Mike Preston: The Ravens’ old-school approach to the NFL draft still works. Don’t expect it to change.

When the Ravens first moved to Baltimore in 1996, the organization’s lifeline was the annual NFL draft because the team didn’t have enough money to land the best players at free hand.

Sixteen years later, that philosophy hasn’t changed.

With the draft three weeks away, the Ravens held their annual pre-draft luncheon at The Castle on Tuesday, and it’s safe to say there won’t be any big splashes when the first round begins April 28 in Las Vegas .

The Ravens have 10 picks overall, including nine in the first four rounds and four in the top 100. After making some big signings in free agency, they have still have glaring holes At Pass Rusher, Interior Defensive Line, Middle Linebacker and Offensive Line. You also want to gain more depth on outside linebackers and cornerbacks.

The Ravens could move up or down a few slots to draft a specific player, but they’d prefer to keep the status quo.

“I think we have a lot of flexibility in what we desire — the ability to move up and down,” general manager Eric DeCosta said Tuesday. “Sometimes you get into a situation, we see it with other teams, where they want to make a trade with us and they want to maneuver, but they don’t have the choices for that. Sometimes you can’t find the combinations for it. So if we have picks in the first, second, third and fourth rounds, and then have a pick in the sixth round, I think that gives us the flexibility to do what we want.”

The Ravens are bucking a recent trend from the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the last two Super Bowl champions. Before winning the 2020 title, Tampa Bay signed quarterback Tom Brady, runback Leonard Fournette and receiver Antonio Brown in free agency, trading for tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Before the start of last season, the Rams traded quarterback Matthew Stafford and later in the year acquired outside linebacker Von Miller and receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

The Ravens are in a different situation. Brady gave the Bucs the upper hand, and the Rams were willing to throw away draft picks in their Win Now campaign.

The Ravens are more than a player or two away from winning the Super Bowl, and DeCosta won’t abandon the approach of his predecessor, former general manager Ozzie Newsome.

In 1996, DeCosta was hired as a human resources intern and later became a Midwest Scout before eventually taking over as GM in 2019.

“I really think it reflects the culture that we’ve built over the years,” DeCosta said. “We weren’t a big team. I was here, we didn’t do big free agency spend in 1996 and 1997. We didn’t have the means to do it, so design really became our lifeblood. I had the opportunity to see Ozzie and [former director of player personnel] Phil Savage in front of me and see how these guys worked and see the value of the blueprint and what that means for a franchise, what it means for a community and also how it allows you to be competitive every year regardless of the salary cap. So it works for us.

“There are certainly many different ways to do this. I have a lot of respect for teams that can do things differently and be successful, but for us the blueprint will always be… as long as I’m here it will always be the foundation of what we do and what we believe in, and we believe it works for us.”

It’s hard to argue against the Ravens’ philosophy. they have been one of the NFL’s most enduring and best franchises since winning the Super Bowl in 2000.

But since the DeCosta era began three years ago, they haven’t been able to draft a rookie that made a significant impact. They’ve had some success, but on the field and in the community there wasn’t much of a difference, except maybe JK Dobbins, who got a second-round pick in 2020 but missed all of last season with a knee injury.

DeCosta knows the difference a player like Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed or Terrell Suggs can make in a franchise. The ravens are overdue.

You have quarterback Lamar Jackson, who is about to turn five, but few know of his ultimate long-term plans these days.

Even with the design, it is a guessing game. The prepackaged lunch is always interesting because it is full of deception. Front office staff members will say some things to convince other teams of potential picks, and it’s hard to know the truth.

But most drafting experts agree that this class has an excess of pass rushers and cornerbacks and a good selection of offensive linemen and central defenders.

The Ravens agree and haven’t ruled out picking a cornerback despite the expected return of starters Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, both of whom suffered serious injuries last season.

“I think we’re definitely concerned,” DeCosta said of cornerback depth. “We have a feeling that Marlon will come back with a vengeance. We have a feeling Marcus will come back with a vengeance. But we have a feeling the depth is shallow behind these two guys. There are opportunities for us in the first round, second round, third round.

“Coaching [John Harbaugh] watched the corners. We feel like we have an opportunity to take an corner or two in the design that can come in and contribute right away, we’re excited about that.”

Ditto for the Ravens’ lack of depth on the offensive line and the possible return of Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle), but at least they have possible starters in Ja’Wuan James and Morgan Moses. The Ravens are desperate for pass rushers, and Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson II would make quite the pairing with sophomore outside linebacker Odafe Oweh.

Any of those Georgia defensemen, Travon Walker or Jordan Davis, would also fit well in the Ravens frontline.

Regardless, the Ravens should be able to do well with that many picks. The last time they made 10 picks was in 2020 and there are still a number of those picks to start with.

But again, there were no game changers. DeCosta hasn’t produced any with his first-round picks, including receiver Marquise Brown in 2019 and linebacker Patrick Queen in 2020.

Oweh, the No. 31 overall pick in last year’s draft, and receiver Rashod Bateman, the No. 27 overall pick, are yet to be judged. This year brings a new opportunity to find a star.

“I think the last few years we’ve had more guys,” DeCosta said of the team’s rating of eligible players. “I don’t know if our scouts were more optimistic or if there were just more players. But we’ve got about… and it’s going to change because we have another set of meetings next week, but we’ve got about 180 players, I think, more or less, on the front board that we think are going to be for the Raven’s retractable players are . That number will likely be between 170 and 195 players when all is said and done.”

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https://www.mercurynews.com/2022/04/07/mike-preston-ravens-old-school-approach-to-the-nfl-draft-still-works-dont-expect-it-to-change-commentary/ Mike Preston: The Ravens’ old-school approach to the NFL draft still works. Don’t expect it to change.

Joel McCord

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