By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun
10:17 PM EDT, April 27, 2013
When the three-day NFL draft was finally nearing its end and the Ravens had made the last of their 10 selections, general manager Ozzie Newsome headed downstairs and ticked off all the things that the front office had just accomplished.
They had strengthened the defense up the middle in a big way with the drafting of safety Matt Elam (first round), inside linebacker Arthur Brown (second), and nose tackle Brandon Williams (third). They added depth and versatility to the offensive line with Saturday's selections of Wisconsin tackle Ricky Wagner, the fifth-round pick who could move to guard, and Colorado State-Pueblo tackle Ryan Jensen who will come in as a center.
They brought in a young pass rusher in Ohio State's John Simon (fourth round) and a wide receiver and a cornerback, using seventh-round selections on Elon's Aaron Mellette and California's Marc Anthony. About the only position that they didn't address was tight end and they remedied that quickly with the signing of undrafted free agents Matt Furstenburg (Maryland) and Murphy Holloway (Mississippi).
“When we come together — the four of us — we're able to put together a draft class that we feel very good about,” said Newsome, seated at a table with head coach John Harbaugh, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta and director of college scouting Joe Hortiz. “We feel very, very good about what we've added to our football team for the 2013 season.
“From my assessment, it's a very good class. It's been a very productive three days. We like all the guys that we have brought in and now we're just looking forward to getting them here and letting John and his staff work with them.”
The Ravens used their first four selections and six of their overall 10 on continuing to rebuild a defense that has been ravaged by free agent departures, releases and retirements. When they finally turned their attention to the other side of the ball, their first offensive pick was at a position where they already have a Pro Bowl performer.
The fourth-round selection of Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk highlighted the Ravens' seven additions on day three of the draft and raised question about Vonta Leach's status with the team. Leach, a Pro Bowl selection the past three seasons, is entering the final year of his contract and is due a $3 million base salary with a $4.33 million salary cap figure. If the Ravens need salary cap space to address the left tackle and wide receiver positions — arguably their two biggest holes going forward — they could consider cutting Leach or at least asking him to take a pay cut.
While he is considered one of the best in the game at the position and is well-liked and respected in the locker room, Leach played only 42 percent of the team's offensive snaps last season and was on the field for 22 offensive plays during the Ravens' 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
“By the end of tonight we're going to have 90 football players, and we don't have to make any decision” Newsome said when asked what Juszczyk's addition means for Leach. “We want to make decisions based on how guys perform out on the football field. We're going to get Kyle in here, and the thing we like about Kyle other than his ability to play on the offensive side is we expect him to be a very good special teams contributor. So, could there be a place for both of them? Yes, there could be because as John and I try to put our 53-man squad together, we want to keep the best 53 players.”
Juszczyk, a two-time All-American who was the first Harvard player to get drafted since quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was taken in 2005, did a little of everything for the Crimson. He was used as a fullback, tight end, a slot receiver and on special teams. In his senior season, he was the Crimson's leading receiver with 52 catches for 706 yards and eight touchdowns.
“He is a very versatile guy so you feel like you pick up a roster spot or two when you put him on your 46-man roster if he can earn that,” Harbaugh said. “On top of all that, he has proven to be an excellent special teams player for a 250, 255-pound guy so that's a big plus, too.”
Juszczyk said that was told by team officials that he'd be used as a “move fullback and someone that they can … line up in a lot of different formations.”
”I don't think I'm that traditional old-school fullback that's going to run [isolations] all day,” said Juszczyk who called Leach the best fullback in the league and said he couldn't ask for a better mentor. “I feel that is something that I can be effective at but I think there are other ways I can be used.”
Juszczyk, the other nine draft picks and the Ravens' undrafted free agent signings will report for a minicamp at the end of this week, giving Newsome and other team officials their first look at the rookie class.
Elam and Brown are expected to come to training camp and be given a chance to win a starting job. Williams could push Terrence Cody for the starting nose tackle role and Jensen could compete with second-year player Gino Gradkowski for the starting center job.
“The scouts and coaches did a great job,” DeCosta said. “We won the Super Bowl and we asked our coaches to go on the road right away, go to the combine, and they had not time off basically. I think we've had three or four scouts that have had babies in the last two or three months. So, we've asked a lot of these guys and they've delivered. It's just a great day and we're very excited about the process.”
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