lead dog” in the competition.

To win the SAM linebacker spot, Upshaw will need to establish himself as both a pass rusher and run stuffer. He dropped out of the first round mostly over concerns about what position he will play in the NFL because he is slightly undersized to be a defensive end and he didn’t drop into coverage much in college. Upshaw’s primary role at Alabama was to rush the passer, but he emphasized that he’s able to do much more than just get after quarterbacks.

“I did a lot of dropping in coverage in practice more so than I did in the game because, at Alabama, Coach [Nick] Saban just told me to go pass rush and he preferred me to be a pass rusher because I was one of the better pass rushers on the team,” Upshaw said. “But I am willing to do whatever is asked of me, and I am going to come in here with that mindset, just producing at any position.”

Pick 60: G/T Keleche Osemele
Will he play guard or tackle and is he versatile enough to do both?

The Ravens have an opening at left guard following Pro Bowler Ben Grubbs’ free-agency departure, and Osemele will enter a competition for the job with second-year lineman Jah Reid and fellow rookie Gino Gradkowski. Head Coach John Harbaugh also said that he could be in the mix at right tackle.

Osemele was a four-year starter at left tackle at Iowa State, but he played both guard and tackle at the Senior Bowl and thinks he could play either for the Ravens. He has stressed that he can perform at either position, but he will have to prove that he is fast enough to make the transition to guard or powerful enough to hold down the right tackle spot.

“I am both,” Osemele said. “I am a versatile player, have quick feet. I am aggressive. It really doesn’t matter what spot I am in, I will just fill whatever void the team needs me to fill.”

Rick 84: RB Bernard Pierce
Can he provide the change-of-pace running style the Ravens are looking for in a No. 2 back?

Pierce was one of the surprising picks of the Ravens’ draft, as running back was not mentioned by Ravens brass as an area in need of an upgrade. But Ricky Williams’ retirement this offseason opened up the competition for the backup running back spot.

Pierce was a powerful back in college and the Ravens are hoping his different style will be the right complement to Rice, similar to what Williams did.

Pierce had a huge junior season at Temple last year, rushing for 1,481 yards and 27 touchdowns, and now he will have to beat out second-year running backs Anthony Allen and Damien Berry for the spot behind Ray Rice. 

“I am a Raven now,” Pierce said. “I can’t wait to contribute in any way needed, necessary – it does not matter. I am willing to do whatever it takes to make the roster.”

Pick 98: C/G Gino Gradkowski
What will he be able to learn as Matt Birk’s understudy?

Gradkowski played guard and center during his career at Delaware, and he is projected to be an option at either spot in the NFL.

He will compete with Reid and Osemele for the starting left guard spot and could also serve as a backup to veteran center Matt Birk. If Gradkowski ends up being the team’s backup center, a key part of his rookie season will likely be learning from Birk, a six-time Pro Bowler.
While Gradkowski is likely the center of the future, he’s still hoping to win the starting guard job this fall.

“Maybe play guard my first year and eventually take over at center,” Gradkowski said. “That’s what I’m looking to do.”

Pick 130: S Christian Thompson
How will Thompson be able to impact the special teams unit?

Throughout the offseason, a clear priority for the Ravens has been to upgrade the special teams unit. Thompson is a piece of that puzzle and the coaching staff will look for him to fill an immediate need.

A challenge with some college players making the transition to the NFL is that they have limited reps on special teams, but the Ravens are hoping that Thompson will be ready to come in and contribute right away.

“We love him as a special teams guy, no doubt,” DeCosta said. “We lost a couple good players this year at safety who were good special teams players for us and Christian as a player we identified early.”

Pick 169: CB Asa Jackson
Is he able to take over returning duties?

The Ravens came into the draft looking to add a player who could possibly take over duties as a punt and kick returner, and Jackson will have a chance to be that guy.

He has good speed that he displayed as a punt and kick returner in college.  He averaged 14.06 yards per punt return last year, third-best among players in the FCS.

The Ravens will likely look for Jackson to take over the punt return duties from top cornerback Lardarius Webb and possibly the kick returner job, depending on how third-year returner David Reed bounces back from knee surgery.

“He’ll be a guy that can go out there and compete,” Ravens Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta said. “We’re not going to anoint him as the punt and kick returner but we think he has a chance, who can compete.”

Pick 198: WR Tommy Streeter
Will Streeter polish his game enough to be the team’s No. 3 wide receiver?

The Ravens added a speedy big-bodied wide receiver in Streeter, who will compete to be the team’s No. 3 wideout behind Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Streeter is still raw, but at 6-foot-5 with sub-4.4 speed, he has the potential to become a dynamic downfield threat for the Ravens.

The question for him and the Ravens going into this season is whether he will develop quickly enough to get on the field this season and make an impact. If that happens, then Streeter would be a dynamic speed combo with Smith.

“We were excited about him,” DeCosta said. “It’s unusual to get a receiver with that kind of size who can run like that.”

Pick 236: DL DeAngelo Tyson
Will he challenge for playing time on a talented front seven?

The Ravens lost veteran defensive tackle Brandon McKinney to free agency, and Tyson could be a player that helps fill that spot.

McKinney wasn’t a starter, but he played a key role in the Ravens’ run defense in short yardage situations next to Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody. The Ravens could look for Tyson to play a similar spot this season.

But as a seventh-round pick, the first order of business for Tyson will be to make the roster out of training camp. Late round picks are bubble players heading into the season.

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