PRE-DRAFT PRESS CONFERENCE
Executive Vice President & General Manager Eric DeCosta,
Head Coach John Harbaugh & Director of Player Personnel Joe Hortiz
Eric DeCosta opening statement: "So, everybody, thanks for coming. [We're] excited that you guys could join us in person. This is a Draft that we've been thinking about for the last year, basically – at least since [the] last Draft. We made some moves last Draft to accumulate some additional picks this year. We traded with the [Arizona] Cardinals last year to get us a fourth-round pick this year. Then throughout the process in training camp, we made a few additional trades to fortify ourselves as well in this Draft and then with the comp [compensatory] picks that we got last year for losing players, we feel very good about where we're situated right now with nine picks in the first four rounds. It's a great opportunity for the club. We've had some players visiting over the last couple weeks. We have a couple guys in today as well. We'll continue to do that over the next 10 days or so. We had a local Pro Day yesterday and had approximately, I don't know, 50 or 55 players in yesterday for interviews and workouts – that went well. I should thank [assistant director of college & pro personnel] Mark Azevedo and the scouts for organizing that. One of the things that I was thinking about is when I first started here in 1996, very few players were actually drafted from the state of Maryland. We've seen a tremendous change over the years; I think partly because of the Ravens coming to Baltimore. But it's really nice to see all these players from the state become good players in college and then go on to play in the NFL as well. So, with that being said, I'll open it up for questions."
Eric, you've mentioned before with T Ronnie Stanley about having contingency plans and things like that. How much will his recovery and his ankle injury right now impact your Draft plans? (Jamison Hensley)
DeCosta: "The question is really a good one, but the fact remains that we're not sure how Ronnie [Stanley] is going to rebound. We're optimistic. We feel … I don't want to speak for Ronnie, and I wouldn't speak in specifics, but we feel like he's on a good pace to come back. In saying that, we brought in Morgan [Moses]. We have Ja'Wuan [James] on hand as well. Ja'Wuan James, who we brought in last year. We feel that there's an opportunity in the Draft to address the tackle spot at some point, whether it's in the first round or in the fourth round. There are good players all throughout this year; it's a very, very deep position class. So, there are a lot of different ways for us to skin the cat, and we'll do that at some point."
Eric, how concerned are you with the depth at cornerback? Is this a Draft where you could grab a player or two that's plug-and-play and sort of make an immediate impact? (Todd Karpovich)
DeCosta: "I think we're definitely concerned. If you guys know us, we always want to have a strong secondary and have as many corners as possible. We've referred to those guys as racecars in the past. This year, we got decimated at that position across the board. We have outstanding players coming back, but again, until they come back, it's question marks. So, we're very excited. We feel like Marlon [Humphrey] is going to come back with a vengeance and Marcus [Peters] is going to come back with a vengeance, but behind those two guys, the depth is thin. So, there are opportunities for us, again, in the first round, second round [and] third round. Coach [Harbaugh] has been watching the corners as well, and we feel like we have the opportunity to take one or two corners in the Draft that could come in and contribute right away. We're excited about that. I should also say that bringing in Marcus [Williams] this year should help those guys – Marcus Williams – in a lot of different ways. The skills that he has, what he can do for us in the passing game in the backend, along with Chuck [Clark] – we feel like we have a great set of safeties. Brandon Stephens was another guy last year who played for us some at safety and played for us some at corner, and we think he should make a jump this year and help us, as well."
You talked about tackle being deep in this Draft. How about edge rushers? Is that a position where you feel you could do something first round through fourth round? (Gerry Sandusky)
DeCosta: "Yes, there are some good players. Typically, those guys go fast. We think there will be a run of those guys, probably in the Top 10. There might be a guy or two that falls down to us at [Pick] 14, potentially. I think that … Unfortunately, one of the top guys and really an outstanding prospect, [David] Ojabo suffered an injury, which was unfortunate for us, unfortunate for the league and certainly most unfortunate for him. With that being said, he suffered an Achilles. He should be back, and he should be ready to go. He's a tremendous talent. You all saw what he did at Michigan this year opposite [Aidan] Hutchinson. There are guys in the second, third and fourth rounds that we're kind of lucky that we have the chance to look at some different players, meaning potentially some of these undersized 4-3 defensive ends really do fit us as outside linebackers. Our coaches are, right now, looking at those guys, scouring the country, going to workouts, going to Pro Days, and we'll have a good strong board."
