Replacing Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe won’t be easy.

At this point, saying that the Ravens’ defense — a formerly fierce unit that’s long been the team’s foundation — has been gutted is an insult to things that are gutted. Fish are especially perturbed, if they’re still living.

By now you’re surely familiar with the lengthy list of starters who have moved on. But to review: Ray Lewis retired, while Paul Kruger, Cary Williams, Dannell Ellerbe, Bernard Pollard, and most recently Ed Reed have moved on. Toss in Anquan Boldin on the other side of the ball, and that’s seven starters gone due to the league’s crunchiest cap situation. The holes, they’re everywhere.

Of course the pain associated with that exodus is much easier to bear because it’s the price paid for a championship. Sure, but with both of their starting middle linebackers and safeties from that championship year now gone, the Ravens’ 2013 season could show us yet again that repeating as champions in the NFL is, well, difficult. In the 19 years the salary cap has been in existence, only two teams have successfully defended their title.

To avoid a collapse in the face of those free agency losses, multiple voids need to be filled, with the draft playing a major role in that process. After receiving four compensatory picks and a sixth-round pick from the 49ers in exchange for Boldin, general manager Ozzie Newsome has 12 picks to work with in his search for both high-end prospects who can start immediately, and youthful depth.

But where will he start? what position should be prioritized? And does he prefer a tuck or no tuck by the housekeeping staff when staying at a hotel? In our latest draft preview (35 more days!!!) I talked to Bruce Raffel, the editor of Baltimore Beat Down, and asked him those questions and more. Well, not the bed sheet one, but if you have information in that regard, please do tell.

1. Prior to Reed bolting for Houston, the assumption — or at least my assumption — was that the Ravens would begin to address their mass defensive exodus by taking the best available inside linebacker with their first-round pick. Has that changed now?

In my opinion, no. However, others will tell you that Newsome will stick to his guns and take the best player available, even if it is a defensive lineman, safety, outside linebacker, or even someone on the offensive side of the ball.

2. If Newsome does go with a linebacker, Manti Te’o could be available late in the opening round. Is he a fit? And do you have any concerns about his character, or are we all in agreement at this point that the fake girlfriend hoax carries no meaning whatsoever on a football field?

Regardless of Te’o's off-the-field issues and despite his play in the BCS Title game, he still has an impressive on-field resume and would fit in with the Ravens. However, the issue of how well he might fit into the locker room could determine who ultimately picks him.

3. With so many needs after the free agency purge, do you foresee trade activity by Newsome to stockpile more early-round picks?

The “Wizard of Oz” has been known to trade both up and down in the first round, and with 12 picks overall, there definitely could be some pre-draft or in-round movement by the Ravens if they see someone they either want or don’t want.

4. Defense will surely be the focus over the first two days of the draft, but will the Ravens seek more wide receiver depth in the mid to late rounds after losing Anquan Boldin?

There will surely be a WR taken in the draft by the Ravens, although they do seem to have depth on their roster. But actually “replacing” Boldin isn’t realistic.

5. Lastly, who’s the one prospect the Ravens have to get this year?

Personally, I like one of the top prospects at ILB, namely Kevin Minter from LSU. Playing in the SEC is always valuable to me, and I also like Alec Ogletree, although he may not be suited for the Ravens’ scheme. I like one of the big name safeties, but then again, what happens in the next month leading up to the draft with the remaining veteran free agents still unsigned could have a huge impact on where the Ravens set their sights.