The early bird gets the worm, but the Ravens excel late

The Ravens have the No. 26 pick in the NFL draft April 25, which isn't enviable, but Eric DeCosta, the team's director of player personnel, wouldn't mind being in that spot every year.

A low position in the first round is an indication of success the previous season. The Ravens also like to point out that the last time they were in this position, they selected a middle linebacker out of the University of Miami named Ray Lewis in 1996.


The rest is Hall of Fame history.

"I don't know if there has ever been a No. 26 pick in the history of the league as good as Ray Lewis," DeCosta said Wednesday.


The Ravens have had success with picks late in the first round. Not only did they get Lewis at No. 26, but they selected another potential Hall of Famer in safety Ed Reed at No. 24 in 2002 and two-time Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap at No. 31 in 2001.

Third-year guard Ben Grubbs has Pro Bowl potential, and the Ravens selected him at No. 29 in the 2007 draft.

"There is a reason why they are there," DeCosta said of late first-round picks. "They lack size or a little speed or a little college production. They might play a position like safety, tight end or guard that some teams don't value more than others. Our philosophy has been to take the best player available regardless of that position, and if you do, you're on to something."

The Ravens won't change that philosophy in 2009. The team's No. 1 priority is finding a big-time wide receiver, and DeCosta says there should be several good ones available when the Ravens pick. The top two, Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree and Missouri's Jeremy Maclin, are expected to be gone, but there still should be other interesting prospects such as Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey, Florida's Percy Harvin and Rutgers' Kenny Britt.

It appears the Ravens want a receiver, which DeCosta believes is one of the two deepest positions in the draft along with running back. In the past, the Ravens have missed as badly on receivers as they have on quarterbacks. Remember Travis Taylor, Ron Johnson, Patrick Johnson, James Roe, Devard Darling and Clarence Moore?

"Besides quarterback, more teams miss on receivers than any other position," DeCosta said. "We have spent a lot of time looking at that position, and we think there is a receiver in each round who can help us. If you look at the good receivers that have played in this league, they all had one common denominator, and that's a good quarterback.

"They've all had guys who could pull the trigger, and we now think we have that in Joe Flacco. We have to get a young receiver that can work with Joe and [backup quarterback] Troy Smith in the offseason, and in time, develop into a big-time player for us."

The Ravens have other needs, as well. If Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew is available, the Ravens probably wouldn't hesitate to draft him because they want a big blocker who could help seal off the outside, especially against a strong 3-4 team such as the Pittsburgh Steelers.


Or the Ravens might select Ohio State running back Chris Wells or Southern California inside linebacker Rey Maualuga. It's not just the position. The Ravens are looking for a certain player profile that general manager Ozzie Newsome and former coach Ted Marchibroda agreed to in 1996.

"They have to have a tough mentality and a passion for the game," DeCosta said. "They have to have a physical style and speed, particularly on defense, which we're now trying to get on offense."

DeCosta, as expected, left open the possibility of a trade for the Ravens to move up but pointed out that the team hasn't done well when it has moved up to draft for need. He noted that the Ravens have had success moving back and trading for more draft picks but also still getting a quality player they wanted, such as running back Ray Rice last season.

It's unlikely the Ravens will trade up, because they don't have any trade bait. They have just six picks and no compensatory picks. They don't have a seventh-round selection after trading it last year in a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for reserve defensive lineman Marques Douglas.

But Newsome and DeCosta are confident they'll have a good draft and get a quality player in the first round. The Ravens will interview nearly 320 players before the first day of the draft.

"The teams that do the best year in and year out draft very well at the bottom or are flexible enough to move out of the first round and accumulate picks," DeCosta said. "I love picking in the 20s. Last year, we thought we had to be real gutsy and risky. We thought our draft was critical because of our quarterback situation. This year, there is more of a comfort level because after the first five players in the draft, picks nine though 26 are pretty much the same, and it's our job to find that player and put him in position to make plays."


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