The signature moments of the Ravens’ first season in Baltimore happened not on the field but in the draft room. Owner Art Modell handed the brush to a young master named Ozzie Newsome, and with his first two strokes, Newsome added Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis to a picture that, until then, had lacked focus.
As the Ravens grew into a consistent winner on the field, Newsome’s reputation for bolstering and replenishing his roster only deepened. April was his time to shine. Few teams in the league could match the Ravens when it came to building through the draft.
This month, they’ll select players for the 25th time since they moved to Baltimore, with Newsome still in the room (virtually anyway) beside his carefully groomed successor, Eric DeCosta. This silver anniversary offers an opportunity to reflect on the Ravens’ draft triumphs, and their less frequent whiffs.
After we counted down the 25 worst picks in Ravens history, we continue with the 25 best:
25. OLB Za’Darius Smith — 4th round, 122nd overall in 2015
What they said then: The Ravens needed a powerful pass rusher to fill Pernell McPhee’s shoes, and the comparison between the two players proved unavoidable. “He has pass-rush ability, even maybe more so than we saw from Pernell coming out,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He has hips and he can get around blocks. If he develops like Pernell did, we’re going to have something.”
What he did: Smith would rank higher on this list if his spectacular 2019 performance benefited the Ravens rather than the Green Bay Packers. Smith’s progress was uneven through his first three seasons in Baltimore. But he became the Ravens’ most productive pass rusher in 2018, just in time to earn a $66 million payday from the Packers. Now, the former fourth-round pick is one of the NFC’s top defenders.
24. P Sam Koch — 6th round, 203rd overall in 2006
What they said then: Not much. Punters drafted in the sixth round don’t generate a ton of hype, and Koch did not make ESPN analyst Mel Kiper’s top-five list at his position.
What he did: Fourteen years later, Koch continues to plug along as a Ravens institution. He helped introduce the NFL to a dizzying array of innovative punts and ranks as one of the league’s masters at pinning opponents inside their 20-yard lines. He’s also a proud member of the Ravens’ kicking “Wolfpack” along with Justin Tucker and long snapper Morgan Cox.
23. DE Jarret Johnson - 4th round, 109 overall in 2003
What they said then: Johnson left Alabama with the second most sacks in school history but was not regarded as a blue-chip pass rushing prospect. Kiper said he had a “great motor on the defensive line.”
What he did: Johnson needed three seasons to push his way into the starting lineup, but once he did, he became a model for how the Ravens wanted their defenders to set the edge. Though he made no Pro Bowls and never finished a season with more than six sacks, Johnson ranked among the franchise’s most popular players. “Extremely talented, very smart. … He was the guy who made all the calls and set the defense,” Harbaugh said when Johnson retired in 2015.
22. TE Nick Boyle — 5th round, 171st overall in 2015
What they said then: Boyle received far less praise than the other tight end the Ravens drafted in 2015, Maxx Williams. Kiper described him as “a tight end who can stick because he’ll actually block people, which isn’t that common anymore at tight end.” NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein said Boyle had the “size and athleticism to be an every-down tight end.”
What he did: Boyle got off to an ignominious start, receiving two suspensions for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Harbaugh said his young tight end had “doubled down on dumb.” Since then, however, Boyle has grown into one of the most important all-around players on the Ravens’ offense. He functions as a sixth offensive lineman on running plays and caught a career-high 31 passes in 2019. Some fans were surprised when the Ravens gave Boyle a three-year, $18 million extension. But if you want to know how his teammates felt, just look at how wildly they celebrated when Boyle scored his first career touchdown.
21. TE Todd Heap — 1st round, 31st overall in 2001
What they said then: Though few teams were seeking a tight end near the top of the 2001 draft, no one doubted Heap’s talent. Kiper loved him, saying Heap was “such a factor in the pass offense that his impact in the NFL could easily be viewed in the same regard as what Tony Gonzalez has meant to the Chiefs.”
What he did: Newsome drafted eight future Pro Bowl selections with 11 first-round picks between 1996 and 2003, and Heap was part of that lineage. Before injuries chipped away, he played with rare mobility for a 6-foot-5, 252-pound man. Heap lasted 10 seasons in Baltimore, remaining a fan favorite even when his production waned. He’s a member of the Ravens’ Ring of Honor and ranks second in team history in catches and receiving yards.
