We all know General Manager Ozzie Newsome makes the call on who to pick on draft day.
But he doesn’t actually make the pick.
That’s done by Player Personnel Assistant Kenny Sanders, who will be at Radio City Music Hall to physically hand over to the league the card with the Ravens’ top selection Thursday night.
Sanders is going into his fifth year as one of Baltimore’s two representatives in New York. This year, he’ll be joined by a player personnel intern, Matt Jansen.
So what’s it like making the Ravens’ pick?
“It’s a lot of sitting and waiting, stuck in one place the whole time,” Sanders said. “But it’s cool when you get to make a pick. It’s that moment. That’s what you’re there for.”
There’s actually a lot more that goes into making the pick than people probably realize. To illustrate that, here’s how it will all go down Thursday night, from Sanders’ perspective:
Sanders and Jansen will be on headsets with an always open line of communication to the draft room in Owings Mills. The past several years, the person on the other end of the line at the team facility has been Assistant Director of Pro Personnel Chad Alexander.
As the Ravens’ No. 17 pick is approaching, Newsome will tell Alexander to give Sanders a name to write on a card. Sanders will immediately flip it over to avoid prying eyes. Sometimes Sanders will get multiple names, and thus have multiple cards ready.
As they get closer to the pick, the pace of everything picks up. And it starts in New York.
“We’re looking for activity,” Sanders said. “We’re looking to see if there is any trade stuff going on, see if we can get a heads up on that.”
Sanders usually knows well before anybody else when a trade is about to happen. He’ll have his eyes on Joel Bussert, the NFL senior vice president of player personnel and football operations. When teams make trades, they call it in to Bussert. Sanders will relay any activity to Owings Mills.
At the same time, Sanders will be getting advance knowledge of who teams are picking. Teams will often make a pick then sit on it until the clock is about to expire. Sanders asks the team for the pick once they’ve decided. If the other team’s table is too far away, a game of telephone begins.
“Every second counts,” Sanders said. “As soon as they pick, we’re trying to get that information before it’s announced, before it’s on the podium. I’m talking sometimes minutes before.”
The sooner the Ravens can tell those at home who the pick is, the more time Newsome and the people around him at base camp can discuss how that affects their upcoming selection. Maybe it forces them to change the pick. Maybe it puts a trade scenario into play.
When it comes to making Baltimore’s pick, Sanders will either already have the card ready or be given a name to write on the card. He double checks the name, the position and the school, just to make sure he’s hearing it right.
Then he hands the card over to an NFL runner assigned to collect cards, he hears it announced on the stage and he shakes hands with his counterpart.
That’s how it goes 99 percent of the time. But the draft isn’t always that simple.
Sanders’ importance was never more evident than in 2011, when time ran out on the Ravens as they tried to execute a trade with the Chicago Bears. The Bears never called in the trade. Baltimore ended up moving one spot and selecting cornerback
“It was just nuts. Pandemonium,” Sanders said, retelling the story.
Teams have 10 minutes to make a selection in the first round. Early on, Sanders got word that the Ravens were going to trade back. But with five minutes left, all signs in New York said the Ravens were still on the clock. He relayed that to the draft room.
“Chad’s like, ‘Yeah, but we traded the pick,’” Sanders said. “I’m like, ‘OK, if you say so. I’m in New York, you guys are back there wheeling and dealing.’”
Four minutes, Sanders says they’re still on the clock. Three minutes, still on the clock.
Those in Owings Mills asked if Sanders sees any activity from the league at the trade table. "Nothing," he told them.
Realizing that the Ravens were in danger of missing their pick, the TV cameras descended upon Baltimore’s table. Sanders was told to write a name on the card, but not to turn it in. So he and now Southeast Area Scout Ian Cunningham, the other person with Sanders, waited.
“Ian started freaking out,” Sanders recalled with a laugh. “He stands up and is like, ‘What the hell is going on?!’”
That was the image millions of television viewers at home saw. Meanwhile, Sanders sat still. A little known fact is that if you miss your pick, you can physically run your pick to the table to beat another team.
“I’m getting ready to sprint," Sanders said. "I’ve got the card in hand and I’m thinking it’s going to be a race.”
All of Radio City Music Hall started to count down the seconds from 10. Then there was an announcement that the Ravens “passed” on their pick.
“Radio City Music Hall went batty,” Sanders said. “It was a little intense.”
The Kansas City Chiefs immediately picked wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin. Quickly, Newsome gave word to turn in the card. Sanders doubled checked the order and handed it over. The Ravens still got their man in Smith.
“Most interesting draft by far,” Sanders said. “Hey, it worked out.”
Let’s hope Sanders doesn’t get such a good story from this year’s draft.