The Ravens are the only team to have made the playoffs in each of the past four seasons. That's a credit to G.M. Ozzie Newsome, who has given coach John Harbaugh enough talent to mold this team into a contender.
As we close in on the 2012 NFL draft, we'll take a look at how the Ravens have fared in recent drafts. It's too soon to give a fair evaluation from the 2010 and 2011 classes, but three years of NFL service time is enough for us to grade their 2007, 2008 and 2009 classes. In today's blog post, we will break down the 2008 class.
Total picks: 10 (No. 18 overall, 55, 71, 86, 99, 106, 133, 206, 215, 240).
2011 starters: quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice
Players still with the team: two (Flacco and Rice).
Best pick: Rice. It was mildly surprising when the Ravens used a second-rounder on Rice since they had a highly paid starter in Willis McGahee, but Rice, a two-time Pro Bowler, eclipsed McGahee in his second year.
Biggest miss: Tavares Gooden. With the first of their three third-round picks, the Ravens took this speedy inside linebacker out of Miami -- and he was immediately mentioned as the eventual successor to Ray Lewis. Needless to say, Gooden didn't live up to those unfair comparisons and was cut before the 2011 season.
Trades: It was a busy draft weekend for Newsome and the rebuilding Ravens. They traded the eighth overall pick to Jacksonville for picks No. 26, 71 (Gooden), 89 and 125. They then traded picks No. 26, 89 and 173 to Houston for No. 18 (Flacco). They sent pick No. 38 to Seattle for No. 55 (Rice) and 86 (safety Tom Zbikowski). And they traded a fourth-round pick to Oakland for starting cornerback Fabian Washington.
Players they could have had: Running back Jamaal Charles, linebacker Dan Connor, wide receiver Early Doucet, guard Jeremy Zuttah and defensive end Cliff Avril were all selected in the third round, in which the Ravens had three picks. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon was drafted by Indianapolis one spot before Baltimore drafted safety Haruki Nakamura in the sixth round. Buffalo scored wideout Stevie Johnson in Round 7.
Final grade: A-minus. The Rice pick was exceptional, especially when you consider that six running backs were drafted before him, including Felix Jones, Jonathan Stewart and Rashard Mendenhall. Zbikowski and Nakamura were never full-time starters, but they were solid players. We can throw in offensive tackle Jared Gaither, too, because they gave up a 2008 pick to take him in the 2007 supplemental draft. But players such as Justin Harper, Marcus Smith and Allen Patrick didn't pan out. This draft is all about Flacco, though. He has been an above-average quarterback in four NFL seasons. If he becomes elite this grade will become an A-plus.