20. LB C.J. Mosley – 1st round, 17th overall in 2014
What they said then: NFL Network analyst and former Ravens scout Daniel Jeremiah saw Mosley as the rare inside linebacker worthy of a top-10 pick. “His instincts set him apart from everybody else in this draft class,” Jeremiah said. “Sometimes he’s so good that he’s kind of boring. You don’t see those ‘wow’ plays because he’s where he needs to be and makes a lot of tackles.” ESPN analyst Todd McShay worried slightly about Mosley’s durability but said “it’s hard not to fall in love with his performance on tape.”
What he did: After a relatively dry run of top picks, the Ravens returned to drafting Pro Bowl talents with their selection of Mosley. He was unanimously regarded as the top inside linebacker in his class and a sure thing to play all three downs from Day 1. So the best thing you can say about Mosley is that he met expectations. He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and earned that honor four times in five seasons with the Ravens. He called the defensive signals and quickly became a key figure in the locker room. Only a massive free-agent bid from the New York Jets kept Mosley from becoming a Baltimore institution.
19. OT Ronnie Stanley — 1st round, 6th overall in 2016
What they said then: NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock loved Stanley: “I saw him play a lot of football at Notre Dame. He’s a dancing bear. He was offered several Pac-12 basketball scholarships, so that tells you something about his feet.” Kiper believed the Ravens had turned away from another tackle prospect, Laremy Tunsil, because of off-field issues. But he didn’t see that as a knock on the player they did draft: “It’s not as if Stanley was a reach. He went No. 6 overall and finished No. 6 on my Big Board.”
What he did: The Ravens have rarely drafted in the top 10 since their early years, so they needed to hit on a foundational player when the opportunity arose in 2016. Some regarded Stanley as a consolation prize after the Ravens failed to trade up for cornerback Jalen Ramsey and after Tunsil’s stock plummeted because of an infamous video. But Stanley immediately established himself as a starting left tackle, played well the next seasons and took a leap forward to become perhaps the best pass blocker in football in 2019. He’s poised to become the highest paid offensive lineman in league history.
18. CB Marlon Humphrey — 1st round, 16th overall in 2017
What they said then: Kiper ranked Humphrey the second-best cornerback in the class, calling him “a super-athlete and physical defender who will compete with Brandon Carr and Jimmy Smith for a starting spot.” A pair of NFL.com analysts disagreed on his potential: Mayock ranked Humphrey as the No. 2 cornerback, while his colleague, Chad Reuter, predicted the Alabama star would drop to the second round. Newsome left no doubt about his regard for Humphrey, calling him “by far the best player that we were going to take.”
What he did: For several years, the Ravens had come up short late in the season in part because injuries shredded their secondary depth. They hoped Humphrey, a second-generation star from the best program in college football, would help change that. They got exactly what they bargained for as Humphrey’s athletic gifts, confidence and ornery style made him an instant contributor at cornerback. He earned his first All-Pro selection in 2019 and like Stanley, seems set to become one of the highest-paid players at his premium position.
17. OLB Matthew Judon — 5th round, 146th overall in 2016
What they said then: Judon was not a hotly discussed prospect coming out of Division II Grand Valley State. Kiper referred to him as “another pass rusher who could turn into something.” But the Ravens fell in love with him at the NFL scouting combine. “That’s the great thing about the combine is you get a chance to see guys from all different conferences and backgrounds and levels of football competing on the same stage,” DeCosta said. “He had all the skills you look for — the athletic ability, the size and he had the production on tape, the ability on tape. His numbers were good.”
What he did: The 2016 draft was a rollercoaster for the Ravens, with notable hits and misses packed into their 11 selections. But no pick returned greater value than Judon, who earned immediate playing time as a rookie, made eight sacks in his second season and went to his first Pro Bowl in 2019. For years, the Ravens struggled to find young pass rushers to follow Terrell Suggs; Smith and Judon stood out as exceptions. Now, the former fifth-round pick has entered a different economic bracket, playing under the Ravens’ franchise tag.
16. OT Orlando Brown Jr. — 3rd round, 83rd overall; TE Mark Andrews — 3rd round, 86th overall in 2018
What they said then: Draft analysts foresaw Andrews’ quick impact as a pass catcher. Kiper described him as “essentially a 6-5 slot receiver. He had a great college career, and he’s going to be a tough cover for linebackers and safeties.” Brown was a much-debated prospect after he turned in one of the worst combine performances in recent NFL history. But analysts agreed that the Ravens waited to the right point to draft him. “The more you watch him, the more you realize he just does his job,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “It isn’t always pretty, but he gets the job done.”
