Eisenberg: Time to Tweak the Best-Player-Available Mindset?

General Manager Eric DeCosta watching film and taking notes.

Fans and media tend to see the NFL Draft as an opportunity for teams to address immediate needs. Most mock draft selections are built on the concept of filling holes, i.e., Team A needs a cornerback, so it drafts a cornerback.

But the Ravens approach the draft differently. Always have and, I suspect, always will.

Their first priority isn't addressing immediate holes as much as finding quality players, regardless of position or need.

Their operating principle, as old as the franchise itself, is take "the best player available," regardless of position, as they move through a draft.

They see the draft more as their chance to give their roster a solid foundation, as opposed to their chance to patch short-term issues.

But inevitably, they've departed from the best player available (BPA) principle at times, when circumstances demanded they address a need. And I couldn't help wondering if now is such a time, so at Monday's pre-draft video conference, I asked General Manager Eric DeCosta if the team's current circumstances might alter his draft strategy.

What circumstances, you ask? Well, the Ravens are coming off a 14-2 season, acknowledged as top-tier Super Bowl contenders, and they've got a franchise quarterback on his rookie contract for at least one more year and maybe two. It's a dreamy situation offering a wide-open window of opportunity for winning, but it won't last forever.

In asking the question, I was effectively asking whether the Ravens should temporarily put aside their usual principle and draft to fill their needs with the aim of putting themselves over the top before they have to pay Lamar Jackson.

DeCosta didn't bite. "I don't think so," he said. "We look at each draft and don't try to change the mindset."

His response didn't surprise me. The BPA discipline is deeply embedded in the front office's DNA.

But a few minutes later, DeCosta offered another take on the subject that raised my eyebrows. In explaining that drafts are deeper in general now because of an influx of juniors, he said, "We feel we'll have a really good opportunity with our first seven picks to really get some outstanding football players who can come in immediately and pay dividends for us."

Wait … what? The Ravens think they can address needs with their first seven picks?

That's No. 28 overall in the first round, Nos. 55 and 60 overall in the second round, Nos. 92 and 106 overall in the third round and Nos. 129 and 134 overall in the fourth round.

Indeed, if they all turn into players who help the team in 2020, it would constitute quite a feat, delivering an influx of talent that, yes, just might take the Ravens where they want to go.

Is it a realistic possibility?

"I consider this to be a deep draft in many respects," DeCosta said.

It is headed by a crop of wide receivers regarded as legendary, offering quality well into Day 3. Asked to identify what other positions are strong, DeCosta pointed to quarterback, inside linebacker, running back, cornerback and safety.

The Ravens, meanwhile, are searching for an inside linebacker, a receiver, an edge rusher, and an interior offensive lineman.

Could the latter be a "plug and play" prospect who helps ease the impact of Marshal Yanda's retirement?

"That's the plan," DeCosta said.

They also want to bolster their depth at safety, cornerback and tight end. A big-time defensive lineman would be nice.

Anyway, what DeCosta said, in essence, was the Ravens don't have to target needs with specific picks because the draft is deep and varied and they have enough high-end picks.

"It's really, what is going to make your team better this year and the next couple years?" Head Coach John Harbaugh said in the video conference. "Short-term first and then long-term also. You have to think about both, but to me, you're drafting for your roster, you're drafting for the style of play that you're building in your team."

That's an organization building for the future through BPA but also aiming to win now, as well it should.

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