If John Harbaugh offers you hints for this month's Preakness, pay attention.
Eating dinner with the head coach last Thursday, the first night of the NFL Draft, he got up from the table and said, "If we can get a player like Marlon Humphrey tonight, we'll all be happy."
I had heard of the player, but really didn't know much about him. Four hours later, when we took the Alabama corner with the 16th-overall pick in the Draft, I knew lots more, and saw the gleam in defensive coordinator Dean Pees' eyes.
The First Round
I wouldn't call the time before and during our first pick chaotic. But, it was frenzied.
"Because of character and injury, predicting the picks in front of us was harder than usual," General Manager Ozzie Newsome told me on Wednesday. "We did not anticipate that three receivers and three quarterbacks would go in the top 12 picks." Eric DeCosta, the assistant general manager, added: "This draft was so heavy with defensive talent that I think some teams believed they had to grab what they considered the top offensive players early."
Thirty minutes before we selected Humphrey, our phones in the Draft Room were buzzing. By the time we were on the clock, four teams were making us offers for that 16th slot. At one point, with Ozzie holding a phone in each hand, Eric on with another team and a fourth ringing, Owner Steve Bisciotti proclaimed, "This is serious."
When we started our 10 minutes at 16, Eric said: "Let's wait. Someone else will call." They did. We were tempted by one team's offer, but Newsome wasn't swayed. The GM told our rep in Philly to write down Humphrey's name "and cover it." "Oz, what do you think about calling back (a team) and asking to add this. Would that work?" Bisciotti asked. Newsome nodded and called that team. They rejected. Newsome, who had called Humphrey on another line, said: "Marlon, you're a Baltimore Raven. We just selected you in the first round."
That was one happy group. High fives around. Harbaugh, who stood at his seat for much of the last half hour, smiled broadly. He turned and hugged Pees. He congratulated Eric and Oz for working through the frenzy. It was a tremendous start to the 2017 Ravens draft.
The day before the Draft, Newsome had determined that he would be willing to trade up in the first round if any one of three standouts started sliding. He called two teams ahead of us and laid out what we would offer. "One team was very willing," Newsome recalled. "When the Draft came, a player we coveted was still there after the first picks. But that team we had talked to now wanted more, and it was too much of a premium to pay."
Assessing The Selection
"The combination of Steve, Pat (Moriarty, sr. vp of football ops), Eric, Joe (Hortiz) and Harbs – we've been through the Draft Room wars. I think everyone understood why we didn't move up, and everyone understood what was being offered at 16," Newsome explained. "My job is to stimulate and collect the offers from other teams and let the discussions among us play out. We were enticed to move down, but we loved Marlon, too. We would have needed 'value plus' to not pick him.
"There were two reasons we considered moving down: There were players we really liked, including at corner. I think there were four corners taken in the next 17 picks, so we weren't alone in valuing these players," Oz added.
DeCosta reviewed those first-round moments: "Two things I've learned from Oz is that you always have to be ready to make a pick, and you can be patient – don't panic. Oz and I are a good team. We work the mechanics of the draft well. We're synchronized. We have to be. There is stress. You get consumed with all of the possibilities. It's taxing."
The Drafting Of Timmy Williams
The board in our Draft Room lists players from top to bottom by position. There are columns for each position, and the player cards are placed from best to less in each of these. When it was time for our second pick in the third round (the 78th player), Alabama outside linebacker Timmy Williams' card stood out. It was significantly above the next group of players at any position, which included a wide receiver who we were seriously considering.
Williams has a chance to be a difference maker. But, there was a reason he had not been drafted when it's likely most teams had put his football skills at a first-round level. (Williams told reporters at the Combine that he had failed a number of drug tests while at Alabama.)
"We've had a few situations like this in the past, and we've had some success in putting players in our environment and having no issues at all," DeCosta said. "We've been burnt, too," Newsome continued. "We did have lots of information on Timmy. We had spent a lot of time with him – at Alabama, at the Combine, and we had brought him into Baltimore."