Philosophically, over the years, you've used every slot in the Draft as gold. Maybe that's not the philosophy around the league, so much, when they're putting up shirts when they win Super Bowls that maybe it isn't as important. Can you speak to the fanbase as to why you take it … Why it's so important here? Why other places maybe aren't trading away first round draft picks and maybe not valuing it the way you have always valued it? (Nestor Aparicio)
DeCosta: "That's a good question. I think [that's] something that I've thought about over the past three months or so. I think in just our experience, No. 1, my experience working for [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome] all those years, I've just seen how it can be when it's done the right way. So, when you're able to draft franchise-type players, whether it's a Ray Lewis, a Terrell Suggs, a Lamar Jackson, a Jonathan Ogden, an Ed Reed, those types of players, a Mark Andrews, I could give you 50 names. You bring in these young players, and they really do become a part of the culture of your city. They're players that the fans can rally around; they become heroes for a generation of children in that community. The nice thing is, I think, too, our sport collectively bargained – we have a salary cap. So, you bring in these rookies, and their salaries are set. They're fixed. So, when you draft a rookie, you know what he's going to cost. You're not paying irrational market prices in free agency that some teams like to do. So, for us, I really think it speaks to the culture that we've established over the years. We weren't a big team. I was here, we weren't a big spender in free agency back in 1996 and back in 1997. We didn't have the funds to do that, so the Draft really became our lifeblood. I had a chance to watch Ozzie and [former director of player personnel] Phil Savage before me and see how those guys operated and see the value of the Draft and what that does for a franchise, what that does for a community and how that also allows you to be competitive every single year, regardless of the salary cap. So, for us, it works. There are a lot of different ways to do it, certainly. [I have] tremendous respect for teams that have a way of doing it differently and can succeed, but for us, the Draft will always be … As long as I'm here, [the Draft] will always be the foundation of what we do and what we believe in, and we think it works for us."
John, can you speak to that some as well? I imagine as the head coach, watching some of the other teams, particularly the Rams who go out [and trade their draft picks] and see the instant success they're able to have from that. Does your conversation with executive vice president and general manager Eric DeCosta about that change at all when watching that success? (Pete Gilbert)
John Harbaugh: "No, we have a plan. We have a way of doing things, there's no doubt about it, but it's not an either-or- type of a deal. It's not one way or the other way. Definitely, the way the Rams did it this year was kind of the end of the spectrum, along those lines, but we've signed free agents before. We've signed free agents this year. We've signed big, high-price free agents at times in the past, and we have a lot of draft picks this year. So, for me, your capital is your capital. Your opportunity to add talent and players is what it is. So, let's make the most of it, get the best players in here that we can, develop them the best we can and try to build the best team that we can. But [executive vice president and general manager] Eric [DeCosta] is not shy about looking at free agents, either. He's not shy about trades. [Executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome] wasn't either. Those are things that we certainly look at, and we'll try to do it any way we can."
Joe, what are your thoughts on this year's pass rusher class? (Jamison Hensley)
Joe Hortiz: "Personally, I think it's a deep class of edge guys. Like [executive vice president and general manager] Eric [DeCosta] mentioned earlier, there's an opportunity to get one in really the [first] four rounds [or] five rounds. There's just … I think the way college football is going, teams are worrying about getting to the passer in college now. So, they're playing, they're developing, and like he mentioned, a lot of the 4-3 [defensive] ends fit what we do on the edge at outside 'backer. So, I'd say it's a deep class, and we'll have targets in each round, early on – pretty much early through Day Three."
