Eisenberg: Some Real Insight Into Ozzie Newsome's Strategy


That was quite a reaction from Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome at Wednesday's pre-draft press conference when a reporter pointed out that he hadn't drafted an offensive player in the first round since Michael Oher in 2009.

"Since who?" Newsome asked, sounding slightly incredulous.

Oher in 2009, he was told.

"Since Michael Oher, wow," he said.

His surprise seemed genuine, underscoring how differently football professionals and amateurs view the draft.

While media members and fans obsess over which positional need the Ravens might address with their first round pick on April 30, Newsome and his crew strip things way down to a more fundamental approach. They aren't thinking need nearly as much as quality.

"We just want football players," Assistant GM Eric DeCosta said.

But in addressing the fact that he hadn't added a first-round pick to his offensive huddle in six years, Newsome volunteered an interesting insight into his philosophy – one to file away and remember, quite possibly as an ah-ha moment.

"I don't go in with any preconceived ideas that I'm not going to draft offensive players; I'm an offensive player myself," he said, "but I do believe you win with defense."

I don't know about you, but I sat up straighter when I heard that.

It's a dog-eared axiom that defense wins championships, but the NFL game is much more offensive-minded now than when Newsome caught passes for the Cleveland Browns a few decades ago. In fact, things have changed enough that it's fair to ask whether offense has become the unit that takes you where you want to go.

The stats don't provide a clear answer. The last five Super Bowl winners finished between No. 8 and No. 17 in the league in yards gained during the season, so obviously, you need an offense that can move the ball. But only two of those five champions (the 2011 Giants and 2010 Packers) made the top ten, so it's not as if the league's best offenses carried their teams to triumph.

Meanwhile, only three of the past five champions ranked in the top half of the league in fewest yards allowed during the season. The Ravens were No. 17 when they went all the way in 2012. Joe Flacco and the offense led that run. So you can do it without a dominating defense, although having one certainly has fueled the Seahawks' recent run of success, underscoring Newsome's point.

Regardless of what stats indicate, Newsome has his opinion and it clearly needs to be weighed because his recent drafts reflect it. A year ago, he went defense with his first three picks and four of his first five. The year before that, he went defense with his first four picks.

The last time he didn't go defense with his first selection was in 2008, before John Harbaugh coached a game for the Ravens.

One possible explanation is that the organization found a winning franchise quarterback when it took Flacco in 2008, bringing stability to that side of the ball. The ground under the defense has been shifting much more recently as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed reached the ends of their careers, ratcheting up the need for new blood on defense.

Of course, how that might affect this year's draft is anyone's guess. Instead of spending so much time trying to figure what Newsome is going to do with his first pick, maybe we should just count on him going defense because, well, he always goes defense.

That would probably mean a cornerback instead of a wide receiver in the first round, or a pass rusher instead of a tight end.

But the past few years represent just a slice of Newsome's draft history, which spans two decades. Overall, his record is more balanced. Of the Ravens' 18 first-round picks since 1996, eight played offense and 10 played defense.

"I don't go in with any preference as to what side of the ball [I go]," Newsome said.

Trying to figure it all out beforehand is like trying to catch a gust of wind in a bottle. You can't do it. Only in hindsight, once picks are made, can we look back and find clues that might have tipped us off.

If the Ravens end up taking a defensive player in the first round, well, we were warned.

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