It was tough, if not impossible, to go any direction but down when the franchise's first two draft picks in 1996 were Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden and future Hall of Fame inside linebacker Ray Lewis.
The Ravens have put together A-plus draft classes for many years under General Manager Ozzie Newsome and, more recently, Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta. They've rightfully gained a reputation for being one of the best in the business, master craftsmen in evaluating and picking college talent.
However, over the past several years, the Ravens haven't hit on any Ogdens or Lewises, leading to some local media and fan rumblings about the team's recent success rate.
During Tuesday's pre-draft press conference, Newsome agreed with some of the discontent.
"I would say it's not up to my standards and not up to Eric's standards and not up to the Ravens' standards when you compare it to what we did very early on," Newsome said.
Since 2008, when the franchise hit home runs with quarterback Joe Flacco in the first round and running back Ray Rice in the second round, the Ravens have drafted one Pro Bowler: inside linebacker C.J. Mosley in 2014.
From 1996 to 2008, Baltimore drafted 16 Pro Bowlers. That's more than one Pro Bowler per year.
- 1996: OT Jonathan Ogden (Round 1, No. 4 overall)
- 1996: ILB Ray Lewis (Round 1, No. 26)
- 1997: OLB Peter Boulware (Round 1, No. 4)
- 1999: CB Chris McAlister (Round 1, No. 10)
- 2000: RB Jamal Lewis (Round 1, No. 5)
- 2000: DE Adalius Thomas (Round 6, No. 186)
- 2001: TE Todd Heap (Round 1, No. 31)
- 2002: S Ed Reed (Round 1, No. 24)
- 2003: OLB Terrell Suggs (Round 1, No. 10)
- 2003: FB Ovie Mughelli (Round 4, No. 134)
- 2006: DT Haloti Ngata (Round 1, No. 12)
- 2006: P Sam Koch (Round 6, No. 203)
- 2007: G Ben Grubbs (Round 1, Pick 29)
- 2007: G Marshal Yanda (Round 3, Pick 86)
- 2007: FB Le'Ron McClain (Round 4, Pick 137)
- 2008: RB Ray Rice (Round 2, Pick 55)
When asked to evaluate his more recent draft classes since 2008, Newsome took a couple minutes to think back and look over his picks.
After finishing, he took off his reading glasses and said it's "easy to say, if you look at these drafts compared to '96 to 2004, I would say they didn't measure up to those drafts."
"From '96 to 2004, we drafted three Hall of Famers [Ogden, Lewis, Reed]," Newsome said.
But while acknowledging the drop-off in stars drafted, Newsome has one explanation.
"But I would also say that during that time, when you're picking in the top 10 of the draft, you have a chance to be a lot more successful than when you're picking anywhere from 20 to 32, which is the positions we've been in," Newsome said. "Unfortunately we lost 11 games and we're back in the top 10 again."
DeCosta chimed in later with his opinion on the team's recent track record, and he had a different response to Newsome's. DeCosta has done a lot of introspection into this very question.
"I think about these kinds of things a lot," he said. "Honestly, I'm proud of our draft classes.
"We have won a Super Bowl fairly recently. We've been to the playoffs a lot of years, right? When you look at all those draft classes, I think with the exception of maybe one, we've had two or three quality starters."
The Ravens have had a lot of success with recent draft classes, even though they haven't had the same blue-chip results.
For example, look at the 2009 draft class. First-round pick Michael Oher started every game for the Ravens from 2009 to 2013. He was a starter in Super Bowl XLVII and a very solid player until departing in free agency. Baltimore took outside linebacker Paul Kruger in the second round that year. He was a menace edge pass rusher down the final Super Bowl stretch, a real difference-maker.
In 2010, the Ravens missed with their first pick of outside linebacker Sergio Kindle, whose career was derailed by a freak accident and head injury. But tight end Ed Dickson (2010), tight end Dennis Pitta (2010), defensive tackle Arthur Jones (2010) all made huge impacts in winning the Lombardi Trophy two years later.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith (2011), wide receiver Torrey Smith (2011), linebacker Pernell McPhee (2011), linebacker Courtney Upshaw (2012), guard Kelechi Osemele (2012) and running back Bernard Pierce (2012) were all key members of the Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII team.
None of those players have gone to Pro Bowls, but the league has shown that that many of them are or were still very good players because many of them earned big second contracts.
"You should research this," DeCosta said. "No team has had more money spent on their players over the last seven years than us. To me, that's an indication that other teams value our players."
DeCosta, who has increasingly become the Ravens' chief architect of their all-important draft board over the years, said the Ravens could, "of course," do better in certain instances (no team gets it perfect), but that the scouts and coaches have done a "really good job."
"Have we drafted a ton of Pro Bowlers? No we haven't," he said. "But I'm proud of the players that we've drafted and I think we'll get back to being a really good team soon. So I'm not going to stress out about it."