Ever since the Ravens moved to Baltimore from Cleveland in 1996, Eric DeCosta has been in the shadows of either head coaches or general managers. Now, it’s his time to step into the spotlight and under the microscope.
DeCosta will run his first NFL draft from the team’s training complex in Owings Mills on April 25-27 as he replaces Ozzie Newsome, the team’s former general manager who stepped down at the end of the 2018 season.
Newsome will remain as a consultant and adviser for at least another season, and he will be in the building with DeCosta during the draft, but this is DeCosta’s show. The former Colby College graduate and Ravens assistant GM has an impressive resume, and finally Baltimore fans will get to see if he is as good as all of the reports about the multiple job offers he has turned down from other NFL teams through the years indicate.
A lot of the praise was deserved. Newsome was generally recognized as one of the best general managers in the league, and DeCosta has been near his side through all these years, either as director of college scouting, director of player personnel or assistant GM.
But now DeCosta has to follow Newsome’s act, which included two Super Bowl titles and three players elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Two of those, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and middle linebacker Ray Lewis, were Newsome’s first two draft picks in 1996.
The Ravens will have their annual pre-draft luncheon Tuesday and maybe DeCosta will talk about how he might handle the draft differently than Newsome. Are their philosophies the same? What new changes have been implemented? What might fans expect headed into the future?
The luncheon is a dog-and-pony show filled with speculation. The amount of strategic information will be limited except to throw out endless scenarios about possibly trading up or down in the first round.
Newsome was always laid back. His patience and poise turned out to be a great strength. DeCosta will be more aggressive. Agents have said he has already been talking to several teams about trading out of the first round to secure more picks. He was just as aggressive in trading veteran quarterback Joe Flacco to the Denver Broncos in mid-February.
DeCosta has already taken his share of criticism. Besides trading the best quarterback in Ravens history, DeCosta failed to re-sign linebackers Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley and Za’Darius Smith and safety Eric Weddle during the offseason.
Those moves by DeCosta were smart because all of those players were either too old or didn’t play well enough in Baltimore to earn the money they made in free agency. Then DeCosta signed Seattle Seahawks Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas and New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram.
The addition of Thomas might have given the Ravens the best secondary in the league, and Ingram gives the Ravens a solid 1-2 punch with Gus Edwards as far as building a physical running game with two big backs.
It will be interesting to see which direction DeCosta turns in the early rounds of the draft.
The Ravens have several needs, but the biggest might be finding an outside linebacker or pass rusher to complete what could be a dominant defense.
The Ravens defense finished last season ranked No. 1, and they have their coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale back, as well as a solid defensive line and strong secondary. But if the defense can’t get pressure, even the greatest cornerbacks will struggle.
That’s why strong pass rushers such as Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell, Boston College’s Zach Allen, Kentucky’s Josh Allen or Florida’s Jachai Polite might end up with the Ravens.
The Ravens also need to find a center such as North Carolina State’s Garrett Bradbury, Texas A&M’s Erik McCoy or Mississippi State’s Elgton Jenkins or a guard such as Boston College’s Chris Lindstrom, Oklahoma’s Bobby Evans or Kansas State’s Dalton Risner. They plan to run quarterback Lamar Jackson a lot, either through direct snaps or option plays, so they might as well load up on strong, athletic offensive linemen.
Adding a wide receiver and a third-down back who can catch passes out of the backfield should also be priorities for the Ravens. Through the years, Newsome had more success in drafting defensive players than those on offense, but DeCosta might choose to be different.
A couple of years ago, even DeCosta acknowledged that the Ravens needed to rectify their problems drafting wide receivers, but then the Ravens selected Central Florida’s Breshad Perriman in the first round.
The rest is history.
But now, all the criticism goes to DeCosta. In a couple of weeks, we’ll get to see how he handles pressure and if he can pull off the deals that can change the face of a franchise.
We won’t have to hear how good he is anymore. We’re going to soon find out.