What he did: So this is a cheat, but the Ravens found tremendous value by drafting these Oklahoma teammates so close together, and it’s too early to render full judgement on either. Andrews became Lamar Jackson’s favorite target almost from the moment they took the field together. The 6-foot-5, 256-pound tight end easily led the Ravens in targets, receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches on the way to his first Pro Bowl last season. Baltimore fans immediately embraced Brown, in part because they carried warm memories of his father, former Ravens tackle Orlando “Zeus” Brown Sr. The mammoth second-generation star quickly established his own place in the franchise, starting 10 games at right tackle as a rookie and making the Pro Bowl in his second season.
15. WR Torrey Smith — 2nd round, 58th overall in 2011
What they said then: Though some analysts predicted the Ravens would pick Smith in the first round, McShay correctly guessed they’d nab the Maryland wide receiver in the second. Harbaugh thought there was no way they’d be so lucky but was happy to be wrong. “This is a guy from the beginning that we saw on tape. ... He fits us,” the Ravens coach said. “He’s our kind of guy. He’s our kind of personality. But he’s also a type of player that we really want and we really need.”
What he did: The Ravens have not had much to celebrate at wide receiver, but Smith was the gleaming exception. He started immediately, gave the 2012 Super Bowl team a credible deep threat and surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in his third season. If anything, he was more effective than his numbers suggested because of his gift for drawing pass-interference penalties. Smith also became an outspoken voice for good in the Baltimore community, remaining in the area after he left the Ravens in 2015.
14. DT Brandon Williams — 3rd round, 94th overall in 2013
What they said then: Kiper underestimated Williams, calling him a “rotation player at nose tackle” who would give the Ravens depth behind Terrence Cody. As a Division II prospect from Missouri Southern, Williams impressed the Ravens by shining in the Senior Bowl. “He’s like a fireplug in there,” director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. “His Senior Bowl performance, he completed well and never seemed overwhelmed on the big stage and really held his own throughout the week and in the game. We’re really excited to get him.”
What he did: The Ravens have generally drafted better in the third round than the second, and Williams is a significant part of that legacy. He earned a starting role in his second season and has remained essential to the Ravens’ run defense ever since. His value becomes evident whenever the Ravens are forced to play without him. Williams delivered some of the best performances of his career as the Ravens won their last 12 regular-season games in 2019.
13. OLB Peter Boulware — 1st round, 4th overall in 1997
What they said then: Boulware was a first-team All-American who led the nation in sacks as a junior at Florida State, so he arrived as a known quantity. “When I look over the board, I don’t see a team that had a better draft than we did,” said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda, capturing the ebullient mood in the team’s war room. Ray Lewis was among Boulware’s most outspoken fans: “He has so much agility and so much quickness off the ball. He can make an impact quickly. He can be the difference in four or five games with the way he pressures the quarterback.”
What he did: Boulware was overshadowed by Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis in the origin story of the franchise, but the Ravens hit on the No. 4 overall pick for the second year in a row. Boulware had 11½ sacks as a rookie, was a key member of the record-setting defense that carried the Ravens to their first Super Bowl victory and made four Pro Bowls in eight seasons. Knee injuries cut his career short, but he’s a member of the Ravens’ Ring of Honor.
12. CB Chris McAlister — 1st round, 10th overall in 1999
What they said then: Many analysts viewed McAlister as a top-10 talent and ideal fit. “The Ravens were fortunate to get Chris McAlister out of Arizona,” Kiper said. “This defensive back just glides. He’s so effortless in his motion. He has a sense of what’s going on and a great burst to go with the anticipation in coverage.”
What he did: McAlister didn’t make the Pro Bowl until 2003, but he started 12 games and picked off five passes as a rookie. Long before Ed Reed arrived, he and Rod Woodson were the perfect back-end complements to a fearsome front seven led by Lewis. McAlister ultimately spent 10 seasons in Baltimore and made three Pro Bowls. He ranks second to Reed on the team’s career interception list.
11. RB Jamal Lewis — 1st round, 5th overall in 2000
What they said then: Kiper did not rate Lewis among his top 10 prospects after he combined for just 15 games in his second and third seasons at Tennessee. But the Ravens saw a transcendent talent. “He combines true explosiveness with sheer power,” coach Brian Billick said. “I perceive Jamal will be someone that’s going to crank off a couple of 30-, 40-, 50-yard touchdowns and also be the guy you can pound in there from the 20 down in. That’s a rare combination.”
What he did: The Ravens had consistently chosen well in the first round but had yet to hit on a notable offensive playmaker. They took their first big swing on a rare running talent who combined speed and power but faced questions about his durability. Lewis paid immediate dividends, rushing for 1,364 yards as a rookie starter on a Super Bowl champion. He topped that in 2003 when he became just the fifth player in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season. Lewis is a member of the Ravens’ Ring of Honor and remains the leading rusher in team history.
