From the appeal of trading down to their elusive quest for a wide receiver, here are five things we learned from the Ravens' predraft luncheon Tuesday:
There’s little reason to think the team’s draft approach will change with Eric DeCosta as general manager.
DeCosta was so central to the team’s draft operation when Ozzie Newsome reigned as general manager that it would be a shock if the Ravens do change their philosophy.
The new general manager whipped out a list of familiar talking points Tuesday as he looked ahead to the April 25-27 draft, from the “gold” the Ravens possess in the form of multiple third- and fourth-round picks to the team’s hunt for prospects who “play like a Raven.”
“It doesn’t really feel any different honestly,” DeCosta said, noting that the team’s draft preparations have always been a collaborative enterprise.
He approaches this time of year with the same zeal as his mentor, Newsome, who always described the draft as an NFL version of Christmas Day. Their partnership remains active, and Newsome will still be a significant force in the scouting process and in the draft room.
“He watches a lot of guys. He’s watching a ton of tape,” DeCosta said. “He’s probably watched more tape this year than he has the last couple years. He’s not working on as many of the administrative things that he would’ve worked on in the past. I think he’s really enjoying it. … He’s really been just a valuable resource for me in terms of discussing players.”
Don’t be surprised if the Ravens again trade down on the first day.
Because they’re picking at No. 22, the Ravens’ course of action will be determined in large part by the teams in front of them. But DeCosta made it clear they’re open to trading back, as they did twice with their first-round pick in 2018.
“One thing we’ve shown over the years is that we know how to manufacture picks,” he said.
DeCosta knows the players who would excite him at 22, but he seemed equally intrigued by accumulating more total picks in what he described as a deep draft for the team’s positions of need. He said the Ravens see about 180 draftable players and that internal discussions of prospects have gone longer than in past years.
“I could probably narrow it down to four positions where we might pick somebody,” he said. “I could probably give you one of the four guys we would pick in the first round if we were going to stay at 22. Now, we could trade up; we could trade back. Having those two threes and those two fours, we have the flexibility to go up the draft board or go back if we want to, so that changes the whole game.”
Though the pre-draft press conference is an exercise in evasion (a grinning DeCosta dubbed it the “liars’ luncheon”), the Ravens seem most likely to draft a wide receiver, an interior offensive lineman or a pass rusher if they hold their spot.
It’s still unclear how the Ravens might adjust their scouting of offensive skill players as they build around Lamar Jackson.
In a story line that seems as old as the franchise itself, the Ravens will go into the draft seeking a No. 1 wide receiver. But there’s a twist this time, given the run-first offense they’re building around Jackson. It’s fair to ask if the Ravens will put as much of a premium on finding a downfield threat as they did when they drafted Breshad Perriman in 2015 or if they might look for a different type of receiver to cope with Jackson’s spotty accuracy.
DeCosta and Joe Hortiz, the team’s director of college scouting, said they’ll look for versatile, sure-handed, ornery pass catchers.
But DeCosta also allowed that the Ravens might be able to exploit market inefficiencies as they seek players to complement Jackson’s unusual skills.
“I do we think we have an opportunity to build a team, looking at some players who might not be as attractive to other teams,” he said.
The Ravens could have drafted either Calvin Ridley or DJ Moore in the first round last year but instead traded down twice before selecting tight end Hayden Hurst. Their approach illustrated DeCosta’s view that wide receivers rarely represent the best values near the top of the draft. The Ravens have picked just two receivers — Perriman and Torrey Smith — in the first three rounds since 2008.
“Players at certain positions get drafted, probably ahead of where they should be drafted based on their abilities, because they affect the passing game,” DeCosta said. “It doesn’t mean they’re any better players, but what we’ve seen is teams are placing a much greater priority on the passing game, whether it’s stopping the pass or passing the ball.”
Frustrated fans might reply that Moore, who went 24th overall, averaged 14.3 yards per catch and looked like a future star for the Carolina Panthers.
DeCosta said the Ravens need to take big swings at finding a receiver, but until they use a high pick on one who pans out, skepticism about their approach to the position will persist.
The Ravens will look to add interior offensive line depth.
DeCosta offered a less-than-definitive response when asked about Marshal Yanda’s future, saying, “We love Marshal, and we’d love to see Marshal continue to play for us for years. He’s a great player, and he’s still playing at a high level.”
Regardless of the veteran right guard’s plans (Yanda is under contract for next season), DeCosta suggested the Ravens will look to add depth at the position. “There’s some really good guards in this draft,” he said, mentioning Chris Lindstrom of Boston College, who’s graded as a first-round talent by many evaluators.
To illustrate the importance of stocking talent at one of the NFL’s least glamorous positions, DeCosta pointed to the 2007 draft, when some analysts questioned the Ravens for using their first-round pick on Ben Grubbs and their third-round pick on Yanda. “Both guys became Pro Bowl players and really helped our team,” he said. “It was the right thing to do at the time.”
He also praised the top-end talent at center, where he said three or four players could go in the first two rounds. Ravens center Matt Skura performed adequately last year, but the Ravens could look to upgrade with a more punishing blocker.
The unusual bevy of center prospects includes Erik McCoy of Texas A&M, Garrett Bradbury of North Carolina State, Elgton Jenkins of Mississippi State and Michael Jordan of Ohio State.
DeCosta believes the draft is strong where the Ravens lost key defensive talent.
While they bolstered their deep secondary in free agency, the Ravens lost Pro Bowl middle linebacker C.J. Mosley and their top two pass rushers in Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs.
As they shop for potential replacements, DeCosta said the draft should provide myriad options. He said the 2019 class is particularly deep in pass rushers, both interior and edge.
Outside rushers who might be available later in the first round and on the second day of the draft include Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell, TCU defensive end L.J. Collier, Louisiana Tech defensive end Jaylon Ferguson and Florida defensive end Jachai Polite, whose stock is reportedly slipping because of poor workouts.
But as at wide receiver, gifted pass rushers rarely plummet to become draft-day steals. They’re coveted by too many teams in a pass-dominated league.
At least publicly, the Ravens also hold out hope that 2017 picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams could help mitigate the losses of Smith and Suggs.
“If they’re ever going to do it, this is the time,” DeCosta said. “And we’re optimistic that they will.”
He said the Ravens are turning over many stones as they search for a potential successor to Mosley but did not sound optimistic that the two best inside linebackers in the draft, Devin White of LSU and Devin Bush of Michigan, will be available.
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“Bush and White, both excellent players,” DeCosta said. “Both guys probably gone before we pick, I would guess. But [there are] some very, very good players in that second tier as well that think could be quality players. We’ll know those guys really well. We’ve interviewed a lot of inside linebackers. We feel good about the board.”
He said the art of drafting inside linebackers is hardly obscure. The Ravens will look for sure tacklers who break to the ball quicker than anyone else on the field.
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Round 1 begins Thursday at 8 p.m. ET; Rounds 2-3 on Friday at 7 p.m. ET; Rounds 4-7 on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET.