By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun
9:23 PM EDT, April 4, 2012
The first round of the 2012 NFL draft is three weeks away, and the Ravens have a similar list of needs as they did when free agency began four weeks ago.
In some cases, like with the offensive line, their holes have become even more pronounced. The Ravens don't have an experienced left guard or long-term answers at center or left tackle.
They also haven't added an impact pass rusher, another wide receiver or an explosive kick returner. And they haven't addressed depth concerns at running back, linebacker, defensive line and safety.
"I try to come up with a theme every year before the draft. My theme this year is deep depth," Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel, said Wednesday at the team's annual pre-draft luncheon. "I think we need a lot of good young players. Last year, we thought we needed playmakers and we brought in [wide receiver] Torrey Smith, we brought in [cornerback] Jimmy Smith.
"My philosophy with the draft is we want as many picks as we can get. You guys will say we're going to trade back. That doesn't mean that, but we want as many picks as we can get because I think the draft is all about luck. The more picks you have, the better chance you have to get lucky. We need players at every position across the board. The more picks we have, the better chance we have to hit on a few guys. That's really where we are with that."
Barring any trades — and the organization does have a history of draft-day dealing — the Ravens will have eight total picks, including the 29th overall selection. With very little salary cap space and a fairly extensive list of needs, there is certainly an urgency to this year's draft preparation. However, there always is for the Ravens.
Their front office historically does some of its best work in the draft, which DeCosta called the "lifeblood" of the organization.
The Ravens have long subscribed to the philosophy of drafting the best player available rather than focusing on a specific need, trading picks only when they are absolutely convinced they need to have a certain player, and trusting their own evaluations over any 40-yard-dash time or perceived character concern. All those beliefs will come into play as the Ravens prepare to make the 29th pick on April 26.
"I think we're prepared for a bunch of different scenarios, and it allows us to proceed with caution. But I think we are really prepared for any situation," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "At 29, I think the best way to start off is you have to have 29 players because you can't control the other 28. So, if you're on the clock and 29 players have been taken, you have to be ready to take that 29th if the phone call [with a trade offer] doesn't come."
Needing a franchise quarterback, the Ravens put themselves in position to draft Joe Flacco with the 18th overall pick in the 2008 draft. A year later, they were looking for a book-end tackle and they traded up a couple of spots to make sure they landed Michael Oher. In the 2010 draft, the Ravens were looking to inject some youth into their defense, and they spent their first two selections on linebacker Sergio Kindle and nose tackle Terrence Cody.
Last year, their two biggest needs heading into draft day were a shutdown cornerback and a down-field threat at wide receiver. They accomplished both with their first two picks, taking Jimmy Smith out of Colorado with the 27th pick and Torrey Smith out of Maryland at pick 58.
"I don't know if we manufacture our board, but Jimmy was the highest-rated player on the board when it came time for us to pick. It wasn't even close," said Newsome. "When we got to Torrey, it was the same thing. Sergio was a guy that we would have considered taking with the first pick. He was still the highest-rated guy on our board at the time. Some needs have to go into play, because we have to fulfill them. But we still — and we have said this for 16 years — we will not take need over a real good player at another position."
DeCosta, who is part of putting together a draft board of 150 players, said he feels the Raves will have an opportunity to use their first-round pick on a player they rank in the top 20 on their board.
The best offensive lineman available will obviously get considerable consideration. The Ravens still haven't found a replacement for Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs, who signed with the New Orleans Saints, although they have discussed using second-year tackle Jah Reid at that spot. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie is entering the final year of his deal, while veteran center Matt Birk has put off retirement for one year, but he's no sure bet to play beyond the 2012 season.
Stanford guard David DeCastro is expected to be gone by the time the Ravens make their first pick, but a couple of offensive linemen from a group that includes Wisconsin's Peter Konz and Kevin Zeitler, Georgia's Cordy Glenn and Ohio State's Mike Adams should be available.
Asked if the team could trade up in the draft to have a shot at a higher-ranked offensive lineman, DeCosta said, "I think we have players in every round that we like. One of the things we try to do is ascertain the value, league-wise, and then look at our value, how we value players. And usually, there's a match there for us. At any point in any round, we have a couple of players to choose from in any given position, for sure."
DeCosta did acknowledge later that the "notion of giving up a pick is pretty distateful for us unless the player is pretty darn good."
Other players that could be attractive to the Ravens based on their needs are wide receivers Stephen Hill (Georgia Tech) and Rueben Randle (LSU), linebacker Dont'a Hightower (Alabama), defensive ends Nick Perry (USC) and Whitney Mercilus (Illinois), and safeties Mark Barron (Alabama) and Harrison Smith (Notre Dame).
"It depends on who is available, it really does," coach John Harbaugh said. "You try to make yourself as strong as you can. One thing we're not adverse to is becoming stronger at a strong position, either. So, if you have an opportunity to add a player or keep a player in apperceived area of strength, it just makes your team strong, it gives you more options. If you have a glaring area of need, you want to fill it, but never at the expense of making your team better across the board."Orioles Insider | Live scores | Photos | Baseball app
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