Eric, when you look at how you guys have approached the center position, really the last 10 years, you've really relied a lot on development. It hasn't been early picks. You haven't spent a lot of money. It hasn't been a second contract or anything like that. Is that a position you've really felt good about maybe taking guys that, I don't know if "project" would be the right term, but a later round pick or a priority free agent being able to develop them? Joe, the thought of bringing in, as head coach John Harbaugh mentioned, some competition for OL Patrick Mekari and C Trystan Colon, what do you think about this year's group of centers? (Luke Jones)
DeCosta: "I think the center position, we have had some veteran players. Let's not forget Matt Birk who came in and really solidified us and really was a great player for us for a shorter span, but really helped us and really put us over the top, I think, up front. We've also gone the younger route as well. We've had some guys, like Ryan Jensen, who went on to sign big contracts. We've had some other guys we've sort of piecemealed it times. We've had some injuries, as well, at that position. I think that that's a position, No. 1, as we look at the Draft board every year, there are very few players that are truly centers up on the board. You might have four or five guys in a Draft class that you think are actually draftable prospects. So, one of the, I'd say, strategies that we see more and more teams do now is they take tackles and guards and convert those guys to center – bigger guys. Often times, the smallest guy on your offensive line gets pushed into center. Our philosophy, honestly, is we want big guys. We want big guys at every position, across the offense, across the defense [and] in general. So, it's a tough position to fill via the Draft at times. If there's a guy … If there's one or two outstanding prospects in the Draft, they typically go pretty high, and then after that, you're looking at a bunch of guys that might be pretty good, or they might not be pretty good. I think one of the cool things about this Draft at the center position is we see four or five guys that we like that might not be first round-type picks and that might be second, third, or fourth round guys that we think would be good players at center this year. It's a tough position to play. There's a physical component. There's also a very, very strong mental component, as well. Leadership is important. So, you're really looking for the perfect guy to play that position, and it's very tough to find. So, that's my feeling on it."
Hortiz: "Honestly, I'd echo [executive vice president and general manager] Eric [DeCosta]. He answered the question that you asked me. The cool thing about having Pro Days back and All-Star games back, you talked about tackles playing center and guards playing center, we've gotten the opportunity to see guys do that. Our coaches are out at private workouts being able to work players that aren't necessarily centers in college at that position. So, we did it with [Ryan] Jensen, and he was a tackle. Patrick [Mekari] was a tackle. But there are some quality centers that could come in and compete in this Draft, and then obviously, we consider the projection guys as well."
Eric, with both RB J.K. Dobbins and RB Gus Edwards coming back from serious injuries, if a running back falls, potentially, to you, would you consider using a first- or second-round pick on that position this year? (Gerry Sandusky)
DeCosta: "I don't know about a first-round pick, because I just don't see that player there for us. But as we get into the second round, third round, fourth round, we're going to look at the best players. If the best player happens to be a running back … I mean, let's face it, we run the ball more than most teams do. We saw this year what happens and what can happen when all three of your running backs get hurt with season-ending injuries in the span of, what, 10 days, maybe? We're a team that wants to be balanced on offense; we want to have a strong passing game and also a very strong running game. Coach [Harbaugh] has been saying that for eight years now. We have to have the strongest running game. We have to have [running] backs. We need big, physical backs [and] explosive backs who can do a lot of different things. So, if the right guy falls, we will certainly strike."
Eric, with nine picks in the first four rounds, especially a lot of fourth-round picks, do you feel like you have better mobility and better ammunition to kind of move up in the Draft if you wanted to? (Ryan Mink)
DeCosta: "I think we do have a lot of flexibility, which is something that we covet – having the chance to move up and down. Sometimes, you get into a situation, we see it with other teams, where they want to do a trade with us and they want to maneuver, but they don't have the picks to do it. Sometimes, you can't find the combinations to do that. So, having picks in the first, second, third and fourth round, and then also a sixth-round pick, I think, gives us the flexibility to do whatever we want to do. I would say that right now, we have 10 picks. I would say that there's a strong possibility that we'll either have more than 10 picks, or less than 10 picks, when it's all said and done." (John Harbaugh: "Or we'll have 10 picks.") (laughter)
Eric, at the end of the season, you mentioned, of course, the injuries. One of the questions you were asked, you mentioned finding guys that are durable. I'm wondering, in the course of this Draft process, have you changed the way you've assessed the medicals? Or do you have more pause with guys that have been hurt in college now? Or has that not changed based off this past year? (Bo Smolka)
