By now, every Ravens fan knows the story of how general manager Ozzie Newsome stuck to his draft board in 1996 and selected UCLA offensive lineman Jonathan Ogden with the fourth overall pick. In doing so, Newsome bypassed Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips, who would have been the choice of Ravens owner Art Modell.
Phillips went two picks later to the St. Louis Rams and played just three NFL seasons, rushing for 1,453 yards and finding trouble early and often. Ogden, meanwhile, played 12 NFL seasons and was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013. He is considered the best offensive player that the Ravens have ever had.
The story is repeated every year around draft time to explain how tightly Newsome sticks to his draft board and his best-player-available philosophy.
It was told many times during the lead-up to Ogden’s Hall of Fame induction, and it came up again last April when Phillips, already serving a prison sentence in California for auto theft and domestic violence, was suspected of killing his cellmate.
And sadly, the story is now surfacing again today with the news that Phillips was found dead in his prison cell after a suspected suicide. Phillips was just 40 years old.
Twenty-two picks after Newsome found his book-end tackle in the 1996 draft, he selected Ray Lewis, the middle linebacker who excelled for 17 seasons and will follow Ogden into the Hall of Fame. That draft was the start of Newsome building an organization that won two Super Bowls.
Unfortunately, Phillips’ tragic fall has provided an ever-present reminder of Newsome’s wise decision-making that day.