As the Ravens look for answers to get back into the playoffs, the team’s scouting department is one of the focuses this offseason.
Last April, General Manager Ozzie Newsome said recent draft classes have not been up to his standards – high standards considering his first two picks were Hall of Famers Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis.
But now, with Baltimore missing the postseason for the third straight year, the issue was again brought up during Friday’s press conference with Owner Steve Bisciotti.
Just how much have high-round draft misses affected the Ravens?
“It’s statistically significant, there’s no doubt about it,” Bisciotti said. “When you fail on those picks, it costs you. It costs you in wins and losses, and it costs you in salary cap.”
When picks don’t work out, it’s not as simple as taking away snaps from a player who doesn’t deliver. It forces the team to find replacements, either with more draft picks or free-agency spending.
An oft-referenced example is the 2013 draft class, headed by first-round safety Matt Elam and second-round linebacker Arthur Brown. Both struggled in Baltimore and were out of the league last year.
Baltimore signed safeties Will Hill and Kendrick Lewis in 2014 and 2015, but neither worked out. The Ravens then added safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson in 2016 and 2017.
When Brown didn’t grasp the job at inside linebacker, the Ravens used a first-round pick on C.J. Mosley (now a three-time Pro Bowler) in 2014 and signed veteran Daryl Smith.
The Ravens picked Kamalei Correa in the second round of 2016 and moved him to inside linebacker full-time last year after Zachary Orr’s early retirement, but Correa was beaten out by 2016 undrafted free agent Patrick Onwuasor for the starting job.
At wide receiver, Baltimore used a first-round pick on Breshad Perriman in 2015 after Torrey Smith departed via free agency. But with Perriman taking a step backwards last season after a promising sophomore campaign, the Ravens may invest another high pick or commit big freea-gency dollars at wide receiver this offseason.
Add it up, and those are picks and dollars re-spent on positions that the team would have hoped to use improving other areas.
“Every one of those players that have underperformed in the early rounds, you can take a look at our roster and see where we have filled in with high-price people in response to their underperformance,” Bisciotti said. “It is significant. We spent a lot of time in Jupiter [Florida] talking about that, and we’ve come up with a couple things we think are instructive.”
Eric DeCosta will take over for Newsome, who is stepping down, in 2019. But Bisciotti pointed to two more immediate changes.
First is hiring more senior scouts. The Ravens have lost home-grown talents in Joe Douglas, Ian Cunningham and Andy Weidl over the past two years, and have mostly promoted from within and added young area scouts to fill the openings.
All three are now with the Super Bowl-champion Philadelphia Eagles, although Cunningham arrived there after the 2017 draft and Douglas and Weidl were added after the 2016 draft. Douglas was with the Chicago Bears the year before. Thus, all three were still part of Baltimore’s scouting and drafting process through the 2015 class, headlined by Perriman.
“When we lost those scouts, we didn’t necessarily go out and hire equal scouts to replace them, and I think that was a mistake,” Bisciotti said. “I think that in retrospect you can say that you can’t lose those three scouts with 30 years of experience between the three of them and then hire 25-year olds that are ready to give it the old try.”
The other potential issue Bisciotti pointed to regarding early-round draft misses is having too many voices involved in the process. The Ravens are a very inclusive operation, with area scouts and coaches involved in the pre-draft discussions.
“If you saw our grading system and you were in the draft-prep meetings, you would see that there’s a case to be made that we may get too many opinions about the top players in the draft,” Bisciotti said. “If you look at those Top 60 players, I think they’ve been over-analyzed.”
Overall, however, Bisciotti still sees a lot of success in the Ravens’ drafting. The past two years, Baltimore has hit with first-round picks of left tackle Ronnie Stanley and cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
And while more attention is paid to early rounds, the Ravens have done well in later rounds.
For example, in 2013, after Elam and Brown, came four starters and a Pro Bowler. Baltimore got one of the league's best run-stoppers in defensive tackle Brandon Williams (third round), two-time Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk (fourth), the league's highest-paid right tackle Rick Wagner (fifth) and likely soon-to-be-highly-paid center Ryan Jensen (sixth). Outside linebacker John Simon (fourth) received a big contract last offseason from the Indianapolis Colts. That’s more starters than most teams get out of a single draft class.
In 2014, the Ravens found later-round talent with defensive end Brent Urban (fourth), guard/center John Urschel (fifth) and wide receiver/returner Michael Campanaro (seventh). In 2015, the Ravens got big contributors in running back Javorius Allen (fourth) and tight end Nick Boyle (fifth).
In 2016, Baltimore found strong talent in the fourth round with offensive lineman Alex Lewis and cornerback Tavon Young. Both would have been key players this year had it not been for injuries. Outside linebacker Matthew Judon (fifth) is a budding defensive player. Wide receiver Chris Moore (fourth) and defensive tackle Willie Henry (fourth) grew in their second year, and cornerback Maurice Canady (sixth) has shined at times.
“When you look at the later rounds, I don’t think anyone has done as much as we have,” Bisciotti said. “We try to dig into that and figure out why.”