DeCosta: "I think we've always been, I have to say, pretty conservative when it comes to injuries in the Draft, probably more so than most teams. I've only worked for the Ravens, and [head coach] John [Harbaugh] has been with the Eagles, but we've always been pretty conservative. Very few times, I think, have we taken a player that had injuries in college that we didn't feel really good about and roll the dice. Now, we've taken some flyers on guys, usually for other things, not necessarily for injuries. In saying that, I think one of the things that we really do believe in is just looking at has the guy missed time in college? Has he been a consistent player? Sometimes, the guy has an injury history, but doesn't miss practices and doesn't miss games. Those type of guys, we feel pretty good about. The guys that miss a lot of time in college, we've seen a trend that they miss time at our level. Then, there are some things you simply can't plan for – the catastrophic injuries, or the freaky-type things that happen, the non-contact stuff, we've seen that. We've had some players that have never missed any time in their careers and then got hurt here with us. So, I'm not really sure how you can predict that or project that. We're looking at a lot of different things, using analytics and using science. I think you all know we have a new [head certified] athletic trainer, as well, Adrian Dixon. He has a role in this. I think our strength and conditioning staff is very helpful as well. We use those guys to look at things like body composition, strength, frame and things like that. [Director of sports nutrition] Sarah Snyder, our dietician, she's a part of the process as well. So, we try to use as many resources as possible, put it all together and make the best decisions that we can, understanding that we will make some mistakes. Some of these guys that look extremely durable on paper will come in and, at some point, get hurt. That's kind of the nature of our sport, and we're prepared to handle that."
Eric, you guys were reported to be in on ILB Bobby Wagner. How big of a need do you still view the middle linebacker position? Do you guys still plan to be aggressive in free agency leading up to the Draft? (Cordell Woodland)
DeCosta: "Well, we're always looking at value. We're looking at all the players; that process doesn't end just because the first wave and maybe the second wave of free agency has passed us by. It doesn't mean that there aren't some good players out there still. Over the years … I can give you a lot of examples of players that we brought in. One that comes to mind that was a favorite of mine was Daryl Smith, who I think [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome] signed back in May after the Draft. There will be some Daryl Smith's on this team this year. So, we will continue to address that. I think we're at the stage now where … So, the first wave and second wave of free agency, we use as a tool to help us get ready for the Draft. With the Draft coming quickly, one strategy may be to draft and then see where we need to fill in at that point. So, we think we're in a good position right now with all the moves that we've made. We may have some moves to announce in the next couple weeks, but the Draft really does kind of move to the forefront. After the Draft, we'll reassess, see where we are as a team and consider players that are still out there on the streets."
Based on the teams you've already had here with the Ravens, as you look at the Draft class that's coming in, how many first year, every game impact players do you expect to pull out of that Draft class? Not long-term, just guys that right now, you can plug them in and they're ready to go? (Gerry Sandusky)
DeCosta: "You mean in this Draft class?" (Reporter: "Yes.") "Well, we hope that … I mean, it sounds crazy to say this, but I think [head coach] John [Harbaugh] feels this way … [Former Washington Commanders general manager and current 105.7 The Fan reporter] Vinny [Cerrato] made picks for a long time, and he felt the same way. Every pick you bring in, you expect this guy to play. You're not going to draft a guy if you don't think this guy is going to help your team – that's just a bad mentality. My mindset is every guy that we take in the fourth round this year better be playing for us – that's why we're taking him. That's our expectation from Day One; they go out here, they hit the ground running, and they play. So, that's just the way that we look at it. Now, does the data back that up? Probably not, but that's what we think. That's what we expect. We make every pick with that type of conviction, so that's just the way we play the game."
Eric, how will you guys evaluate OLB David Ojabo, WR Jameson Williams, or LB Damone Clark, guys that may miss all of the 2022 season? (Vinny Cerrato)
DeCosta: "That's hard – those are hard questions. I think we rely on our doctors. … We have some success with players that have been hurt that we've drafted. We've had players that have had some of these types of injuries, and we can project and predict when they're going to be back. That's a factor. In some cases, we'll bring the guy into Baltimore, and we'll get a chance to see the injury. We'll get a chance to see how far they've come, as well. We talk to the surgeons that might have done their surgery. We talk to the rehab people where they're doing their rehab, and we try to make the best decisions. In some cases, we have to weigh the talent versus the injury and when we think the guy is going to come back. If a guy is talented enough, we may be willing to have him sit out a year. If we think the return on the investment is going to be substantial, then we'll do that. It's not like a … It's not set in stone; it depends on each individual injury, and it depends on when the injury happens. So, a guy might have had an injury in October, and he might be good to go at some point in training camp. A guy that had an injury in February or March, that complicates things. When we took Marquise [Brown], he had the Lisfranc injury. We were able to sort of track and see when he might come back. We had a strong feeling that he would play for us in 2019. The later the injury, the more challenging it becomes, and that's when you really have to assess the talent of the player versus getting someone on the field right away. So, it really does become we think this guy can become this, but we have this other guy that might not be as talented who we think can play right away. That's really where the dynamic is."
