Ravens trade out of first round

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens retreated out of the first round for the second time in three years, a strategy that provided them more ammunition in terms of draft picks and still allows them to potentially land one of their coveted prospects.

It wasn't a hasty move.

It was a calculated reaction after the New England Patriots drafted two intriguing defensive players by maneuvering up to draft versatile Alabama middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower and Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones, the younger brother of Ravens defensive lineman Arthur Jones

Despite trading the 29th overall pick of the first round to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for the Vikings' second-round draft pick at 35th overall and the Vikings' fourth-round pick at 98th overall, the Ravens could still get one of the players they had targeted for the first round.

That includes Alabama All-American hybrid pass rusher Courtney Upshaw, Wisconsin center Peter Konz and athletic Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill.

Despite not having added any new players to the roster yet, general manager Ozzie Newsome said he regarded it as a productive night.

"We had some guys that if we were stuck at 29, we could have picked one them," Newsome said late Thursday. "One of those guys is still available to us and could be available at that 35th pick. You can't control what's going to happen. When you watch the board come off the way it, to have the ability to go back and acquire another player and still get a player you probably would have taken at your pick is good business for us. ..

"We had a couple of teams call us and we had several players that we liked that are still available for us. To be able to pick up that 98th pick from Minnesota, we think that's just going to be another good player for us. Or we could take that pick and use it to move back up in the second or the third to get another player. We still have players that we like and that's one of the reasons we felt very good about moving back, still thinking that we could get one of those players."

Other highly-regarded players that are still available: University of Georgia offensive tackle-guard Cordy Glenn, Midwestern State offensive guard Amini Silatolu, Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams, LSU wide receiver Rueben Randle and Clemson defensive end-outside linebacker Andre Branch.

Newsome declined to say how many of the nine players that he initially thought would be available for the Ravens' original selection are still around.

"I won't divulge that, but we still had players that we liked," Newsome said. "And that's the reason why we felt it was very good, moving back, still thinking that we could get one of those players."

The Ravens contemplated whether they should move up via a trade to try to nab Hightower, a punishing tackler.

Going off the board shortly before the Ravens would have been on the clock in the first round: Illinois All-American defensive end Whitney Mercilus (Houston Texans, 26th overall) and gritty Wisconsin offensive guard Kevin Zeitler (Cincinnati Bengals, 27th overall).

Ultimately, though, the Ravens preferred to bolster their total number of picks to nine.

When asked whether Ravens thought about trading upward to try to get Hightower, Newsome replied without mentioning the 6-foot-3, 265-pound linebacker's name.

"We talked about it," Newsome said. "There were a couple of players that we felt like we could trade up for, but it can get expensive. There were a lot of trades and we felt better about going back. After a certain number of players went off the board, we felt that going back would be a better benefit for us."

The Ravens have the third pick of the second round, following the St. Louis Rams and the Indianapolis Colts.

The Rams could use a wide receiver and help on the offensive line.

Coached by former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, the Colts could use help on defense for the 3-4 defense he's installing.

Now, the Ravens own two second-round draft picks (35th and 60th overall), a third-rounder (91st overall), two fourth-rounders (98th and 130th overall), two fifth-rounders (164th overall and 169th overall), a sixth-rounder (198th overall) and a seventh-rounder (236th overall.

This marked the 11th consecutive year that the Ravens have executed at least one trade and the fifth time in the past seven years that they have traded their first-rounder.

Three years ago, they moved up to get offensive tackle Michael Oher.

Four years ago, the Ravens moved around to draft quarterback Joe Flacco.

And six years ago, the Ravens moved up one spot to get defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

Two years ago, the Ravens packaged their 25th overall pick to the Denver Broncos, who drafted quarterback Tim Tebow, in exchange for three picks that they used to wind up with outside linebacker Sergio Kindle as well as tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.

"It's really who the player is, and who are the other players around him," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said prior to the draft. "You'll never see us trade up to get a player unless we think clearly he's by far the best player that's still there. If it's close and there are other players there, then we'll stay and pick.

"There's nobody that covets picks more than the Baltimore Ravens. And so, the notion of giving up a pick is pretty distasteful for us, unless the player is pretty darn good."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick was obviously intent on upgrading his oft-maligned defense.

To get Hightower, the Patriots sent their 31st overall pick of the first round and a fourth-round pick to the Broncos.

"We started to hear that the two players they really liked were Chandler Jones and Hightower," Newsome said. "Hey, one thing about Bill: All year long, people talked about how bad their defense was. Bill is a defensive coordinator by heart. So, he got really good in his front seven with Chandler Jones and Hightower."

"I thought we had a good day," Belichick told New England reporters. "As usual, the draft always takes some interesting twists and turns. You just never know how it's going to go. As the players came of the board, we were able to execute some trades there and still hang on to our second-round picks, which, I thought if we moved up I wasn't sure if we would be able to do that."

Meanwhile, nothing has changed for the Ravens in terms of needs.

They still need offensive linemen, particularly interior blockers after the departure of Pro Bowl offensive guard Ben Grubbs via a $36 million free agent deal with the New Orleans Saints.

Konz could operate as an immediate left guard candidate and be groomed as a future successor to six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk. Konz, who dealt with a dislocated ankle last season that prevented him from working out at the NFL scouting combine, visited and worked out for the Ravens.

The Ravens' defense could use another pass rusher to work in tandem with Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. Upshaw could fit that bill after leadingthe Crimson Tide with 17 tackles for losses and 8 1/2 sacks last season.

The Ravens are impressed with Hill's size and athleticism. He's 6-foot-4, 215 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds, tools for the game that can't be taught.

Linebacker, safety and running back are other positions on the Ravens' agenda.

Potential second-round targets for the Ravens at inside linebacker that are still available: Cal's Mychal Kendricks and Utah State's Bobby Wagner.

First, though, the Ravens could have a good shot at drafting Upshaw early in the second round.

Upshaw was invited to New York along with his four Alabama teammates that went in the first round, including Hightower, running back Trent Richardson, safety Mark Barron and cornerback Dre' Kirkpatrick.

"He's going to keep his head up regardless of what round he goes," Hightower told reporters in New York. "Courtney's a hell of a player. Regardless of what round he goes, whenever he gets to the league and puts his pads on, he's going to be a good player. It was a big surprise to see Courtney not get drafted. It's a disappointment, but wherever he goes, he's going to make plays."

Reach staff writer Aaron Wilson at 410-857-7896 or sports@carrollcountytimes.com.