Months after trading veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers following a contract dispute, the Ravens waited until the seventh round to draft a wide receiver.
Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta attributed that to how their draft board stacked up with only a few elite receiver prospects like former Dunbar star Tavon Austin, but didn't rule out the possibility of acquiring an established receiver prior to the regular season.
"I think the hunt goes on," DeCosta said Monday night during The Baltimore Sun Sports Forum. "We're still working. The roster is not set. We're always evaluating. We're always looking at guys. Guys get signed, guys get cut.
"Our pro personnel department looks at all available players and we'll make a decision at some point of what we want to do at that position. There are definitely some players out there. We'll consider all options."
The Ravens are banking on increased production from several wide receivers, including Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, David Reed, LaQuan Williams and Deonte Thompson. In the seventh round, the Ravens selected Elon wide receiver Aaron Mellette.
"We're very excited about Jacoby and the progress he made throughout last season," DeCosta said of Jones, who caught 30 passes for 406 yards and a touchdown last year in his first season in Baltimore. "We think we've got some very good young players that can step up and contribute. Deonte Thompson isn't a heralded name, but a guy we think is going to be a good player. We're excited about Tandon Doss. David Reed is a guy who's had a lot of injuries. He's flashed in practice and made plays.
"We've got some tight ends who can pick up the slack. Ed Dickson made some big plays last year in the Super Bowl, really played his best football in the playoffs. We're excited to see him become what we thought he was going to be. We really think this is his chance to become a really good tight end in the NFL. Obviously, we've got Dennis Pitta, we've got Torrey Smith. We've got playmakers. We're excited about what we can do on offense."
The Ravens drafted hard-hitting University of Florida safety Matt Elam in the first round over Florida International safety Johnathan Cyprien primarily due to Elam having superior speed and playing against tougher competition in the Southeastern Conference.
Plus, the All-American selection had the connections of being coached by Ravens secondary coach Teryl Austin as a freshman and his older brother, Abram Elam, played for defensive coordinator Dean Pees at Kent State.
"Cyprien is a player we thought would be an outstanding safety in the league," DeCosta said. "He's a little bigger than Matt, not quite as fast. Matt played against better competition than John. I think the biggest difference probably was speed, the speed factor."
DeCosta emphasized that Elam was simply ranked higher than several available linebackers, a group that included Manti Te'o, Kevin Minter, Jon Bostic, Arthur Brown and Sio Moore. The Ravens drafted Brown in the second round, coveting him enough to trade up six spots by exchanging three draft picks with the Seattle Seahawks.
"In a perfect world, drafting a safety was probably the best scenario for us in the first round because there were five linebackers available in the second round that we had highly rated," DeCosta said. "It seemed to work better that way. I think Arthur Brown could have easily gone in the first round, so he was a very good value."
During the Ravens' rookie minicamp that concluded Sunday, third-round pick nose guard Brandon Williams made a huge impression on the scouting department with his 6-foot-1, 335-pound frame. Williams was a draft sleeper, a three-time All-American from Division II Missouri Southern.
"I was really impressed with Williams," DeCosta said. "We liked him on tape. We liked him at the Senior Bowl. Based on what we saw the last couple of days, he's probably even better than what we thought he was. I really think the guy has a bright future. He's an explosive kid, very, very athletic. He plays on his feet. He's got heavy hands."
The Ravens drafted Ohio State outside linebacker John Simon in the fourth round. They envision him competing for playing time at strongside outside linebacker, operating on special teams and compare him to former outside linebacker Jarret Johnson because of his hard-nosed approach to the game.
"He's a blood-and-guts, relentless guy," DeCosta said of Simon, who drew high grades from Ravens scouts Joe Douglas, Milt Hendrickson and Andy Weidl. "We think he projects well to Sam linebacker. I'm not saying he's Jarret Johnson, but he has a similar skill set to a guy like Jarret Johnson. He'll be competing with some good players, Courtney Upshaw and Albert McClellan and guys like that. He's got the right mentality. We're excited about him as a player."
Selecting defensive players with their first four selections wasn't by happenstance for a team that lost middle linebacker Ray Lewis to retirement and free safety Ed Reed via free agency to the Houston Texans.
"You never can tell with the draft how things will play out," DeCosta said. "Some years, we get just wiped clean of players that we want. Last year, for instance, every time we wanted a player just before we picked, a team would take the guy we wanted. This year, we sweated it out. In the end, just about every single guy we picked was the guy we had targeted five, six, seven picks before.
"It was exciting from that standpoint. I thought we would have a defense-heavy draft. We lost some guys this year. I think we wanted to get younger on defense. We wanted to get faster on defense. We wanted to draft defensive players, if we could, early and then supplement that with offensive players later on. We're excited about where we are."
Meanwhile, DeCosta predicted that outside linebacker Terrell Suggs will regain his NFL Defensive Player of the Year form after an injury-plagued year last season where he was hampered by a partially torn right Achilles tendon and a torn right biceps.
"I think he's going to be back to his old self that we saw a couple of years ago," DeCosta said. "I was astounded and amazed at how he came back last year. I think you're going to see Haloti Ngata playing dominant football again and Lardarius Webb is going to come back and play great for us."
Webb is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee suffered last October against the Dallas Cowboys, but expects to make a full recovery from a major knee injury for the second time. Webb tore the ACL in his right knee as a rookie.
"He's been through this before," DeCosta said. "He's working extremely hard. He's there every single day. He's got a great attitude. He's focused. He's dialed in. We've got to wait and see. He's got the right attitude, work ethic and desire to be on the field.
"You see faster recoveries. You see guys come back basically to the player they were before. A lot has to do with the individual. We've got phenomenal doctors and trainers. It's not easy to do, but these guys are world-class athletes. If a guy has the right mentality, they can do it pretty quickly."
The Ravens re-signed offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie to a two-year contract worth up to $7 million last week, a transaction that means the offensive line has back four of five starters from the Super Bowl.
McKinnie made the Pro Bowl once with the Minnesota Vikings, but the 6-foot-8, 354-pounder has battled weight and conditioning issues. He regained his starting left tackle position in the playoffs after being replaced during the regular season by Michael Oher, who shifted to right tackle during the postseason.
"I haven't seen Bryant, but I think he's very excited to be back in Baltimore," DeCosta said. "I think he's looking forward to kind of building on that momentum of how he played last year. We feel very good about the depth we have on the offensive line now, probably more depth than we've had in quite some time.
"We have a good young nucleus. I think Bryant obviously is a talented guy, a critical piece to the puzzle in the playoffs. We're excited to see him in the next few weeks. He helps us. He makes us a better football team."
The Ravens have overhauled their roster significantly, acquiring outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil and free safety Michael Huff and defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears.
Besides Reed leaving and Lewis and center Matt Birk retiring, they lost the following players in free agency: linebackers Dannell Ellerbe (Miami Dolphins), Paul Kruger (Cleveland Browns) and cornerback Cary Williams (Philadelphia Eagles).
"I regret losing all those players, all those guys helped us win the Super Bowl and contributed greatly," DeCosta said. "All those guys were extremely significant in their contributions and they will forever be Baltimore Ravens. They were big losses for us, each and every one of them, and they will always be Super Bowl winners in Baltimore."
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