Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and General Manager & Executive VP Ozzie Newsome talk about the NFL draft during a luncheon at the team's Owings Mills facility. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun)
It's become a tradition amid the many predraft meetings, film study sessions and draft board reviews. Weeks before the Ravens are on the clock during the NFL draft, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta will predict whom the team will take with its first pick.
DeCosta estimates that he's called it right eight of the past 10 years. However, with the 2015 draft now three weeks away and the Ravens holding the 26th overall pick, DeCosta admits his confidence level in continuing that trend is "not good right now."
"We still have another week's worth of meetings and I'll have a chance to look at it," DeCosta said. "I think I can get the position down to three positions, but as far as nailing the player, I have some work to do."
DeCosta, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh and director of college scouting Joe Hortiz didn't provide any revelations during the Ravens' annual predraft luncheon at the Under Armour Performance Center. Like most teams, they typically don't, choosing — quite predictably — to keep their draft plans close to the vest.
However, the Ravens did express confidence that with their 10 picks, they will able to fill some of their primary needs. The Ravens never like going into drafts with glaring holes, but they are thin at wide receiver, tight end and cornerback. Team officials want to add another pass rusher, too.
The draft classes are reasonably strong at all those positions, except tight end.
"I just want to nail every pick," DeCosta said. "I don't really think that we have this critical need. I try not to let that distract us so much. I think you do that if you don't have a quarterback, maybe it consumes you. Otherwise, there have been some years where we've had holes at various positions and we always seem to find a way to replace guys and find the next man up. That's Coach [John] Harbaugh's way. We just want really good football players. What kills your franchise is when you draft a guy and he can't contribute."
Ravens officials will ramp up their preparations for the draft next week with a series of meetings and planning sessions that will include input from coaches, scouts and team executives. They'll then spend the rest of the time before the first round on April 30 solidifying their draft board and pondering different scenarios, including trading up or down in the first round. Newsome has shown a tendency to do both.
"It could go either way," Newsome said. "It's how the board starts to come off as to whether we will use some of the picks that we have to move up or we come away with 10 [players] or maybe even more by moving back. It's based on what will happen in the first 25 picks and what will happen in the first 50 picks [that] will determine how we will react on Day One or Day Two, even Day Three."
Newsome steered clear of making predictions — he didn't even identify the positions the Ravens feel they need to address. He joked that he learned his lesson from last year's predraft media availability. During it, he indicated that the Ravens would almost certainly come out of the draft with a wide receiver and a cornerback.
The Ravens did not draft a cornerback and selected a wide receiver only after trading with the Cleveland Browns to pick up a seventh-round pick, which they used to take Michael Campanaro (River Hill).
They used their first three selections — and four of their first five picks — on defensive players, a year after they devoted their first four picks to the defensive side of the ball. The Ravens have not picked an offensive player with their first pick since selecting tackle Michael Oher in 2009.
"I don't go in with any preference as to what side of the ball [we choose]," Newsome said. "Sometimes there are more needs on defense, and the board is set up that way, so we tend to stay with the board. But I don't go in with any preconceived ideas that I'm not going to draft offensive players. I'm an offensive player myself, but I do believe you win with defense."
Still, Newsome and other team officials understand that the team's offense has taken several hits in the offseason after a season in which the Ravens set franchise records for points (409) and yards (5,838).
Gone from that unit are offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, wide receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, and tight end Owen Daniels. The Ravens hired former Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman to succeed Kubiak as the team's play caller, but the Ravens still haven't replaced Smith and Daniels, their second- and third-leading receivers last year.
While Minnesota's Maxx Williams and Miami's Clive Walford are the only two tight ends expected to be picked in the first two rounds, the draft is loaded with quality receivers, with most projections having as many as six being taken in the first round. Harbaugh and DeCosta have said that the Ravens could take one in any of the draft's seven rounds.
The list of highly-touted receivers that could be available when the Ravens pick at No. 26 includes Louisville's DeVante Parker, Central Florida's Breshad Perriman and Arizona State's Jaelen Strong.
"It's a good class," DeCosta said. "There are a lot of different players, and we think we can get a good receiver in a lot of different rounds. Fortunately, there are some really talented guys, and hopefully we can get one."
The Ravens seemingly have the same attitude at cornerback. Despite the group's struggles last season, the Ravens don't feel desperate for another cover corner. They cite the expected healthy returns of Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb and Asa Jackson, along with the continued development of Rashaan Melvin.
However, they'd certainly have to consider prospects like Washington's Marcus Peters, Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson (River Hill) and LSU's Jalen Collins if they were available either in the first or second round.
"It's a good year, I'd say, for the corner class," Hortiz said. "You're going to still, like every year, get a run on corners in the top three rounds. We face that every year. No matter how many you have up there, you're probably going to lose about 12 guys in the first three or four rounds."
When those draft-day runs will come is hard to predict. However, the Ravens pride themselves on being ready.
"We get a sense for the player as a person, and we just rank everybody and make a pick," DeCosta said. "We try to make it science, but it's not rocket science. It's more instinct and doing your homework, due diligence and making good decisions."