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Ravens' past dictated safe draft, and that's OK

If you're wondering why the Ravens made safe draft picks, recall the names Ray Rice and Breshard Perriman.

It has been 20 months since Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti sat in front of the assembled media at the team's training facility and went point by point, defending the team's credibility and integrity in the wake of the damning second Ray Rice elevator video and a scathing ESPN investigative account of the scandal.

Bisciotti disputed many aspects of the ESPN story, but the specifics aren't important now, just the event itself. Because that was the day everyone in the Ravens organization realized they would have to make sure Bisciotti was never, ever placed in that uncomfortable position again.

That's why the Ravens played it safe during this year's NFL draft and they'll play it safe again next year, too.

They have become prisoners of their history, and it didn't begin or end with the Rice domestic abuse debacle, though that will long be remembered as the turning point in the evolution of the franchise. The frustrating year-long saga of Breshad Perriman's injured knee added a new dimension that made draft weekend even more problematic for Ozzie Newsome and the rest of the player personnel braintrust.

The Ravens weren't ever going to draft Laremy Tunsil with one of their top picks. The gas-mask bong tweet got passed around the Ravens draft room and that was the end of the conversation.

They also weren't going to draft outstanding UCLA linebacker Myles Jack with their second pick because of questions surrounding the health of his knee. The upside on Jack was way, way up, but the Ravens needed every bit of depth that this large draft class could provide.

So, whether Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley was a sexy pick is irrelevant. The fact that he was a "safe" pick does not make him a bad pick.

Far from it.

Newsome went into free agency to add a solid tight end (Benjamin Watson) and a veteran deep threat (Mike Wallace). The Ravens shored up the skill offensive positions and should have Perriman in the receiver mix this year. Joe Flacco is coming back from knee surgery. They are hoping to have a very exciting and productive offense, which will not be possible without a very good offensive line.

Stanley, who was rated ahead of Tunsil in some draft analyses, isn't the next Jonathan Ogden, but he's a quality player and person who should grow into the blindside guy the Ravens need to keep Flacco at a maximum level of effectiveness.

Not everyone the Ravens drafted was a "red star" player – that designation applied to guys the team's scouts consider the best combination of on-field talent and off-field character – but the first three picks met that definition. Assistant GM Eric DeCosta made no secret of that being a big factor in the selection of Stanley, Boise State linebacker Kamalei Correa and BYU defensive end Bronson Kaufusi.

They also picked up the ultimate "red star" guy when they took popular Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds in the sixth round.

The notable exception was big Nebraska guard/tackle Alex Lewis, the Ravens sixth pick (130th overall) who was sentenced to jail in 2014 after pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault for his role in a fight that left an Air Force cadet unconscious.

Still, professional sports franchises have long memories that often shape their approach to player personnel decisions. The Orioles, for instance, spent a lot of years shying away from certain big-money free agents after signing controversial superstar Albert Belle to a five-year $65 million contract back in 1998. Belle played just two of the five seasons before being forced into retirement with a degenerative hip injury.

The Ravens may end up getting their money's worth out of Perriman and may be more open to assuming injury risk in future drafts, but this year they need to open training camp with all hands on deck. They carefully checked off just about every box on their shopping list and proclaimed this draft a big success.

Not everyone is going to agree on that. They were not able to pull off a deal that would have positioned them to pick Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey and they traded back twice in the second round when they might have gotten a flashier No. 2 pick. That might have blunted criticism about this being a better-safe-than-sorry draft, but there was no need.

This draft was about rebuilding the team's infrastructure without repeating the mistakes of the past.

Check. Check.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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