Late for Work 4/16: Predicting What Eric DeCosta Will Say (and What He'll Mean) at Pre-Draft Presser

041621-LFW

Predicting What Eric DeCosta Will Say (and What He'll Mean) at Pre-Draft Press Presser

In Eric DeCosta's opening statement at the Ravens' annual pre-draft press conference last year, the general manager acknowledged that the annual event is commonly referred to as the "Liars Luncheon."

Like last year's media session, Monday's pre-draft presser will be virtual, so there will be no lunch. However, there surely will be plenty of lies served up.

"Lies" may be too strong a word. "Evasive answers" is a more accurate description of what DeCosta and other members of the Ravens' brain trust will offer. Their lack of transparency is understandable. The Ravens have nothing to gain by revealing their strategy prior to the April 29 draft.

That said, Press Box's Bo Smolka identified several questions DeCosta is likely to be asked and predicted how he will answer them and the larger truth beneath. Here are some excerpts:

What do you see as the most pressing need?

What DeCosta will say: "We like the players we have, but we will be looking to improve every position across the board."

The truth beneath: "After seeing Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue and Jihad Ward leave as free agents, the Ravens have one returning edge rusher who totaled more than two sacks last season, and that's 32-year-old Pernell McPhee (3.0). The Ravens re-signed Tyus Bowser, and they are hoping that Jaylon Ferguson can take a big step forward in Year Three, but the Ravens need to add some pass rushers."

Do you already have a good idea of who the Ravens will select first?

What DeCosta will say: "We never know how the board will fall, but we like the work our scouts have done to put us in a position to make the pick when we're on the clock."

The truth beneath: "DeCosta has been at this for more than 20 years, learning under Ozzie Newsome before taking command in 2019, and he has a good sense of how these boards fall. There are always some surprises, and with the Ravens picking at No. 27, there are far more variables in play than if they were picking in the top 10. A few years back, DeCosta joked that he could put three names in an envelope, and there's a good chance that the Ravens would be getting one of those three players in the first round. Could he do that again this year? Probably."

How do the signings you have already made, including guard Kevin Zeitler and wide receiver Sammy Watkins, change your draft board?

What DeCosta will say: "It really doesn't change anything. We'll continue to look for the best available player."

The truth beneath: "No smokescreens from DeCosta here. It doesn't change anything. The Ravens remain in the market for a plug-and-play interior offensive lineman, and they remain in the market for an impact wide receiver."

Is DeCosta Too Low in GM Draft Power Rankings?

Speaking of DeCosta, he came in at No. 17 in the general manager power rankings compiled by NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal.

Rosenthal based his rankings strictly on how the GMs did in the draft, going back to 2015. He did not include the nine GMs who have run one draft or less (DeCosta has two).

"Ozzie Newsome left big shoes to fill, especially after selecting Lamar Jackson, Orlando Brown and Mark Andrews in his final draft," Rosenthal wrote. "It's early, but DeCosta's first two hauls look unlikely to produce a difference-maker."

As Rosenthal stated, it is early, but the "unlikely to produce a difference-maker" assessment is certainly debatable.

Linebacker Patrick Queen, last year's first-round pick, experienced some growing pains, but still finished third in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting, started all 16 games and led the Ravens in tackles (106) and tackles for loss (10). His playmaking style (two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown, three sacks and one interception) certainly helped make a difference in games.

Running back J.K. Dobbins, who was considered a steal by some pundits when the Ravens landed him in the second round with the 55th-overall selection, emerged as a playmaker when he assumed a larger role in the offense during the second half of the season. He finished with 805 yards rushing (6.01 yards per carry) and a team-leading nine touchdowns.

Dobbins and Queen appear to be just scratching the surface.

Count "Good Morning Football's" Peter Schrager among those who are big believers in DeCosta.

"I feel like the Ravens keep on reloading and their cupboard keeps on getting restocked," Schrager said. "We talk about the Ravens, and they lost this guy, they lost this guy. Last year in the draft, they cleaned up again. They have just been nailing draft, after draft, after draft.

"Ozzie Newsome leaves, hands the reins over to DeCosta. They've hit home runs in the draft every single year. And I have full confidence that this team's not going anywhere."

Report: Justin Houston Leaves Baltimore Without a Deal

Free-agent pass rusher Justin Houston visited the Ravens yesterday but left without a deal, according to The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec, who added that the visit "seemed to go well" and "there's mutual interest."

"Just because a player leaves a city without a deal doesn't mean that they won't return and sign an agreement later," Ravens Wire's Kevin Oestreicher wrote. "The Ravens had that situation earlier in the offseason when Sammy Watkins left Baltimore without a contract to visit with the Indianapolis Colts, only to return a few days later and sign with Baltimore for one year."

As noted in yesterday's Late for Work, it's believed the Ravens won't sign another unrestricted free agent until after May 3 to avoid losing one of their two fourth-round compensatory picks. The Colts are interested in re-signing Houston, who reportedly prefers to sign with a team before the draft.

Houston, who had 19 sacks and 30 quarterback hits in two seasons in Indianapolis, and Melvin Ingram III are the top remaining pass rushers in free agency.

Michigan Assistant Coach Matt Weiss: Ravens Are an Example for How to Build an Offense

Former Ravens running backs coach Matt Weiss, who left in February to become the quarterbacks coach at Michigan, spoke glowingly about the organization he had spent 12 years with on the "In the Trenches" podcast.

Weiss served as running backs coach the past two years, as the Ravens set the all-time team rushing record in 2019 and led the league in rushing again in 2020.

"Baltimore is a great example of what you have to do for an offense to be successful," Weiss said. "A lot of people forget this pretty easily, but a lot of people didn't think you could run that style of offense in the NFL and be successful. And maybe there's still people who don't. When we drafted Lamar [Jackson] and he eventually became a starter, the challenge that John [Harbaugh] posed to the offensive coaches – and it's a great example of his leadership – he was like, 'Hey, I want you guys to build an offense that you're gonna take with you for the rest of your lives. An offense that people are gonna know as the Baltimore Ravens offense,' you know, just like how people know the West Coast offense or anything else.

"It was built from the ground up with Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, who was also with Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco and has experience with quarterback runs, and everything just kinda grew from there. Lamar is an amazing talent, generational type of player. But everything was built around his skill set. It's a great example of how you build an offense. You build it to the players that you have and the things that you can do."

Weiss said leaving the Ravens was difficult, but he felt he needed a new challenge.

"It was obviously hard to leave a great organization, a great team, a great coach – a team that, in my heart I believe, has a chance to win a Super Bowl next year," Weiss said. " … John – he's definitely understanding of it. He wants Michigan to be great, too. He didn't want me to go, but at the same time, he could see an opportunity could be there for me and felt like helping Jim was a good thing, too. It all worked out for everybody involved."

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