In some respects, the Ravens’ first draft with someone other than Ozzie Newsome in charge felt a lot like the 23 drafts that preceded it, when Newsome was calling the shots.
There were plenty of reminders that General Manager Eric DeCosta paid close attention while he sat beside Newsome in the war room and watched his mentor operate for all those years.
With DeCosta in charge, the Ravens traded out of their original slot in the first round, a maneuver Newsome repeatedly pulled as GM.
They took a pair of players from Oklahoma, the school Newsome tapped more than any other except Alabama during his tenure.
They drafted a cornerback for the sixth time in eight years, prompting DeCosta to utter one of Newsome’s best-known mantras: “You can never have enough good corners.”
These aren’t coincidences. They’re institutional behaviors, developed over many years and, it seems, still functioning despite the change at the top.
There were, however, also ways in which a DeCosta-led draft was different from a Newsome-led draft.
There was an emphasis on wide receivers in the early rounds, for instance. Never before had the Ravens picked two guys at that position within the first three rounds of a draft.
The selections of Oklahoma’s Marquise (Hollywood) Brown in the first round and Notre Dame’s Miles Boykin in the third round represent a genuine attempt to quiet the struggles that have plagued the Ravens and their drafted receivers for so long.
Give DeCosta credit. He could have played it safe and drafted one of the offensive linemen the Ravens liked, but he went bold with an attempt to slay the franchise’s wide receiver beast. That is hardly conservative.
Just in general, DeCosta put more emphasis on the offensive skill positions. Newsome drafted at least one lineman (offensive or defensive) in the first three rounds of every draft between 2009 and last year, but DeCosta had already taken a pair of receivers and a running back by the time he took a lineman, Oklahoma guard Ben Powers, in the fourth round Saturday.
Clearly, the organization wants to upgrade the cast of playmakers around its quarterback. Joe Flacco didn’t always have the most talented group around him in his final years here, and the Ravens don’t want to make a similar mistake with Lamar Jackson.
They used high picks on two athletic tight ends, Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews, a year ago. They uncovered a bullish running back, Gus Edwards, last season. They added a steady veteran back, Mark Ingram II, during free agency, and followed that up with Saturday’s drafting of Justice Hill, a fast running back with “home run skills,” DeCosta said.
At receiver, they added Brown and Boykin to a depth chart that already includes Willie Snead IV, Seth Roberts, Chris Moore and a pair of 2018 draft picks, Jordan Lasley and Jaleel Scott.
That’s a lot of new blood, options and potential, and certainly a lot more speed and youth than the Ravens have featured in recent years.
“The idea of adding speed around Lamar is just an exciting thing to think about,” said Joe Hortiz, the Ravens’ director of college scouting.
Get your head around it. Offensively, the Ravens have reinvented themselves almost completely in the past year. They’re no longer a pickup truck; they’re a race car.
You can’t address every need in a draft, of course. The Ravens started out looking for help at wide receiver, outside and inside linebacker and the interior of their offensive line. They added the receivers and also a pass rusher, Jaylon Ferguson. They didn’t address the O-line until the selection of Powers, who could compete for snaps at left guard. We’ll see what happens at inside linebacker, where the Ravens have a history of finding undrafted gems.
Overall, DeCosta checked most of the boxes he wanted to check. We won’t know for several years whether the players he selected become contributors, but at this point, his first class looks fast, athletic and promising, not unlike many of Newsome’s classes. It’s no wonder DeCosta couldn’t stop smiling as his first draft concluded.