The Ravens' philosophy of drafting the best player available is so fundamental to their methodology and so familiar after 20 years of use that it now has its own acronym – BPA.
If we know anything about them, it's that they aren't going to "chase a need," as Head Coach John Harbaugh recently put it, and select a potentially lesser talent just because there's a job opening at his position.
But did you hear what GM Ozzie Newsome said at the team's pre-draft press conference last week in explaining why he traded up to grab Michael Oher in 2009?
"We needed a tackle," he said.
And did you hear him explain why he traded up to get Kyle Boller in 2003 and Joe Flacco in 2008?
"We needed a quarterback," he said.
It almost qualified as an ah-ha moment of sorts for doubters (they exist) who are skeptical of the Ravens' professed strict adherence to BPA. Look, ma! Ozzie said "need," not once but twice! So it does come in to play!
Well, of course it does.
Do you really think the Ravens just drop their heads into the sand and pay no attention whatsoever to their roster as they work their way through three days and seven rounds of a draft?
Umm, they watch the games during the season. They're aware of the positions where they could use some help in the short term and/or new blood that could develop into valuable puzzle pieces down the road.
Inevitably, they do consider need.
But considering it is a long way from letting it override their draft board, a ranking of all of that year's prospects in order of desirability, meticulously determined by Newsome, Assistant GM Eric DeCosta and the entire scouting operation after a long year of study, contemplation and conversation. That's the tool the Ravens use in deciding who to draft – the tool that determines BPA. Don't think the Ravens throw it out occasionally just because Newsome said he weighed "need" in several high-profile selections.
Look closely. In each of the examples he referenced, the Ravens traded up to get the player. Their draft board screamed that an opportunity was crystallizing. They had their eyes on a player who filled a need but ALSO would become a BPA. He was falling to them, and they had the wherewithal (i.e., draft picks) to move up. After an on-the-fly risk/reward calculation, Newsome went for it.
That's a long way from tossing out what your draft board suggests, violating BPA and grabbing a player of lesser ability simply because he fills a short-term need. That's what Harbaugh meant by "chasing a need." You won't catch the Ravens doing that.
"What we'll do," Newsome said last week, "is we'll value the board, we'll watch it very closely, and as we get close to our pick, if there's somebody that we really covet, then we'll go and get him. If not, we'll just value all the guys that are available to us."
He's describing a complex decision that takes several key questions into account. How dire is the need they would fill by moving up? Is the "fill" worth giving up several picks? Could they do just as well, or almost, by standing pat and taking the BPA at their scheduled slot? How good are the potential BPAs at that slot?
More often than not, the Ravens end up standing pat or even trading down because, as Newsome said last week, "we don't like giving up picks." It takes a strong argument, really strong, to convince them to unload a couple and move up to fill a need.
So they do occasionally allow need into their decision-making, but only when the draft board falls just right.
Heading into this year's draft, which begins April 30, my judgment is they most need to add a speedy, playmaking wide receiver to replace Torrey Smith, and also a starting tight end to replace Owen Daniels. They might also need a cornerback and pass rusher down the line, depending on how things go with certain veteran players.
Right now, it appears they could get one of those at their scheduled No. 26 slot in the first round. But it also may develop that their board suggests something else entirely.
As always, they'll at least consider need. But use it to trump BPA? I don't think so.