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Eisenberg: Ravens Gone Choirboy? I Think Not


For a few years now, the Ravens have said they will no longer acquire players with domestic violence in their background. I wholeheartedly support their position and hope they continue to hold it.

What they have NOT said, however, is they are done acquiring players with ANY character concerns.

I note the distinction because their stance against domestic violence is among the contributing factors to the perception that the team has gone choirboy, which is code for soft, and that's why the Ravens have missed the playoffs three of the past few years.

Sorry, that's just not accurate.

Yes, awhile back I wrote that in the right circumstances the team might benefit from a dose of unpredictable edginess, a variation on the wild-eyed stuff that, say, linebacker Vontaze Burfict brings to the Cincinnati Bengals. Burfict has crossed the line at times, but he also has made hundreds of tackles after the Ravens passed on him coming out of college because they didn't trust his ability to control himself – a cautious moment that, I'm guessing, the Ravens wish they had back.

But that doesn't mean the Ravens have gone tentative and stopped taking chances on guys with red flags, some of whom could help them.

They're still rolling the dice when they've done their homework and believe the potential reward outweighs the risk.

Three years ago, they drafted defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan, a first-round talent who dropped into the second round after he tested positive for a diluted urine sample at the combine, prompting drug suspicions. He never had off-field problems here.

Last year, they drafted offensive lineman Alex Lewis even though he had done jail time after pleading guilty to an assault charge stemming from a bar brawl. The incident was several years old by then and the Ravens believed Lewis had matured. He has been a model performer on and off the field since arriving in Baltimore.

Last weekend, the Ravens gambled again when they selected Alabama linebacker Tim Williams with a third round pick.

Williams, an explosive pass rusher, might have gone in the first round if not for his off-field history. He admitted to reporters at the combine that he failed multiple drug tests while at Alabama. Last September he was arrested for carrying a pistol without a permit.

Other teams were scared enough by Williams' story that he fell to the No. 78 overall pick despite recording 19.5 sacks in his last two seasons with college football's preeminent team.

If a team really was going all-choirboy, it wouldn't draft such a player. But the Ravens took Williams, and I think it's the right time for them to take a risk.

For starters, they need playmakers, and Williams is a playmaker.

"He is a tenacious guy – outstanding motor, outstanding physical skills as a pass rusher," Ravens Assistant GM Eric DeCosta said. "He really fits our defense. He is a really good scheme fit for us as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Those guys are tough to find. We think he is hungry, and we think he is passionate."

As for the big issue of whether Williams can stay out of trouble and give himself a chance to contribute, you know the Ravens did considerable homework and weighed the risk-reward odds before selecting him. GM Ozzie Newsome, a former Alabama star, is close to the Crimson Tide program and its coach, Nick Saban.

"We get good information about those guys down there. We feel really good about him," DeCosta said of Williams.

The Ravens also liked what they heard from Williams in his pre-draft interview, which Williams characterized as "me being accountable and being responsible for everything that I have been through."

Newsome added, "And then you can (also) look at what has happened to him over the last 12 months." Williams told the Baltimore media he needs to be "a role model in life" now that he has a young daughter.

Of course, Newsome promised nothing, saying, "I can't sit here and guarantee" that Williams will stay out of trouble. That's wise. You never know.

But his selection certainly dispels the suggestion that the Ravens are no longer gambling on edgy, unpredictable talent. When they convene their rookie camp later this week, few players will attract more attention than Williams, the college sackmaster who personifies risk – in his case, a risk worth taking.

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