Could Ravens deviate from "best player available" mentality?

I'm back from Vegas safe and sound ... and incredibly tired.

I came out perfectly even on my gambling for the trip, which in my mind goes down as a win. And now that I'm home, we can get back to business as the Ravens start to get into their offseason and decide how to go about improving their roster.

As the NFL draft approaches (and April 26-28 isn't too far around the corner), we'll discuss the Ravens' draft priorities and where they'll consider going with their first couple picks. The main areas they need to address at this point are at inside linebacker, the interior of the offensive line, defensive end/outside linebacker and wide receiver.

Traditionally, the Ravens draft based on a "best player available" strategy. They've had a ton of success sticking with that mentality over the years, taking the guy they feel is the most talented player left on the board when they're on the clock, as compared to the one who might best fit whatever needs they have at certain positions.

That's a large part of the reason why general manager Ozzie Newsome has churned out so many Pro Bowlers. When you trust your talent evaluators and think big-picture instead of getting influenced by short-term needs, you're more likely to hit big on prospects.

But given the makeup of the Ravens' roster at certain spots, will they need to compromise the "best player available" strategy to an extent this year?

As of right now, this is what the Ravens depth chart looks like at inside linebacker:

* A 36-year-old Ray Lewis (who will be 37 in May)
* Three-year veteran Dannell Ellerbe, who will almost certainly be brought back as a restricted free agent
* Two-year veteran Cody Glenn, who's played 19 career games and was signed as a free agent Jan. 27
* Albert McClellan, an outside 'backer who was forced inside in 2011 due to injuries
* Josh Bynes, who appeared in one game in 2011 and spent time on the practice squad

That's it. Starting weak-side linebacker Jameel McClain is an unrestricted free agent, as is veteran Brendon Ayanbadejo, and while Lewis will return, the 2012 season might be his last. When you look at what's behind the 11-time Pro Bowler, it's hard to find a guy currently on the roster capable of replacing Lewis once he steps away.

The Ravens don't have to panic and spend this year's first-round pick on an inside linebacker if there isn't one there, but it sure seems like they'll need to address that area at some point in the first three rounds or so.

Same deal when it comes to the interior of the Ravens' offensive line. With center Matt Birk contemplating retirement and left guard Ben Grubbs likely to depart via free agency, this is what's left on the Ravens' roster at the center and guard positions at this point:

* Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda
* Practice squad center Cecil Newton
* Guard Howard Barbieri, who spent 2011 on the Texans' practice squad
* 2010 third-round pick Jah Reid, a tackle who could be moved to guard

Again, that's it. Birk might choose to come back for one more year, and if not, veteran center Andre Gurode could probably be re-signed at an inexpensive rate. But the Ravens will need to find a way to fill the holes on the interior of the line. That's especially true at the center spot, where Newsome needs to develop a guy the team can plug in for the next handful of seasons.

Of course, the Ravens can always address some of their needs through free agency, and I'm certainly not suggesting they completely adjust their typical draft strategy and just go inside linebacker, center/guard, wide receiver in the first three rounds this year. You don't mess with a system that's worked so effectively for so long.

But it will be interesting to see if the Ravens push the issue just a bit and look to fill some holes early in the draft. Given the current makeup of the roster, it might be something worth considering.

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