Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta was reading comments recently from former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson that he felt summed up his organization's drafting philosophy perfectly.
"I think the thing we want to try to do — this is something that Jimmy Johnson believes — [is] when you have a lot of picks as he had when he did the Herschel Walker trade, you've got to make sure to approach the draft like every pick is the only pick you have," DeCosta said. "It's easy when you have so many picks to just throw some picks away and deal and do all these different things. I want to make sure that each pick that we have is gold. It's like a lottery ticket, a [scratch-off] ticket. You have to make sure that every pick at that point is the only pick you have. You have to nail that pick."
The Ravens enter next week's draft with a total of 12 selections, including multiple picks in every round from the fourth to the seventh. As the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Ravens will have to wait until the 32nd overall pick Thursday before they are on the clock for the first time. However, DeCosta sees plenty of options and plenty of good players that figure to be available when the Ravens make their first pick.
"The quality of player between 15 and 45 is excellent," he said. "I think there are players in every round that we like. It's slotted very well and defensively, it's a very, very strong draft. Offensively, it's pretty good and up front on the defensive and offensive lines, we see a lot of really, really good players."
That sentiment was shared by Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh and Joe Hortiz, the director of college scouting. The draft has long been considered the lifeblood of the Ravens' organization and all four men, who spoke at the team's annual draft luncheon at the Under Armour Performance Center on Tuesday, expressed confidence that the team is in position for another quality draft.
"With the transition and some of the guys that aren't here, it's going to be very important to get the right guys," Harbaugh said. "I know we're working hard at it. I'm really excited about it. I think our scouts have done a tremendous job."
The first round will be held next Thursday night, followed by rounds two and three on Friday and rounds four through seven on Saturday. Barring a trade and the Ravens are traditionally aggressive draft-day dealers, they will have one pick in each of the first, second and third rounds, two picks in the fourth, fifth and seventh rounds and three picks in the sixth. The compensatory picks in rounds four through seven cannot be traded.
"Having the additional picks allows you to move up, to move back to do some things if we feel the need to do it," Newsome said.
The Ravens also have a host of needs after an exodus of players following the team's Super Bowl XLVII triumph over the San Francisco 49ers. While the front office checked off the top item on its to-do list with last month's contract extension for Joe Flacco, the Ravens still aren't sure who will protect the quarterback's blindside. They also have yet to find a replacement for Flacco's most trusted target, Anquan Boldin, who was traded to the 49ers this offseason.
On defense, they are thin at inside linebacker despite the recent signing of Rolando McClain and they remain on the hunt for a safety even after agreeing to terms with Michael Huff. They would also still like to add a pass rusher and some help on the defensive line, areas that also were addressed in free agency with the signings of Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty and Marcus Spears.
"What we've done in the offseason thus far will have very little impact on how we've approached the draft, how we've stacked the board and how we will take players off the board," Newsome said. "We feel like if there are quality players on the defensive line, at linebacker and at safety, we still feel like we can add more of those players to our team."
Asked specifically if the front office's draft focus will be on the defense, which has been hit by heavy turnover this offseason, Newsome said, "To say that we're not going to take the best players, that would be wrong. They talked about us taking some interior defensive linemen. We could do that. Could we take some inside linebackers? We could do that. Could we take some safeties? We could do that. We won't pass up good corners. You don't ever have enough good corners [and] you don't ever have enough good pass rushers. Could we come away and say out of the 12 picks, if we use all of them, seven or eight will probably be on defense? Yeah. But they will be the best players at the time we pick them."
At least on paper, the Ravens' two biggest needs are inside linebacker and safety, areas that team officials feel the draft is deep in. Newsome said that "in all seven of the rounds, there is a safety that we could take," while DeCosta lauded the inside linebacker class, including Notre Dame's Manti Te'o who made a positive impression on team officials during individual meetings.
However, Ravens' officials have long said that they will draft the best player available over specifically targeting a need.
"I think you always look at need," DeCosta said. "We say best player available but you have to factor need into the equation. If the best player available is a quarterback in the first round, we're not going to take him. So you have to look at the best player available based on need. Obviously, if you have three players that are next to each other in your sequence and one player is a big need and the other players aren't needs, even if the other players maybe are ahead of the one player that is a need, you're going to switch your list because they are all close."
NOTES: The NFL will release its entire regular-season schedule Thursday night at 8 p.m, according to league spokesman Greg Aiello. The Ravens will open on the road due to a scheduling conflict with the Orioles. Their most likely opponent on Sept. 5 remains the Denver Broncos, but the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears have been mentioned as possibilities. ... Harbaugh said cornerback Lardarius Webb (knee) and inside linebacker Jameel McClain (spinal cord bruise) are on track to return by training camp. ... The Ravens have remained in touch with veteran free agent offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, but Newsome acknowledged that Kelechi Osemele would likely be the starting left tackle if the season were to begin today. Newsome didn't close the door on possibly re-signing McKinnie. ... The Ravens officially signed veteran Caleb Hanie to a one-year contract. "He could be our third quarterback," Harbaugh said. ... Pernell McPhee is going to get a look at rush outside linebacker, but will still play some defensive end.. ... The Ravens expressed confidence that McClain will fit into their team chemistry after finding trouble off the field with the Oakland Raiders. "I think the guys in the locker room will be able to provide him with the proper guidance that he needs as to the way John wants his football team and football players to be," Newsome said. ... Newsome reiterated that the team would like to be proactive about retaining players in the final year of their contracts. That includes tight end Dennis Pitta and offensive tackle Michael Oher.
Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.