Guys like T Ronnie Stanley and OLB Tyus Bowser, who are coming back from pretty serious injuries, do you go into the Draft with a worst-case scenario in your mind for what if those guys aren't available Week 1, Week 5, whenever, or are you more optimistic, or is it just a case-by-case scenario? (Jonas Shaffer)
DeCosta: "I think we started that out back in January when we first had our meetings, when we went down to Baker's Bay [Bahamas], and we spent some time with [Ravens owner] Steve Bisciotti, and we talk about the roster, and we try to come up with a strategy. And so, we try to protect ourselves as best as we can. One of the ways that we did that was with Morgan Moses. We knew we had Ja'Wuan James on the team. We feel good about Ja'Wuan, [and] we've been impressed with what we've seen so far. He's played a lot of football. But we have to protect ourselves, and so, we'll continue to do that, and some of that will be through the Draft, some of that will be free agency, some of that will be undrafted free agents, some of that will be in May and June. But we're just trying to find the best players to fit our team, that fit our culture, coachable, smart, durable, tough guys. We want to try to collect as many of those guys as possible, so that when we do suffer injuries – and we know we will – we'll have enough guys to help us withstand that and help us win games."
It seems like everybody is looking for interior pass rushers nowadays. How hard are those guys to find out of the Draft, and specifically, how does this interior defensive line class stack up? (Jeff Zrebiec)
Hortiz: "So, pass-rush-wise, it's probably interior D-linemen, you have to look for them, and I think that's in every year. You get the guys that, 'Hey, this guy can two-gap; this guy can play the run.' It takes a more special athlete to be an interior pass rusher and a three-down player inside. I think that's why with our defense, it being so versatile, we can take an edge guy who's got some size [and] reduce him in. The cool thing about this class is there are players that are edge guys [where] you see the colleges do the same thing, and they show pass-rush value inside, so I think there's some depth from that standpoint. In terms of the three-down player inside, they're a little harder to find."
Along those lines, how much work do you feel you still have to do with your defensive line, replacing a lot of veteran guys that played a lot of snaps? (Luke Jones)
DeCosta: "Yes, we've got a lot of work to do. I think Michael [Pierce] is one piece of that, but we have a lot of work to do. [At] outside linebacker, defensive linemen, certainly, we're not done yet, and we have a lot of different opportunities. There are still some good players out there, and as we look at the first round, second round, third round of the Draft, we see guys that can come in right away and contribute and be good players for us."
Over your three Drafts as the general manager, how do you feel you've done, and are there any particular lessons – positive or negative – that you've learned those three years that you will take into this? (Mark Viviano)
DeCosta: "Yes, you think about that. Honestly, it's interesting because I don't feel my role is really any different than it was for the last 18 drafts, or whatever it was, since 2005, I guess. We still do a lot of the same things; we've tweaked it. I'm always going to be a tough critic on myself; it's just the way that I am. So, certainly, there are things that you'd do differently, but I'm also very proud of what we've done as a team in the last couple years. I'm proud of the record of the team that Coach [Harbaugh] has really coached and built, and we certainly aspire to do better in a lot of different ways, and a lot of that falls on me, certainly. But in looking at it, I see a great opportunity for us. I also know that – and I've seen this over the years – it's hard for young players to play, unless they have a strong opportunity, and I think our guys do right now. There is a great opportunity for these guys that we've taken, and the guys that we take, to step in and contribute right away. It has to start now, and those guys know who they are, and whoever those guys [are] that we draft, they'll understand that as well. We are poised, and we are ready to rebound from this season with a vengeance – we will. We're excited. We can't wait to get started. We have a great owner; we have, in my opinion, the best head coach in the league; we've got a lot of young talent; we have a good, veteran core, and this is a great opportunity for us. We're in a tough division; I think we realize that, and we can't wait to get started."