10. DT Haloti Ngata — 1st round, 12th overall in 2006
What they said then: Ravens officials could hardly conceal their enthusiasm. “This is a big block of granite, a guy that’s tough to move,” said DeCosta, then the team’s director of college scouting. “I think he’s going to pose nightmares for teams in our division trying to get him off the ball and trying to run the football.” Kiper said Ngata would “help right away on the interior of the line and, they hope, will free up MLB Ray Lewis.”
What he did: The Ravens were so convinced of Ngata’s rare athletic talent that they traded up a spot to make sure they would not miss out on the 6-foot-4, 335-pound defensive tackle. They certainly never regretted the move as Ngata became a five-time Pro Bowl selection and, for a time, the most fearsome interior defender in the NFL. He peaked in 2010 with 63 tackles, 14 quarterback hits and 12 tackles for loss but was still a formidable presence on the 2012 Super Bowl team. Ngata is expected to join the Ravens’ Ring of Honor this season.
9. LB Adalius Thomas — 6th round, 186th overall in 2000
What they said then: Not much. Such is the lot for a sixth-round pick out of Southern Miss. But Thomas believed in himself: “I think I’m better than a sixth-round pick. That itches you. It gets your motor up. I’m here to get the job done.”
What he did: No matter how much we romanticize Tom Brady and other late-round picks, even the best drafting teams do most of their good work on the first two days. That’s why Thomas stands out in team lore. He hardly played as a rookie and made his first Pro Bowl as a special-teams performer, but by his seventh and final season in Baltimore, he was an All-Pro linebacker good for 80-plus tackles and double-digit sacks. Coaches loved Thomas because he was a true Swiss Army knife who could play all over. He goes down as the Ravens’ king of late-rounders.
8. RB Ray Rice — 2nd round, 55th overall in 2008
What they said then: The Rice pick drew muted reactions despite the running back’s tremendous production at Rutgers. CBS draft analyst Pete Prisco outright panned it while Kiper cited Rice as a good value in the second round.
What he did: It’s difficult to write about Rice purely as a football player given that his self-inflicted demise created the darkest chapter in franchise history and made him the face of partner violence in professional sports. But he was superb on the field, perhaps the team’s best all-around playmaker before Lamar Jackson. Rice twice surpassed 2,000 yards from scrimmage, made three Pro Bowls and was an essential contributor to the 2012 Super Bowl team.
7. OLB Terrell Suggs — 1st round, 10th overall in 2003
What they said then: Kiper listed Suggs as the second biggest steal of the draft, behind the quarterback the Ravens tried to trade up for, Byron Leftwich. If they couldn’t have Leftwich, the Ravens were thrilled to see Suggs fall to No. 10. “He and Peter Boulware can be a force,” Newsome said. “We’re able to put pressure on the quarterback and that’s one of the things we wanted to get done in this draft. We really think we can get after the passer.”
What he did: It was a wild draft day for the Ravens between their failed bid for Leftwich and their subsequent trade up to pick Kyle Boller. The whole thing would be remembered as a disaster if Suggs had not dropped because of a poor 40-yard dash time. But this proved to be a signature example of college film trumping workout measurements. Suggs had 12 sacks as a rookie and became one of the greatest and most enduring players in Ravens history. With seven Pro Bowl appearances and a Defensive Player of the Year award on his resume, he has a good chance to become the fourth Ravens draftee to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
6. QB Joe Flacco — 1st round, 18th overall in 2008
What they said then: Scouts were split on Flacco, with some loving his size and arm strength and others questioning his college pedigree out of Delaware. “The Ravens wanted Matt Ryan, but Joe Flacco was the next best quarterback in this draft,” Kiper said. “We love the kid,” said DeCosta, then the Ravens’ director of college scouting. “He passed every test. We grinded on these quarterbacks to the very end, and Joe was the guy who separated himself from the other [second-tier] guys.”
What he did: The Ravens traded down from No. 8 after Ryan was picked and back up to No. 18 for Flacco. He’s probably the most debated player in franchise history, but the Ravens drafted an 11-year starter at quarterback who carried them to the second Super Bowl victory in franchise history. That’s a massive success by any measure and an even more massive success for a team that had never found stability at the game’s most important position before 2008. Elite or not, Flacco was among the most important players in the story of the Ravens.