Just before our pick, a team called asking us what it would take for us to move back. That call came in the midst of an energized conversation about which player – Williams or the receiver – would help us the most immediately and in the long run. (There were some in the room who believed the team calling was coming up to get Williams.) Oz leaned close to Eric's face twice: "What do you think we should do?" DeCosta said Williams brought more "value" to the pick. Tick, tick, tick.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg gave his view of the receiver. Bisciotti joked: "You're just hoping we take an offensive player at some point." Tick, tick, tick. Harbs turned to Marty, who was now standing behind him. "What do you think we should do?" The former Lions head coach unselfishly pointed up at Williams' card: "I think you have to take the defensive player."
Newsome was already calling Williams. "Look, we want to take you here … you'll have to live up to your end of this. We've talked a lot about this … We're going to commit to you." Oz covered the mouthpiece: "He's crying."* *
One of the best parts of the Draft is when Newsome invites into the room the coach of the player we are about to select or have just picked. "It's like Christmas or their birthday," Newsome described. After we took guard/tackle Jermaine Eluemunor in the fifth, assistant offensive line coach Richard Angulo was effusive. He pounded Oz, Eric and Joe and almost shouted, "That's my guy. Thanks so much." Rich is normally soft spoken and reserved.* *
Friday Late Night With Steve
Steve Bisciotti is a proven leader who built the largest staffing company in the United States. He knows how to hire and then get the most out of people.
Remember, our draft board gets cleaned from top to bottom as the name cards are taken off. By the end of Day 2 (three rounds), the board is essentially barren at the top half. Steve didn't like the way that looked and believed that it demeaned the players taken in the last four rounds – not to mention all the work and money spent to assemble that board.
With a nod from Ozzie and Eric, who go home and get some sleep, Steve invites all the scouts to come in the Draft Room after the third round (about 11 p.m.) to "push" all the remaining names to the top of the board. That way it looks like we're starting all over on Saturday morning. Steve also asks the scouts to tell him, and the others in the room, why they are passionate about certain players remaining. It leads to vibrant discussions. This meeting has gone as late as 6 a.m. Saturday morning. This year's session lasted past 3 a.m.
Steve also asks the scouts to put their initials on the cards of the players they most believe will help us win. All four players we selected last Saturday had multiple initials from our 14-man scouting staff on their cards. "Steve is about convictions and passion, and he reminds these guys that what they do is very important and helps us win," Newsome said. (Kyle Juszczyk, Rick Wagner, John Urschel, Nick Boyle and Matt Judon are players drafted recently with many scouts' initials on their cards.)
Hey, I'm the PR guy, so you'd expect me to say something positive, but I think you've seen over the years, I'm a straight shooter in this blog. Here's my first big observation for the 2017 season: We've lost a number of games in recent years when teams have had late fourth-quarter drives to beat us. (The loss at Pittsburgh last December that knocked us out of the playoffs is the most recent.) With this draft, and the additions of safety Tony Jefferson and cornerback Brandon Carr, that won't be continuing. I believe that. Our defense will be fun to watch.
Talk with you soon,
P.S. One thing that gets to me during the draft is when another team takes a player we're waiting to select. In a matter of an hour, I've fallen in love and then had my heart broken. Ozzie and Eric rarely react when that happens. "History tells me that it's going to happen, and you do get callous. Twice in this draft it got me more than most. It happened in the third round and at the bottom of the fourth. Players I had studied for two years, and really liked, and they got taken. It hurt, but, like in football, it's the next man up," Newsome told me.
DeCosta said he made a list of 15 players we could take in the second round. We owned the 15th spot. Many of the ones on his list were grabbed before it got to our turn. At one point, DeCosta shouted out to the room: "This is so frustrating." "When we got to our pick, 12 of the 15 players were gone. But," he smiled, "we still got one (Tyus Bowser) of the top guys on my original list."