Ravens could be stuck in no man's land with potential first-round trade partners

The first question Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome got at a news conference earlier this month was about his emotional state heading into the 23rd and final NFL draft he will oversee in Baltimore. He said he hadn’t really thought about it.

The second question Newsome got was a rephrasing of the first: Are you sure there won’t be different feelings in the draft room this year? He said no — three times. Above all else, he repeated, he would be prepared.

“It’s all about who is that first player that we’re going to take with that first-round [pick] — if we pick in the first round,” he said.

As Newsome finished his response, the hypothetical tacked on like an afterthought, he did not grin knowingly or sip from the bottled water in front of him or lay down the eyeglasses he cradled in his hands. The Ravens were weeks away from the draft, where picks will be exchanged like chips in a game of Texas hold ’em, and Newsome already had on his poker face.

The easy question to consider ahead of Thursday night’s first round is whom the Ravens might pick with the No. 16 overall pick. The better question might be whether the Ravens are more likely to move up or down from that perch.

Drafting from the same slot last year, the team “almost” traded up and also came “very close” to trading back, Newsome acknowledged. Ultimately, the Ravens kept their top pick and spent it on cornerback Marlon Humphrey. Stasis has become the norm of late: Not since 2012, when the Ravens traded down from No. 29 to the Minnesota Vikings for the Nos. 35 (Courtney Upshaw) and 98 (Gino Gradkowski) overall picks, has Newsome dealt his first-round selection.

“It could go either way,” he said.

A trade back seems more likely, but with whom? A franchise quarterback “trumps everything,” said former Ravens coach and current NFL Network analyst Brian Billick. But the draft’s rich crop of quarterback prospects — Wyoming's Josh Allen, Southern California's Sam Darnold, Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield and UCLA's Josh Rosen — is expected to be off the board by the middle of the first round.

Unless a potential partner fancies, say, Lamar Jackson, and the Louisville quarterback falls to No. 16, the Ravens could have little leverage in a first round that analysts say will get muddled below the upper crust.

“I don’t really feel like they’re in a very sweet spot,” said Ross Tucker, a former NFL offensive lineman and host of the Ross Tucker Football Podcast. “I don’t really envision who would trade up with them and for whom. The way I see it playing out, that would surprise me. I actually think most of the guys the Ravens would be interested in when they get to that point, there will be a group of six to eight guys they’ll have bunched together. They would want to trade down and still get one of those guys, but I don’t know that anybody would be looking to trade up at that point.

“Again, who would you be trading up for? I think the top four quarterbacks will all be gone. Are you going to trade up for Lamar Jackson? For [Oklahoma State quarterback] Mason Rudolph? Who exactly are you leaping over a team to trade for at that point?”

Ravens officials say they have done the draft calculus — "I think I can predict the first 16 picks, at least the players that go in the top 16," assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said at the team’s April 4 predraft news conference — but even good math can bend to bad circumstances. Billick, who worked with Newsome in Baltimore from 1999 to 2007, said the Ravens always sought to identify the number of franchise players, outside the quarterback position, in a given draft. Sometimes it was as few as eight or nine, Billick recalled. Other times, there were a lot more.

Only a select few inside Ravens headquarters know whether Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley or Notre Dame offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, to name a few possible selections at No. 16, qualifies as such. And Newsome and DeCosta can only guess as to whom other teams might covet with such a pick.

“Ozzie always felt like you never move out of a franchise player,” Billick said. “If you've got one, I don't care how attractive the offer. If you've got what your board says is a franchise player at any position, you stay there and you take him. Can you move up and get one? Again, what's the cost?”

Fifteen years ago, for a Ravens trade up to No. 19 overall, it was a second-round pick, a first-rounder the following year and, eventually, Billick’s job. California quarterback Kyle Boller, taken nine picks after Arizona State pass rusher Terrell Suggs in 2003, went 20-27 in five disappointing years in Baltimore. His last season as a Ravens starter was also his coach’s last in the NFL; Billick was fired in December 2007.

(Even worse, the first-round pick the New England Patriots acquired in the trade for Boller turned out to be defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.)

Trades at No. 16 are rare, with just two in the past 12 years, and the picks themselves have been a mixed bag. From 2013 to 2015, the No. 16 pick in the draft swung from a bust (quarterback EJ Manuel) to a star (right guard Zack Martin) to a we’re-still-waiting prospect (River Hill graduate and cornerback Kevin Johnson).

But there are mid-round rewards to be found, either directly or indirectly. In 2006, the Ravens moved up one spot, from No. 13 to No. 12, to nab defensive tackle Haloti Ngata before Cleveland could. Ngata was a five-time Pro Bowl selection in Baltimore; Kamerion Wimbley, the Browns’ subsequent pick, lost at least 11 games in three of his four disappointing seasons in Cleveland.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was involved in a swap involving a mid-first-round pick, too. So were Darrelle Revis, Ryan Kerrigan, Fletcher Cox, Tavon Austin (Dunbar) and seemingly every recent Philadelphia Eagles quarterback.

Even Ravens guard Marshal Yanda, a third-round selection in 2007, ended up in Baltimore partly because the Denver Broncos wanted to move up from the No. 21 slot that year. They found a trade partner in the Jacksonville Jaguars, who gave up the No. 17 pick and acquired, among other picks, the No. 86 overall selection. After another trade, Jacksonville never used it; the Ravens did, and a draft day footnote became a franchise cornerstone.

Who could have foreseen that?

“You might be surprised at who we pick at 16 this year,” Newsome said, “if we pick at 16.”

Sweet 16s

Here are four notable trades involving the No. 16 overall draft pick over the past two decades.

2003: The Pittsburgh Steelers traded their No. 27 overall pick, a third-round pick and a sixth-round pick to the Chiefs for Kansas City’s No. 16 overall pick. The Chiefs ended up taking Pro Bowl running back Larry Johnson in the first, but the Steelers made out even better: They got safety Troy Polamalu.

2005: The Houston Texans traded the No. 13 overall pick to the New Orleans Saints for their No. 16 overall pick and a third-rounder the following year. The Saints ended up with a bookend offensive tackle in Jammal Brown, and so did the Texans. Their No. 16 pick was Travis Johnson, an underwhelming defensive tackle, but their extra pick turned out to be Eric Winston.

2011: The Washington Redskins gave up their No. 10 overall pick to get the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Nos. 16 and 49 picks. Only one first-round pick in the swap worked out. While quarterback Blaine Gabbert has bounced around the league, Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is a three-time Pro Bowl selection.

2013: A six-pick deal between the Buffalo Bills and St. Louis Rams didn’t produce a clear winner on either side. The Bills traded down from No. 8 to select quarterback EJ Manuel at No. 16, linebacker Kiko Alonso at No. 46, wide receiver Marquise Goodwin at No. 78 and tight end Chris Gragg in the seventh round. In exchange, the Rams got wide receiver Tavon Austin (Dunbar) and safety T.J. McDonald (No. 71 overall).

jshaffer@baltsun.com

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