As the draft nears, I'm hearing plenty of conversation about the possibility of the Ravens trading back in the first round. They love to do it, having traded back three times since 2008, with generally positive results.
Could it happen again? Sure, easily. Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome is always looking to add later-round picks if he isn't head-over-heels in love with the top player left on his board. He believes any pick can become a useful player, and many do, so why not stack up as many as possible?
The strategy has worked well for the Ravens, but here's one vote against them going that route again in 2014.
As a "reward" for slipping to 8-8 and missing the playoffs in 2013, they have their highest pick in six years, the No. 17 overall selection. They aren't in "The Holy Land of the Jaguars, Browns and Raiders," otherwise known as the top 10, but they're on indisputably higher ground, where they can easily grab a plug-and-play guy, and with any luck, maybe a serious difference-maker.
Players taken at No. 17 in recent years have included offensive guard Mike Iupati, a two-time Pro Bowl selection for the San Francisco 49ers; Nate Solder, an offensive tackle now entrusted with guarding Tom Brady's blind side in New England; and Dre Kirkpatrick, a cornerback for the Bengals whose two interceptions of Joe Flacco in the Ravens' last game of 2013 included a pick-six.
It's harder to find players of that ilk when you're picking in the lower reaches of the first round, where the Ravens have generally been situated in recent years due to their consistent success. But because they're in a different neighborhood this year, they have a better chance to add a different caliber of athlete. I say they should take a shot, try making the most of the opportunity.
Here's a fact: Although they have stocked their roster with many successful picks in recent years while engineering five straight playoff trips and one Super Bowl triumph, they haven't drafted a Pro Bowl player since they took Ray Rice in the second round in 2008. Using the No. 17 pick instead of dealing it increases their chances of ending that run.
Granted, a Pro Bowl invitation doesn't determine whether a pick is successful. If the Ravens could magically re-draft their selections, they would still gladly take cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith, wide receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta, all major puzzle pieces who have never been to a Pro Bowl. And of those players, only Jimmy Smith was a first-round pick, validating Newsome's theory that any pick can produce a useful player.
In any case, as for whether they might trade back again this year, their circumstances were different the last two times they did it. In 2012, they had the No. 29 pick, near the bottom of the first round. In 2010, they were in similar territory at No. 25. Knowing most of the top players in those classes were already selected by then, Newsome surely felt good about trading back.
The other recent time he traded back, in 2008, he held the No. 8 pick and sent it to Jacksonville for the No. 26 pick and a third-round selection. But that year was unusual and warrants an asterisk. Newsome was hunting for a franchise quarterback and quickly traded back up the first-round board to No. 16, where he took Flacco.
With the six picks he accumulated by trading down in 2008, 2010 and 2012, Newsome drafted linebackers Courtney Upshaw, Sergio Kindle and Tavares Gooden, center Gino Gradkoswki and tight ends Pitta and Ed Dickson – some misses, some hits. So it goes.
Whether he takes that route again this year ultimately depends, of course, on the scenario he faces "in the moment" at No. 17 – who is gone, who is left, what positions they play, how much he likes them and what he is being offered in exchange for the pick. There's no telling what he might do. My point is the Ravens seldom draft this high and could stand to add an elite player, one who pays dividends for years.