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Eisenberg: The Last Temptation of Ozzie Newsome

Posted Apr 14, 2018

Perhaps more than ever, the Ravens are in need of excitement to jolt the fanbase. Letting the public's opinions drive personnel decisions can be a recipe for disaster, but in this case, the Ravens seem to understand they need offensive weapons.

In 1996, before the first draft the Ravens participated in, then-rookie GM Ozzie Newsome faced a tough choice. He could make an exciting pick or a not-so-exciting pick with the No. 4 overall selection.

The exciting option was Lawrence Phillips, an all-everything running back from Nebraska. Although he had troubling domestic violence incidents on his record, he was an electrifying game-breaker.

The “boring” choice was a hulking UCLA tackle named Jonathan Ogden.

With his franchise in a new city, Newsome surely was tempted to make the choice that would stir fans’ imaginations with visions of long touchdown runs. That would sell tickets.

But the boring choice was the right one. The two options could not have possessed more disparate fates. Ogden now wears a gold jacket as a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee. Phillips played his way out of the NFL, got in more trouble and died in prison in 2016.

That first choice was an early indicator of how Newsome and the Ravens would operate.

There was, and still is, a constant clamor for them to make exciting choices, which is shorthand for guys who handle the ball, i.e., quarterbacks, running backs and receivers. But the majority of Newsome’s first-round picks – 15 of 22 – have been offensive linemen and defensive players.

There’s no doubt skill-position picks generate more excitement and can help sell tickets. I’m sure Newsome has been tempted many times to make the crowd-pleasing choice.

But he has remained disciplined in pursuing his belief that the first commandment of winning football is having a solid foundation, which is code for guys who block and tackle.

There have been times, though, when what the fans wanted was the same as what Newsome thought the Ravens needed. He has not shied from making exciting picks when he believed they were necessary. The Ravens picked a running back AND a receiver in the first round in 2000. Eight years later, they needed a new start at quarterback and took Joe Flacco.

As we near the 2018 NFL Draft, I’m wondering whether Newsome feels this is another of those moments when the Ravens need to make a jazzy pick.

It’s a draft class long on “grunts,” the linemen and defensive players Newsome loves to add. But it’s also long on quarterbacks, and there are several wide receivers and tight ends who could make an immediate impact.

Will Newsome go exciting or boring? That’s the key question about the Ravens’ draft this year. With the GM duties passing on to Eric DeCosta after this season, let’s call it, “The Last Temptation of Ozzie.”

One could easily make the case for the Ravens needing to make an exciting pick, perhaps more than at any point in their history. Among the factors that contributed to the empty seats that surfaced at M&T Bank Stadium last season was, I believe, the fact that the fans simply weren’t that enthused about the Ravens’ style of play.

Letting the public’s opinions drive personnel decisions is a recipe for disaster, but in this case, the Ravens seem to get it. They’ve stated that their No. 1 need is offensive playmakers, a direct response to their passing game finishing No. 29 in the league in 2017. They know they need a jolt.

As they re-work Flacco’s array of targets, they could really use a top-flight young wideout or a tight end who can stretch the field. There’s also been some hype about the Ravens possibly drafting a quarterback in the first round, which would qualify as an exciting move with massive long-range implications for the franchise.

But the Ravens could just as easily select an offensive tackle with the No. 16 overall pick, as many mock drafts have predicted. Another distinct possibility is an early run on quarterbacks, which could mean a bona fide defensive star drops to them.

Newsome wouldn’t mind that last scenario, I’m sure. But he is also on record saying that added offensive firepower might be the element that gets the Ravens back to the playoffs.

It’s a classic draft mystery, the big question looming: Which way will he go?

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