Late For Work 5/5: Eric DeCosta Reveals Strategy Behind Ravens Draft

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DeCosta Reveals Strategy Behind Ravens Draft

Baltimore's 2017 draft class caught plenty of people by surprise. 

The Ravens started by selecting cornerback Marlon Humphrey at No. 16, which none of the major mock drafts predicted, and then continued to take defensive players with their first four picks. They also didn't select a wide receiver, tight end, running back or make a trade. 

It was a unique year, but Ravens Assistant General Manger Eric DeCosta revealed during an interview on the BMore Opinionated Podcast that the team essentially stuck to the plan they had established three months ago.

"Going back to January, there was a good chance we were going to address the secondary and pass rush," DeCosta said. "After we got the cornerback in the first round, our mission was really to get some guys who can affect the quarterback and help us."  

The Ravens addressed that pass-rush need by taking Houston's Tyus Bowser in the second round and Alabama's Tim Williams in the third round. Both of those players are expected to contribute right away. 

Williams slid to the third round because of off-the-field concerns after he admitted to failing multiple drug tests in college, but DeCosta believes Baltimore is the right landing spot for him.

"I think this is the perfect spot,"' DeCosta said, "and as he began to fall we began to look at what we perceived his value to be, and it just made way too much sense for us to take him based on the discussions that we've had going back to January about impacting the quarterback and pass rush and Timmy still being there. … In the third round to get Timmy Williams is a slam dunk in our opinion."

DeCosta did share in the interview that he was surprised at how the first round played out. By the No. 12 pick, eight offensive players had come off the board and the top three receivers were all gone. 

When the Ravens got on the clock at No. 16, they shockingly had their pick of the four best Alabama players in the draft (Humphrey, tight end O.J. Howard, defensive end Jonathan Allen and linebacker Reuben Foster). 

The idea of adding a game-changing tight end was attractive, but DeCosta pointed back to Baltimore's focus of strengthening the secondary and the pass rush. 

"O.J. Howard was one of the best players in the draft, no doubt about that," DeCosta said. "What every team is faced with is the idea of how they're going to build their team most effectively. I think for us, in terms of positional strength and positional need, and in terms of positional importance in football, I feel like the foundational positions are left tackle, quarterback, corner, pass rusher. And the idea that we can get a very good corner in this draft was very important to us, and that's not any kind of indication of O.J. Howard's ability."

The draft did leave some spots that still need to be addressed in the coming weeks and months. The Ravens could still add players at wide receiver, offensive line, running back or inside linebacker, and General Manager Ozzie Newsome has stressed that he's not done crafting the team. 

DeCosta didn't share any specifics about what the Ravens plan to do, but said they're still working to fill out the roster. 

"There is definitely a method to our madness," DeCosta said on the podcast (via BaltimoreBeatdown). "That May 12th date is something we pay attention to because that effects our ability to receive comp picks because if you sign [unrestricted free agents] they count against you. We have talked about some different guys. I think we have a good gameplan and we will react accordingly when we get to that point."

Way-Too-Early 2018 Mock Draft

Now that the new rookies have arrived in Baltimore for their first full day on the job, it's only natural to start looking ahead … to next year. 

ESPN draft expert Todd McShay put together his "way-to-early" 2018 mock draft to get a sense for which direction teams may go, but he also threw out some big caveats not to take his projections all that seriously. 

"Let's start by emphasizing the first part of the headline above: way-too-early," McShay wrote. "There's a reason we use that terminology for this piece. I have not studied tape on most of these players. I've simply done my best to match up many of the top players on my preliminary list with teams that make sense."

Last year, McShay predicted that the Ravens would take Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey at No. 24. McCaffrey went to the Carolina Panthers at No. 8 overall.

With that said, here's who McShay predicts to the Ravens with the No. 21 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft (which means McShay predicts a better record for the Ravens in 2017 than 2016):

WR Antonio Callaway, Florida5-foot-11, 197 pounds; 2016 stats: 54 catches, 721 yards, three touchdowns

"Callaway comes with character concerns -- he was accused of sexual assault and admitted to using drugs -- but he's freakishly talented," McShay wrote. "I'm interested to see how he handles himself both on and off the field this season."

Mocking Callaway to Baltimore is really the result of the team's need at receiver. The Ravens didn't draft a receiver this year and veteran Mike Wallace is scheduled to become a free agent next year. 

It's impossible to know right now if the Ravens would have interest in Callaway, but ESPN's Jamison Hensley writes, "There's no questioning that the Ravens will need another target for quarterback Joe Flacco next season."

So get used to seeing a whole bunch of wideouts projected to the Ravens in mock drafts over the next year.

Everything Falling Into Place For West

Terrance West must feel pretty good about how the last few months have gone. 

The Ravens' starting running back is coming off the best season of his career, and Hensley wrote that "West proved to be a winner in January, March and April."

He outlined the three major reasons that everything has fallen into place for West as the starting running back:

1. Hiring of Greg Roman

"The Ravens added Roman in January and gave him the official title of senior offensive assistant/tight-ends coach," Hensley wrote. "The more appropriate job description is getting Baltimore's ground game back on track, which can only help West. In Roman's four seasons as 49ers offensive coordinator (2011-14), San Francisco produced the second-most rushing yards in the NFL."

2. Dixon's Suspension

Second-year running back Kenneth Dixon was suspended the first four games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. "It's a situation where Dixon's mistake becomes West's big gain," Hensley wrote. "In the final six games of 2016, West was splitting snaps in the backfield, getting 43.2 percent of the touches (compared to Dixon's 47.3 percent). Now, West is the clear-cut top back."

3. No Drafted Running Backs

This year's draft class was considered deep at running back, but Hensley pointed out that the Ravens were one of seven teams not to draft one. Baltimore did sign Danny Woodhead in free agency, but Pro Football Focus believes he is "better suited to a third down role." That means West is the favorite to open the season as the starter.

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