5. S Ed Reed — 1st round, 24th overall in 2002
What they said then: “Let’s face it, Reed is a pick without pizazz,” read the headline in The Sun. Well, you can’t get them all right. Newsome acknowledged that the Ravens waited until the last minute for any trade offers but said Reed was their obvious pick at No. 24. “The thing that really sold me on him is every time we watched Miami’s defense, and they needed a play to be made, Ed Reed made that play,” he said. “When they needed a fire to be put out, Ed Reed put the fire out.”
What he did: Reed certainly did not lack pizazz. In fact, he became the most exciting defender in Ravens history and a unique force at safety, one who could change the momentum of a game from any point on the field. He made nine Pro Bowls, won Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 and entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. His personality was as unique as his play, forcing the word “mercurial” to become a go-to for a decade of Ravens coverage.
4. G Marshal Yanda ― 3rd round, 86th overall in 2007
What they said then: Scouts generally viewed Yanda as one of the top five interior offensive linemen in the class. “This kid has a chance to compete at a guard or tackle, could be a factor right away,” Kiper said. “He’s 6-4, 305 pounds. He played for [Iowa coach] Kirk Ferentz, so you know he was well-coached, fundamentally sound, technically sound.”
What he did: The Ferentz connection proved key as the former Ravens assistant made sure his pals in Baltimore knew all about his rapidly improving lineman. Yanda might be the greatest pure value in Ravens draft history. He grew from a late third-round pick at one of the sport’s least glamorous positions to an eight-time Pro Bowl selection who recently retired at the top of his game. Yanda became the team’s model offensive lineman after Jonathan Ogden retired and might join him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday. Harbaugh recently described him as “irreplaceable.”
3. OT Jonathan Ogden — 1st round, 4th overall in 1996
What they said then: Ogden was the consensus top offensive lineman in the draft. Kiper gave him the fourth highest grade of any lineman he’d ever scouted. “We were ecstatic when Arizona passed him up and we still had a shot at him,” Newsome said of his first pick in Baltimore. “I think he is going to be an anchor for us for a long time to come.” Ravens owner Art Modell agreed, saying, “He’s a guy that can last 12 years for us.”
What he did: Ogden might have been the most important pick in franchise history, not because he was the first and not because he turned out be a Hall of Fame player but because he established a template for how the Ravens would do business. Plenty of people thought the Ravens should draft Lawrence Phillips, a troubled young man but an electric running talent out of Nebraska. He surely would have drawn more eyes to the Ravens than an offensive lineman. But Newsome stuck to his draft board and took the sure thing. Ogden then did his part for 12 seasons, becoming the signature left tackle of his generation and a beloved figure around Baltimore.
2. QB Lamar Jackson — 1st round, 32nd overall in 2018
What they said then: Jackson was a divisive prospect to say the least. Former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian famously questioned whether he should remain at quarterback, saying, “The accuracy isn’t there.” But Kiper liked the move for the Ravens: “The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner is the rawest of the top quarterbacks in this class, but he’s an electric talent. And with Flacco there and under contract for the short term, Jackson doesn’t need to play right away. He can learn the game and keep developing until he’s ready. It’s a good spot for Jackson.”
What he did: Is it fair to put the Jackson pick this high when the Ravens have drafted multiple Hall of Fame players and a Super Bowl MVP quarterback? It’s a fair question, but how often does a team trade up for a quarterback who wins NFL MVP honors and captivates a nation of fans in his second season? Baltimore has never seen a football player quite like Jackson, and no other NFL city has either. We don’t know if he’ll win more MVPs or reach his true goal of leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl win. But we do know he produced a season for the ages at 22 years old. And you can’t beat the poetry of Newsome selecting him with his last first-round pick as Ravens general manager.
1. LB Ray Lewis — 1st round, 26th overall in 1996
What they said then: Kiper praised Lewis’ instincts and tackling form and had him going No. 20 in his final mock draft. “More of a finesse game but no one questions his toughness,” the ESPN analyst said. Baltimore Sun analyst Vito Stellino hardly discussed Lewis in grading the Ravens’ first draft, referring to him only as a future starter.
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What he did: Coverage of the Ravens’ first draft focused heavily on the Ogden vs. Phillips debate. Lewis had been a terrific college player at Miami but was regarded as a bit undersized to dominate in the NFL. Needless to say, he did not wait long to seize the spotlight, making his first of 13 Pro Bowls in his second season as a Raven. For all the giant talents who’ve worn purple and black, Lewis remains the face of the franchise to generations of Baltimore fans. He talked the most and the loudest, played the best and the longest. He was the finest defensive player in the world when the Ravens won their first Super Bowl and the grand old man on the roster when they won their second. He might be the greatest ever at his position. That’s a whole lot of payoff for the No. 26 overall pick.