John Eisenberg: Ravens Cracked The Code


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Only one of those players (Flacco) was a top-20 pick, and most were second-, third- or fourth-round selections. But the Ravens had them all rated higher than the rest of the league.

What is their "trade secret" that DeCosta referenced? Really, it's no secret at all. It's called doing your own homework and knowing what you want.

With a 17-person personnel department, the Ravens apply more man-hours, overall energy and original thinking to the process than just about any team. They don't belong to the national scouting service that communally analyzes prospects for other teams, preferring to rely on what their own scouts hear, see and think.

And those scouts aren't just idly looking around for guys who can run and jump; they're looking specifically for players who fit into the distinctive profile the Ravens have developed – players who are tough, physical, competitive and durable, among other things.

"That's where the magic is with scouting," DeCosta said. "You just know it when you see it."

What are some of the classic markings of the players they want?

"His motor in the fourth quarter is really, really important," DeCosta said. "A lot of the guys who impress me are the guys who are getting their butts kicked in the fourth quarter, losing by 20, 25 points, and he's still making plays or trying to make plays.

"How does a guy tackle? If it's a cornerback, does he face up and use his facemask? Does he bring you down? Does he miss a lot of tackles? If he's a running back, does he run through contact? Does he lower his pads and try to break tackles? You get a sense. When you talk to people, you get a sense. Then when you interview a guy, you get a sense for his toughness."

By knowing what they want and doing their own homework, the Ravens have broken the code in some respects. Sixteen of their 22 starters in 2011 were "homegrowns" they had either drafted or, in Jameel McClain's case, signed as a rookie free agent.

"McClain, he was in our top 100 that year," DeCosta said with a smile.

They aren't perfect, far from it. They make their share of mistakes. And they're well aware all the hard work in the world isn't a guarantee of success when you're dealing with 22 year olds.

"The draft is all about luck," DeCosta said. "The more picks you have, the better chance you have to get lucky more often."

It's all about finding not just any offensive lineman to fill a hole, but the right offensive lineman; not just any linebacker, but the right linebacker.

Yes, luck is involved. But let's not attribute the Ravens' drafting success to anything other than what sustains it – an organizational plan well-conceived and well-executed year after year.

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