Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' executive vice president and general manager, is directing his 14th draft this year. If history repeats itself, Newsome and his staff will select players that will have immediate and long-lasting impact on the Ravens' continued success as a playoff contender.
Newsome deflects praise regarding Baltimore's outstanding draft history: "It's about our process. We have one that involves a lot of hard-working, smart people who try to take the extra steps to make sure we select Ravens-type players," Newsome explains.
The "process" includes 15 full-time members of the personnel department, but also has input from Ravens coaches. Most of Ozzie's staff has been with the team since the franchise started in 1996 or has graduated from the "20/20" club. The "20/20" group includes members who started with the Ravens as young assistants and grew into evaluators with more input. (The term "20/20" refers to hiring "20-year-olds for $20,000."
"Actually, the guys started when they were a little older than 20 and for more than $20,000, but that's what we call them," Newsome adds.)
The Ravens do not belong to the National Football Scouting group, which provides member teams a list of and reports on players eligible for the draft.
"We make our own list, and that means we look at all players on a college roster," Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel and a graduate of the "20/20" club, says.
Baltimore's personnel department includes seven area scouts, two pro personnel evaluators, who focus on college talent at this time of year, and additional support staff to handle the load. "We do a lot of cross-checking," DeCosta offers. "A number of us look at everyone, and then we have the area scouts look at certain players from other regions so we get multiple grades and opinions on all the players."
Once a player is defined as a "draftable" talent by the Ravens, John Harbaugh and his staff are assigned to add more study, which could include visits and workouts with some of the players.
"Another advantage we have is that many of us have worked together or known each other for awhile, so we scout the scouts and coaches," Newsome says. "We may have a scout or coach, who has proven he really knows how to spot talent at a certain position. That opinion carries more weight when we're finalizing the board."
DeCosta adds, "Ozzie has assembled such a good, hard-working personnel staff, but what has made it even better is the enthusiasm and thorough work done by coach Harbaugh and his staff. Their input has had impact on our board."
Newsome encourages all scouts and coaches to have strong opinions. "We have very open dialogue. We want everyone's opinion, especially from the scouts who have looked at the players the longest. I think another strength of our room is that we respect and listen to each other," Newsome says.
Newsome always talks about taking the "highest-rated player on our board" when it comes time to select a player. The Ravens' history proves that. When they had a Pro Bowl left tackle with Tony Jones, Baltimore selected Jonathan Ogden, the 11-time Pro Bowler who was the first pick (fourth overall in '96) in team history. When they had Pro Bowl players like Priest Holmes and Shannon Sharpe, the Ravens selected Jamal Lewis and Todd Heap in the first round.
"When we have grades that are even, we sometimes select the player in the area we have the greatest need. But, our confidence in our staffs and the process we use make draft day easy, exciting and fun. The hay is in the barn, so to speak. The hardest work is done year round prior to draft weekend."