Highly-Classified Big Board is Born

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The draft room is closed these days.

That's because the Ravens scouting department has assembled its Big Board, ranking all the players the organization may want to draft this April. According to General Manager Ozzie Newsome, that list is all the Ravens need to make their draft choice in each round. They simply take the best player available on their Big Board.

So needless to say, the Big Board is highly-classified information.

The initial process, which wrapped up Friday, lasted an entire week with Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta, Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz, five regional scouts and three personnel assistants.

Here's how it all came together.

Right after last year's draft, the scouting department split up the 120 Division I colleges and a select few smaller schools and called to see who they were recommending for the next year's draft. The scouts then divvy up schools by region and start watching film.

In June the group convenes to put together what they call "the bible," a list of all the players who could be drafted or considered as a rookie free agent. The scouts head to their region to watch fall football and further study the players in the bible.

In December, the group assembles and each scout presents the top 30 players from his region. That sets a preliminary board. The scouts are then assigned a different territory to study, therefore allowing themselves to get various opinions on each player. They go to each Bowl game and attend all the All-Star games.

That lasted until Friday, Feb. 5, when all the scouts flew back to Owings Mills and sat down to present their findings.

"It's a culmination of sorts," Hortiz said. "All the work was done before the meeting. Now it's just putting your work out there on the table. And by doing that we're able to establish the board."

On Friday and Saturday, the Ravens discussed about 200 players who have a deficiency that limits them from being an elite prospect, and they select a few of the top players in that category for further examination. Last year cornerback Lardarius Webb (3rd round) was one player who fell into that group. The year before was safety Haruki Nakamura (6th round), Hortiz said.

On Monday they start combing through each position and ranking all the players. The Ravens do not rank players according to what round they may be drafted in, but rather simply create a numbered list from their top prospect to the final player they feel should be drafted.

The players' grade is a starting point, and Decosta and Newsome listen to how the scout talks about the player and fits them into the board how they see fit. Each player is compared to those discussed before him. Thus, a player in the final position group discussed, for example cornerbacks, is compared not only to every corner but to every quarterback, wide receiver and defensive tackle as well.

"It's a thorough, meticulous process," Hortiz said. "We're just taking our time and making sure we know how every guy fits on the board."

If there is a disagreement between two scouts' grades, Hortiz will assign at least three game tapes to the scouts and they come back with their new findings. But there aren't any fights over players, he said.

"Everyone in that room knows what a Raven is," Hortiz said, crediting Newsome with creating that vision. "We want tough, fast, smart football players. We want guys who play hard and will fit into our locker room. It's easy to eliminate guys."

The work certainly isn't done, as there is still the Scouting Combine, beginning Feb. 27, and the Ravens bring in prospects for individual workouts and interviews, which will all surely change where players rank.

But Friday night the scouts at least cleared one hurdle as the Big Board was born.

"It's refreshing to look up there and see what we got out there right now and see that we're going to have a good draft," Hortiz said. "We feel good about what's lying ahead of us."

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