You mentioned the fourth-round picks, and you want them all to get on the field. Obviously, everybody doesn't get on the field. What do you learn when you draft someone and they don't get on the field – from coaching to scouting, to your desk? Over all the years, did you get better at making sure that you don't wind up with someone who doesn't get on the field? (Nestor Aparicio)
DeCosta: "That's a good question. That's self-scouting, and we do that; we've been doing that for 26 years. There are a lot of different factors. Sometimes it's ability; it's a bad evaluation; you thought the guy was going to be better than he is. Sometimes it's as simple as an injury or two injuries or three injuries – a guy falling behind. It could be something off the field; we've had those guys, as well. It could be about off-the-field character; it could be a situation. It could be really a lot of different things – it could be opportunity. We've had some guys that didn't have a great opportunity early on, because they had good players in front of them, and when they did [have an opportunity], they play well, and it was too late to re-sign them – that happens too, sometimes. It could be salary cap-related, [and] that's happened, as well. So, I think in some cases, there's not one answer. What I try to do, or what we try to do, is make sure that we get the evaluation right. And we're wrong sometime – we certainly are – sometimes we're right. I like to think we're right more than we're wrong with the evaluation. And then there are the unknowns, at times. There are some things that really just … It's sad. Guys just get injured, or guys just get beat up, they can't play. And then there's the other things, as well. So, what we try to do is really focus on the best players, with the best fit. We interview these guys, we talk to them, we talk to people at the school. We try to get a strong feeling of the person, the growth mindset, the durability, the football intelligence, the personality, the leadership. And then the most important thing is can they play, and how do they fit, football-wise? What's they're role going to be? Do they fit our scheme? Are they productive players? Do they have the size and speed? Are they tough? Are they physical? Are they aggressive? Are they coachable? All those things factor in, and you just try to do the best you can."
With the five fourth-round picks this year, how does that alter, in any way, the process and the way that you stack the board during this this scouting process? (Garrett Downing)
Hortiz: "Well, it makes it fun on Friday night – I can promise you that. We'll be excited, and we'll get together like we do and kind of assess things. Obviously, [executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta] puts the guys in preferential order for our team and through the Draft meetings, so I think the stacking of the board is going to be the same throughout the meetings, and then once we get into the gameplan and gameday, that's when Eric will put the guys in the best order for us to pick.
How do you guys see the quarterbacks in this Draft, because you need a couple of them to go before you pick at 14? (Vinny Cerrato)
Hortiz: "Yes, yes, it's a great class." (Executive vice president & general manager Eric DeCosta: "You guys have got to talk up these QBs." – laughter) It is an underrated class. (laughter) There are some talented quarterbacks in this class, and yes, people aren't saying there's a No. 1-overall quarterback, but there are starting quarterbacks in this class. I think Malik Willis is a dynamic player, and he's a lot of fun to watch. I had a chance to see him play live. He's strong, he's got an unbelievable arm, cannon. Heck, my son was at the game with me, and the first thing he said to me was like, 'God, Dad, that guy can throw the ball hard.'" (Head coach John Harbaugh: "Scouting is not that hard, is it?" – laughter) "Just watching him move around … I wish he would've stayed at Auburn, but he's a great player. And then Kenny Pickett has had an outstanding year. There's a number of guys in this Draft class that I think are going to outperform their draft projection." (Cerrato: "So, they'll go before 14, right?" – laughter) "Possibly. I don't know. It wouldn't hurt."
