Oz Is Ready And The Ravens Will Select…
This morning, Ozzie Newsome would not tell us who the Ravens will draft tonight, but he did offer this promise:
"I guarantee it will be a very good player. There will be a very good player available at No. 32. We're confident about that."
As the Ravens' play-by-play voice Gerry Sandusky loves to say: "The hay is in the barn." Ozzie and his staff are done with the preparations. It's time to draft. And, if we stay at the 32nd spot, we'll select the newest Raven somewhere near 11 p.m. tonight.
Newsome surprised me today when he said: "It's a lot easier picking at 32 than fourth in the draft." (The Ravens picked fourth in their first two drafts – 1996 and 1997 – taking Hall of Fame tackle Jonathan Ogden with the first pick in team history and Ravens Ring of Honor member Peter Boulware in '97.)
"When you're picking fourth, you're not a very good team. When you are picking last in the first round, you know you are the current champion and have a lot of good players on your team. We could line up and play tomorrow with the players we have, and we'd be very competitive. This draft is only going to make us better," Newsome explained.
When I went to Ozzie's office, he was looking at tape from this year's Senior Bowl. "This is fun right now. The evaluations are done. I've made this (watching the Senior Bowl video) part of my draft-day tradition," Newsome said. "There is so much information floating around, and watching this tape gives me a little more perspective on some prospects. I know this guy has a lower-round grade by us, and he's matched up with someone we gave a first-round grade, and it kind of relaxes me to do those comparisons."
Is the Wizard calm, cool and collected?
"Yes, in some ways, but there is a lot going on. We've heard from teams above us asking if we want to move up in the first round. Teams know we have a lot of picks (12), and they're feeling us out. We've also heard from other teams asking if we'd be willing to trade down from 32. I think we'll have options both ways, and like I said, we know there will be a good player if we stay at 32."
One Final Meeting
Late this afternoon, Newsome will gather his personnel staff leaders, including Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta, along with John Harbaugh, Dick Cass and Steve Bisciotti, for one last strategy session. "We'll talk about the scenarios we think will unfold; we'll talk other possibilities, and we'll discuss the calls we've been getting. We'll ask Steve for his overview once he hears some of the latest news, and then we'll wait."
Ozzie won't nap.
"What I do in the end is call a few people in the league who I trust. I ask them how they believe the draft will unfold. Sometimes I get some good insight from these conversations," Newsome said.
And what does Oz think will be a theme tonight? "Safe and conservative. There are a lot of good players available. You don't have to stretch. That's what I think teams will do: take players who have shown on tape that they can play."
Once 8 p.m. arrives tonight, Ozzie will be like us: "I'm a draftnik when it all starts. I like sitting there with our guys and speculating who will be taken next. It's fun. We just do this with a lot more knowledge than the fans. It becomes competitive in the room to see who gets the most right."
Newsome's Favorite Draft Story
"It's not just one pick or a certain guy falling to us, it's the whole 1999 draft. That was Brian Billick's first draft with us. But, first, I should give some background: in our second draft in '97, we had an offer to give up our second-rounder for a first-rounder in 1998. We had a player on the board we loved – Jamie Sharper – but I realized I had never thought about that (trade) scenario.
"We weren't prepared. So, we declined the trade, and Jamie helped us win our first Super Bowl. No regrets. But, starting the next year, we started doing speculation like that as part of our preparation. We did the 'what ifs.'
"Well, the 'what ifs' happened in 1999. The Falcons called and offered their first-round pick in 2000 for our second-round choice. Atlanta had just lost in the Super Bowl and thought they were a player away. I was intrigued.
"Brian and Phil (Savage, the Ravens' director of college scouting at the time) were not. Brian said we needed players now – and he was right. We had a lot of holes. Phil wanted to use the picks. He kept saying that we had invested all this time and money into figuring out who we should draft and that there was a real good player there for us that round. He was right, too."
I'll take it from there, Oz. I remember the scene well.
Brian, who as we all know, is an impressive, intelligent person excellent at making his points, was bristling. "Look Oz, I'm here because you don't have enough good players, and we need players now." And, complicating the issue was the fact that Billick's former team (Minnesota Vikings) had just called with a trade for our second choice – they were offering offensive lineman Everett Lindsay. "Lindsay will start for us tomorrow," Billick said.
Newsome listened to Brian and Phil. It got my heartbeat up. We were on the clock. Five minutes to go. Then Owner Art Modell, who was the target of appeals by Billick and Savage, put his elbows on the table and, pointing at Ozzie, said firmly: "He'll make the call. It's his draft."
With a voice that was a bit hushed, Newsome said: "We're making the trade."
Billick and Savage walked out of the room. I wouldn't describe their gait as satisfied.
Today, Ozzie laughs at the memory: "To say there was tension in that room, whew! That's the only time I went down to the press conference alone. Brian and Phil didn't want to go down with me. Probably good they didn't. They were pretty upset."
Most of you know the results of that trade. The Falcons faltered the following season, and the pick ended being the fifth selection in the next year's draft. We picked Jamal Lewis, another one of our Ring of Honor members, and he was highly instrumental in us winning Super Bowl XXXV that year.
(Oh, Newsome later got Lindsay in the draft, trading our 6th-round pick for him. Also, two players we were willing to take in the second round – Edwin Mulitalo and Brandon Stokley – were there in the fourth round ... and we selected them both. It was a lot harder to argue with Ozzie after that.)
We're Ready and Composed
"I compare to how the draft is for me now to how I was as a veteran player at Alabama and then for the Browns. When I was a freshman and a rookie, everything was way fast, too fast at times," Ozzie explained. "Then, as I played, it became slower, and I could function to my ability. I feel that way about the draft. It was way fast in the early days of the Ravens. It has slowed down now, and we are playing to our ability."
That ability is pretty good. In fact, very good, by most standards.
In Ozzie – and His Staff – We Trust.
Go get 'em guys.
Talk with you later,