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Ravens 'feel good' after filling needs during NFL draft

Pick by pick, the Ravens, an organization that clings tightly to the draft-the-best-player-available philosophy, attacked their biggest needs over the past three days.

The speedy wide receiver came first, followed by the play-making tight end. The defensive line was beefed up with the next two picks and then a running back was added with one of the fourth-round selections. A cornerback was finally taken later in the fourth round, followed by an offensive lineman in the fifth.

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A team that entered the NFL draft with several definitive needs, the Ravens checked off pretty much all the boxes with their nine picks, prompting general manager Ozzie Newsome to say confidently, "We feel good about the three days work."

With their six selections on Saturday, the Ravens added Kentucky defensive end Za'Darius Smith, Southern California running back Javorius Allen, Texas Southern cornerback Tray Walker, Delaware tight end Nick Boyle, Tennesse State offensive guard Robert Myers and Georgia Tech wide receiver Darren Waller.

After using their first two picks on Central Florida receiver Breshad Perriman and Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams, a clear theme had emerged for the Ravens: they wanted to find more weapons for quarterback Joe Flacco. That idea was reinforced throughout the draft as the Ravens used six of their nine picks on offensive players.

Their three defensive picks then filled their biggest needs on that side of the ball: cornerback (Walker), pass rusher (Smith) and defensive line depth (third-round pick Carl Davis out of Iowa).

"We scratched a lot of itches," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. "That's a positive thing. The opportunity was there in this draft to do it and that's really fortunate."

Harbaugh described the work of Newsome, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, director of college scouting Joe Hortiz and the team's scouting staff as "masterful."

Newsome, of course, insisted that their offense-heavy draft was just a result of the front office sticking to its draft board. DeCosta, meanwhile, credited the available depth at several positions of need.

"It was a long weekend, but very gratifying weekend, I think for all of us," DeCosta said. "It couldn't have worked out any better, I think, just in terms of if we had imagined this draft beforehand, we'd be very, very excited. So we got it and it looks great on paper, but hopefully it looks good in person as well."

The Ravens entered the draft with more perceived needs on offense after losing wide receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Owen Daniels in free agency, and releasing wide receiver Jacoby Jones and running back Bernard Pierce.

Perriman, who is 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds and ran a 4.22 40-yard dash, has been described as a bigger, faster Smith. Williams was widely considered the best tight end in the draft. Allen, who the Ravens took with their second of three fourth-round picks, ran for 1,489 yards and 11 touchdowns last year for USC and has the type of receiving skills out of the backfield that new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman covets.

I "just sit back, kept my mouth shut and hoped for the best," Trestman said. "Our scouts, Ozzie and his staff, Eric and the entire group of guys and our coaches really did a good job of working together. It all fell into place for us offensively. … Certainly, we're excited about the guys we're bringing in here."

Boyle (fifth round), Myers (fifth round) and Waller (sixth round) won't be projected to have big roles in 2015, but they give the Ravens more depth at positions that could be question marks in the future.

At guard, starters Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele could be free agents after the 2015 season. The wide receiver corps could lose Steve Smith to retirement following the upcoming season. And at tight end, it isn't clear if Dennis Pitta will be able to play again after he fractured and dislocated his hip for a second straight season.

"Dennis, I still don't know what's going to happen with him," Newsome said. "But Maxx Williams was way ahead of anybody that we had on the board when we picked him. And Boyle was the same way. Like John [Harbaugh] said, we have a very tight end-friendly offense. So having one or two is not enough, you need three or four and maybe even a fifth one if we can keep them because we want to maintain the continuity of the offense and the way they want to attack people by having the tight ends on the field."

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On the defensive side of the ball, the Ravens' three biggest offseason losses were defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, defensive end/outside linebacker Pernell McPhee and safety Darian Stewart.

Davis, who went 90th overall on Friday night, will join Timmy Jernigan in trying to fill the void left by Ngata. The Ravens signed veteran free agent Kendrick Lewis to replace Stewart. And in drafting Smith with the 122nd overall pick and their first of three fourth-rounders Saturday, the Ravens have a possible heir apparent to McPhee. In fact, McPhee is one of the players Smith has modeled his game after.

"I watched him a lot, and I think I can follow in his footsteps and become more like him," said Smith, who had 10 ½ sacks in two seasons at Kentucky and can rush from both the edge and the interior. "He just signed a new contract, and this team right here is replacing the other guy like Pernell McPhee. And I can tell you this: A lot of people are going to be hearing from Za'Darius Smith as a Baltimore Raven."

If there was one minor surprise over the past three days, it was that the Ravens didn't get a cornerback earlier in the draft after injuries and inconsistency at the position hurt them throughout 2014. They did take Walker with their final fourth-round pick, but he's considered a bit of a project despite intercepting nine passes in four seasons at Texas Southern.

"Could we have taken [a cornerback] in the first round? We probably could have. In the second round? We could have," Newsome said. "But at the point where we were picking, they weren't the best player. But we do feel good, getting Jimmy [Smith] back healthy, getting Lardarius [Webb] another year to train. And then some of the young guys have a chance to play that have been in this system for a second year."

As he usually does, Newsome cautioned that the Ravens weren't done. Following the news conference, his staff was looking forward to getting back upstairs and starting to get agreements with some undrafted college free agents.

"We're not done putting this team together right now," Newsome said. "There's still maybe four months before we have to play Denver."

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