With how you play defense, when you're looking at the cornerbacks and watching them on film, is there a certain size, physicality, speed, type of style that you're looking for? (Jamison Hensley)
Harbaugh: "Sure. The bigger, the faster, the stronger, the better the feet, the better the ball skills, the smarter they are – that's all what you look for. But you can't get everything, right? Nobody gets everything, so if you're going to compromise on some lack of perfection, and you're looking for the perfect wife or husband, you've got to decide what you're willing to live without. But when it comes right down to it, football players come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes. You'd like to have a 6-3 corner, but they're not all 6-3, so [with] the 5-11, 5-10 corner, what does he do well? Does he have range? Can he make plays on the ball? Can he jam people at the line? Can he move his feet? But we like physical players. We like players that challenge people a little bit more, at corner, especially. So, if he's a physical player, he's tough, he challenges people, he can play press, he's willing to tackle, we kind of favor those kinds of guys – ball skills are very important."
We talked about the overall depth of the class, and we just talked about the quarterbacks. Are there other positions that are maybe a little thinner than usual this time around? (Childs Walker)
Hortiz: "Personally, I'd say no. It's a pretty deep Draft. I think COVID, the extra year the players had, it allows the board to kind of beef up towards the bottom, Day Three of the Draft. So, I'd say, when you look at our board, the volume of players on our board compared to previous boards, it's probably a little bit higher."
Executive vice president & general manger Eric DeCosta talked about how picks are like lottery tickets in a lot of cases, and, obviously, we've seen him try to acquire more picks. Does that change your job at all – just knowing that you might have a lot more guys than you evaluated? And is it tough in some cases to know that you're passing on a guy that you really liked to maybe get two guys that you also liked but to a lesser degree? (Jonas Shaffer)
Hortiz: "So, to answer your last question; no. Through the process, we talk through it, and I understand [executive vice president & general manager] Eric's [DeCosta] philosophy and his reasoning for doing things, and just because I like a guy better than another … It's a community decision – so to speak – with Eric making the final decisions. So, once a player is picked by the Baltimore Ravens, regardless of if I have one over the other … That's my own, individual [opinion]; I'm not right all the time, so, absolutely not. I want the best player for the Ravens – who we think is the best player. So, that's not a problem for me at all. Once they're a Raven, I'm all in on them.
"And then in terms of the process, having more picks, historically, we always go into the Draft hoping we're going to have more picks, as scouts, so our guys are [as] thorough in the evaluations of the top players as they are on the guys that are considered late-round guys. So, they're looking at guys throughout the fall. They pour the same amount of time and effort in terms of background, information, film, eval on the guys at the bottom of the board as we do at the top."
Do you have the number of guys who are on your board compared to previous years? (Jonas Shaffer)
DeCosta: "I think the last couple years we've had more guys. I don't know if our scouts were more optimistic or [if] it was just more players. But we have approximately … And it'll change, because we have another set of meetings coming up next week, but we have about 180 players, I think, give or take, on the front board that we think are draftable players for the Ravens. That number will probably be somewhere between 170-195 players when it's all said and done."
There's been quite a bit of talk, especially after the season, about teams tanking and trying to improve their draft status. Would you ever be in favor of an NBA model – a draft lottery, where the worst team wouldn't be guaranteed the top pick? (Jamison Hensley)
DeCosta: "I haven't really ever thought about that. No. 1, I don't expect us to ever be in that position, so that's just foreign to me. I don't really understand any of that. It would be sad to me if that were the case, I guess – that teams would actually do that. So, I don't really have an opinion on it. I just know that we've usually picked in the 20s most years, and we feel that's always a unique challenge. To be able to find a really good player in the 20s, it's hard to do. This year, we're picking where we are. We think we have a good opportunity to get a guy, and I would love to be able to pick in the 30s every year and not have to worry about it that much."
John, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti shared with us that you signed a contract extension. What was the significance of that? What did that mean to you – to sign that contract extension? (Garrett Downing)
Harbaugh: "Right, thank you. Thanks to [Ravens owner] Steve [Bisciotti] and the organization. But I just felt very grateful and very motivated at the same time. Just a sense of gratitude for working in this organization, obviously, with [executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta], with [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome], with Steve [Bisciotti], with [director of player personnel] Joe [Hortiz], with [senior player personnel executive] Vince Newsome, with [senior vice president of communications] Chad [Steele], even, most of the time. (laughter) Chad's the best, as well. It's a great place to be. I love the city. But [I feel] just very determined, very motivated, in the sense that we need to win more games, we need to win more playoff games, we need to win more championships, we need to win the whole thing. And helping our team be the best we can be, doing whatever I can do, you feel a big, big, big sense of responsibility and obligation along those lines. So, gratitude, yes, but more than that, just really determined to get us all where we want to be, help us get to where we all want to be, together, and to do my part in that."
