One year ago, a contingent of Ravens traveled to Newark, Del., to hold a private workout of a young quarterback prospect named Joe Flacco.
Monday, Flacco was part of another evaluation.
Flacco spent the afternoon at the University of Maryland, where he threw passes to wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey as Baltimore director of player personnel Eric DeCosta, scouts and several coaches observed.
Everyone in attendance knew about Flacco's rocket arm, but his accuracy and ability to connect down the field was critical in judging Heyward-Bey's potential as an NFL receiver.
"We want Joe involved in the process. His opinion is important," DeCosta explained. "And don't forget that Joe is a guy that can really throw the ball. He's really accurate and can put the ball wherever we want him to throw it. He's like a live JUGS machine.
"Joe's able to throw the ball all day long, so that made the workout run really smoothly and helped us evaluate Darrius."
It is fairly rare for a team to bring their own quarterback to test a draftee, but Flacco lives less than an hour from Heyward-Bey's College Park, Md., campus.
Because Flacco was at team headquarters in Owings Mills for the Ravens' offseason conditioning program, all he had to do was hop in the car and take the short trip down Interstate 95.
After the event, Flacco came away impressed.
At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Heyward-Bey is bigger than any productive receiver the Ravens have had in recent memory.
And the player that ran the fastest 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in February (4.30 seconds) did not disappoint in the speed department.
"You could tell he was a good athlete and a pretty big kid," Flacco said of the former Terrapin. "He did a good job catching the ball. Our coaches tried to wear him out a little bit, and he might have gotten a little tired towards the end, but he really pushed through."
However, much of the league-wide love affair with Heyward-Bey is based on potential. He did leave a mark in three years at Maryland, finishing second in school history with 2,089 career receiving yards, and third with 13 career receiving touchdowns and 139 catches.
What puts him among the top five wideouts in the draft is his playmaking ability. During Heyward-Bey's first three seasons, he posted long plays of 96, 63 and 80 yards, respectively. He also ran for two scores.
Even though the Ravens were represented at Maryland's Pro Day earlier this month, where Heyward-Bey largely impressed based on multiple accounts, DeCosta and Co. wanted to scrutinize him further.
"We wanted to see the kid really compete," DeCosta said. "We really put him under a pretty rigorous workout for about an hour. His conditioning was good, and I was really impressed that he really attacked the workout.
"He caught the ball well, he ran crisp routes. I thought he was really coachable, and he responded really well to our guys."
Heyward-Bey could be available when the Ravens pick at No. 26. Many draft analysts are projecting the McDonogh High School alumnus to come off the board in the late first round and early second round.
Flacco excelled in his rookie campaign when his top two targets were the 5-foot-10 Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton. The Ravens are hoping Demetrius Williams (6-2) can return from a season-ending ankle injury, and perhaps former practice squadders Justin Harper (6-3) and Ernie Wheelwright* *(6-5) will break out.
Regardless, Flacco knows the benefits of having a big, downfield weapon can do for an offense.
"It can only help your offense, and that goes for everyone," Flacco said. "Guys like Derrick and Mark can only benefit from having another threat in there, in my opinion. Those guys get it done, but any time you can add a deep threat and a guy to fight for the ball down there, that's going to help the other receivers in the game."
DeCosta said it hadn't been decided whether Flacco would throw to any prospects besides Heyward-Bey, who is generally slotted within a group of receivers that includes North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt of Rutgers and Florida's Percy Harvin.
As DeCosta thought back to Monday's workout, and then back an entire year, he couldn't help but laugh at a small coincidence when he saw Heyward-Bey sprint under Flacco's frozen ropes on Maryland's currently unlined field.
"The last time we worked a player out on an unlined field was in Newark, Del.," he said with a chuckle. "It was a good experience with Darrius, and it was neat having Joe along for the ride.
"What a difference a year makes."
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