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Eisenberg: A New Reality Has Eaten Into Ravens' Edge In Draft


Like everyone, when trying to figure out why the Ravens haven't hit on several high draft picks lately, I've tended to focus on what THEY do.

Has their scouting and drafting methodology changed? Should it change more? If so, how?

Not being privy to the secretive process, I can't begin to answer those questions, which are fair. Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome offered some insight at Wednesday's pre-draft press conference when the topic of high-profile misses came up.

"The process in 1996 [when he took over the Ravens' draft] was the same as it was [in 2013], and it's the same as it is today. We try to refine it," Newsome said.

I took that to mean he believes in what he does, which has produced an outstanding record over two-plus decades, and he isn't going to panic and make major changes just because the draft, otherwise known as the ultimate crap-shoot, hasn't gone his way as much lately.

The Ravens didn't reveal much about their intentions for this year's draft at the Wednesday event, but the back-and-forth with the media did produce an ah-ha moment for me on the subject of those misses.

Maybe I've had it backwards. Maybe the issue isn't what the Ravens are doing so much as what the other 31 teams are doing.

That's what I thought after listening to Assistant GM Eric DeCosta wax nostalgic for, basically, the good, old days when other teams were dumb.

"It's just incredible, to me, what's happened," DeCosta said Wednesday. "We used to see a lot of volatility in the draft. By that I mean teams taking players we don't like, or good value picks being there for us when we wanted to take them. But that doesn't happen anymore."

DeCosta paused, smiled, shook his head and said, "Now it just seems like everyone is using the same cheat sheets. Playing off the same script."

For years, the Ravens didn't think they had a leg up on the competition; they KNEW they had a leg up. They were one of the few teams that didn't belong to a scouting collective. They did their own homework, avoided groupthink on prospects and used their original opinions to avoid mistakes and squeeze extra value out of the draft.

They're still one of the few teams doing their own homework, which, in my mind, sets them apart. But the draft has become a massive media extragavanza, obsessively studied and analyzed by armies of amateurs as well as by professionals. That has leveled the playing field, according to DeCosta.

"There are not a lot of surprises," he said. "I think that has a lot to do with the Internet, and all the mock drafts, and so much is being written about these players, and so much information is there, that I think it has created more parity. It never used to be like that."

It's important to understand how this evolution impacts a lone-wolf team like the Ravens. Previously, they knew other teams would blow picks, enabling them to grab guys they'd ranked higher than the slots where they eventually went. But now that few secrets, if any, exist, the Ravens are forced to take guys slotted lower across their board. Inevitably, that produces more misses.

The Ravens bristle at the suggestion that it means they don't ace the draft anymore. C.J. Mosley, Ronnie Stanley, Brandon Williams and Kelechi Osemele were all excellent recent selections. Last year's rookie class included three players who became starters, and the team expects more to join them in 2017.

With four of the first 78 picks this year, the Ravens certainly hope to add several more puzzle pieces.

But clearly, they're confronting a new reality that has eaten into their edge.

"With the draft having blown up so much, it has kind of put everyone together, using the same script," DeCosta said. "It used to be you had your top 100 list and there would still be players (on it) available at the end of the draft. In the last few years, I've been amazed that when we look at our list, basically every player we had ranked was drafted. It used to be different; quite a bit different."

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