The Ravens have had a pretty good eye for tight ends in the draft. Can you put your lens on TE Chigoziem Okonkwo and S Nick Cross at Maryland? (Mark Viviano)
Hortiz: "So, with 'Chig' [Chigoziem Okonkwo], he's probably a little undersized – not your 6-5 tight end – but [he's a] versatile player. He had an outstanding week at the East-West; I thought he showed up well down there. He put together a good season, obviously, and then performances in the postseason and in the workouts and Pro Days and Combine. He's got speed, good mass to him – put together really well – and I think he offers some versatility. Especially [with] how we are creative with our tight ends, he'd be able to do multiple things. And then with Nick [Cross], another guy with excellent size for the position – at the safety position. [He's got] really great range. [He's] a physical player, and same thing [with him in] the postseason. He lit it up at the Combine, [and] I thought [he] really put out some good numbers. We had a chance, with these guys both being local, to see them at their Pro Day, bring them in, spend some time around them. [They] both carry themselves very well and represent the University of Maryland well."
At the beginning, executive vice president & general manager Eric DeCosta kind of talked about how the local Pro Day has kind of changed in recent years. Can you offer your perspective on what you've seen from local prospects? Within the last few years, the volume and the talent level have seemed to increase. What have you seen? (Shawn Stepner)
DeCosta: "There's no doubt [that] the volume and the talent has increased quite a bit. I think the high schools are doing a great job – the local high schools, the high schools all throughout the state – recruiting. You're seeing more and more major colleges coming into Maryland, taking players from the state. They're going to other places and becoming excellent players and prospects in the NFL. You try to find reasons why that might be, and one of the reasons is the Ravens came here, and all these kids were born during that timeframe, and they have an NFL team, they start playing football, and they have players that they want to be like, they have heroes, and it becomes really important to them. So, we're excited about that; it's great. I had a chance this year to go to a few high school games on Friday nights, locally, and [I was] really, really impressed with the product, the talent, the coaching, the type of players that are playing, and I think the future of high school football in Maryland is very, very bright."
Having gone through these last two drafts, which were all impacted by COVID to varying degrees, and having to adapt and adjust, but now being on the other side of that, is there anything with your draft evaluation process that you found has actually made you better as evaluators that you will continue with as things are moving more and more towards normalcy? (Luke Jones)
DeCosta: "If we told you that, we'd have to kill you. (laughter) I don't want to speak for anybody, but we are doing some things now that we sort of discovered because of COVID – some ideas, some ways of taking advantage of the situation. Whether that be analytics, technology, different things, we're doing some things differently, and we're still doing them, so, we think there's value there. And every team is trying to find new ways of doing things to basically beat your ass, so that's what we're trying to do, too. We're trying to find ways to change the way, to adapt and be the best we can be. And COVID did present a few unique opportunities for us at the time, and there's some things that we're still doing."
There's still more time before the Draft. How important is it for you to re-sign some of those veterans and bring back guys like DT Brandon Williams and DT Calais Campbell, since they're already familiar with the team? (David Andrade)
DeCosta: "There's always a chance. There are some players out there that we have had, some veteran players, some outstanding players for us in the past, and our job is to basically see where the holes are, how much money we have, the opportunity, and then make the best decision we can. And so, there are still a lot of really good players out there that played football this year in the National Football League, across the board, at multiple positions that we're interested in. In saying that, if the cap were unlimited, so to speak, we'd be out there signing players left and right. We're bound by the fact that there is a salary cap. We try to be as responsible as possible, and we're not going to be a team that is irresponsible with our deals, the structure of our deals. I think [vice president of football administration] Nick Matteo and [senior vice president of football operations] Pat Moriarty, they do an awesome job negotiating and doing the type of deals that we feel will reflect well in the short term but also in the long term, and that's a big part of that. So, there's a lot of different ways that we build a team, as [head coach] John [Harbaugh] alluded to – free agency, trades, the Draft, undrafted free agents and different ways to build a team. We'll look at all of that, and I feel confident that when we play our game in September, we'll be ready to go."