When the Ravens first moved to Baltimore in 1996, the organization’s lifeline was the annual NFL Draft, as the team didn’t have enough money to recruit the best players in free agency. .
Sixteen years later, this philosophy has not changed.
Three weeks out from the draft, the Ravens held their annual pre-draft luncheon at the Castle on Tuesday, and it’s safe to say there won’t be any big splashes when the first round begins on April 28 in Vegas.
The Ravens have 10 picks overall, including nine in the first four rounds and four in the top 100. After making some big signings in free agency, they still have glaring holes at the pass rusher, inside defensive line, linebacker central and on the offensive line. They would also like to gain more depth at outside linebacker and cornerback.
The Ravens could go up or down a few slots to sign a particular player, but they’d rather stay on the status quo.
“I think we have a lot of flexibility, which is what we covet – having the ability to go up and down,” general manager Eric DeCosta said Tuesday. “Sometimes you find yourself in a situation, we see it with other teams, where they want to make a trade with us and they want to maneuver, but they don’t have the choices to do it. Sometimes you can’t find the combinations to do it. So having first-, second-, third-, and fourth-round picks, and then also a sixth-round pick, I think, gives us the flexibility to do what we want to do.
The Ravens are bucking a recent trend of the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the last two Super Bowl champions. Prior to winning the title in 2020, Tampa Bay signed quarterback Tom Brady, running back Leonard Fournette and receiver Antonio Brown in free agency and traded for tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Before the start of last season, the Rams traded quarterback Matthew Stafford, then acquired outside linebacker Von Miller and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. later that year.
The Ravens are in a different situation. Brady was calling the shots for the Bucs and the Rams were ready to throw in draft picks in their “win it now” campaign.
The Ravens are more than a player or two away from winning the Super Bowl, and DeCosta won’t abandon the approach used by his predecessor, former general manager Ozzie Newsome.
In 1996, DeCosta was hired as a staff intern and later became a Midwest scout before finally taking over as general manager in 2019.
“I really think it speaks to the culture we’ve established over the years,” DeCosta said. “We weren’t a great team. I was here, we weren’t big spenders in free agency in 1996 and 1997. We didn’t have the funds to do that, so the draft really became our lifeblood. I had the chance to watch Ozzie and [former director of player personnel] Phil Savage before me and see how these guys performed and see the value of the draft and what it does for a franchise, what it does for a community and how it also allows you to be competitive every year regardless of salary cap. So for us it works.
“There are a lot of different ways to do it, certainly. I have a tremendous amount of respect for teams that have a different way of doing things and can be successful, but for us the draft will always be…as long as I’m here, will always be the foundation of what we do and what what we believe in. , and we think it works for us.
It’s hard to argue against the Ravens’ philosophy. They’ve been one of the most consistent and best franchises in the NFL since winning the Super Bowl in 2000.
But since the start of the DeCosta era three years ago, they haven’t been able to sign a rookie who has made a significant impact. They’ve had some success, but there hasn’t been a major difference on the pitch and in the community, with the possible exception of running back JK Dobbins, who was selected in the second round in 2020 but missed all of last season with a knee injury.
DeCosta knows the difference a player like Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed or Terrell Suggs can make to a franchise. The Ravens are late.
They have quarterback Lamar Jackson, about to enter his fifth year, but few know his definitive long-term plans these days.
It’s also a guessing game with the draft. The pre-project lunch is always interesting because it’s full of disappointments. Front desk staff will say certain things to persuade other teams of possible choices, and it’s hard to determine the truth.
But the consensus of most draft pundits is that this class has a surplus of passers and cornerbacks and a healthy crop of offensive linemen and inside defensemen.
The Ravens agree and have not ruled out the selection of a cornerback despite the expected returns of starters Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, who both suffered serious injuries last season.
“I think we’re definitely worried,” DeCosta said of the cornerback’s depth. “We feel like Marlon is going to come back with a vengeance. We feel like Marcus is going to come back with a vengeance. But it feels like behind these two guys the depth is slim. There are opportunities for us in the first round, in the second round, in the third round.
“Coach [John Harbaugh] looked at the bends. We feel we have the opportunity to take one or two corners in the repechage that can come in and contribute straight away, we’re delighted with that.
The same can be said for the Ravens’ lack of depth on the offensive line and the possible return of Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle), but at least they have possible starters in Ja’Wuan James and Morgan Moses. The Ravens are desperate for passing throwers, and Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson II would be a good pair with second-year outside linebacker Odafe Oweh.
Any of those Georgia defensive linemen, Travon Walker or Jordan Davis, would also fit nicely into the Ravens front line.
Regardless, the Ravens should be able to do well with so many picks. The last time they made 10 picks was in 2020, and there are still a number of those picks in position to start.
But again, there was no game changer. DeCosta produced none with his first-round picks, including 2019 wide receiver Marquise Brown and 2020 linebacker Patrick Queen.
The verdict still fell on Oweh, the No. 31 overall pick in last year’s draft, and wide receiver Rashod Bateman, the No. 27 overall pick. This year brings a new opportunity to find a star.
“I think the last few years we’ve had more guys,” DeCosta said of the team’s assessment of draft-worthy players. “I don’t know if our scouts were more optimistic or if it was just more players. But we have approximately… and that will change, because we have another round of meetings coming up next week, but we “We have about 180 players, I think, more or less, on the scoreboard that we think are draftable players for the Ravens. That number will probably be somewhere between 170 and 195 players when all is said and done.