NFL COMBINE MEDIA AVAILABILITY
RAVENS EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT & GENERAL MANAGER ERIC DeCOSTA
Opening statement: "Hello, everybody. Thanks for having me. It's great to be back here in the great city of Indianapolis. It's great to be back to normalcy and getting ready for the Combine again. It's something that we look forward to in scouting and as an organization, and I will take questions."
On what traits make for a successful quarterback in the NFL: "I think quarterback, the position has really changed over the years, and there's a lot of different things. You want a guy that's a winner. Obviously, being a smart player and being an instinctive player is something that you look for, and then what does he do special? What's special about him? Does he have an arm? What kind of arm does he have? Does he have a strong arm? Is he accurate? I think accuracy is really, really important. Then, as we've seen with our quarterback, athletic ability – the ability to escape, the ability to create plays, make big plays [and] explosive plays, and I would say leadership. Does the guy have the ability to put the team on his back in critical situations and really lift the team, lift the franchise, lift the organization and make that organization better than it would be without him?"
On what position groups stick out to him in this Draft class: "This is an interesting Draft class. Offensive line, I think is very, very strong this year. We've had a chance to meet with some guys already. I'm impressed with the players that we've met with. Outside linebacker, for us, which would be the 4-3 defensive end, but for us the 3-4 outside linebacker-type guys, the edge players, I think is a strong class. Then cornerbacks as well, it looks pretty deep. It looks like you can get a corner pretty much at any point throughout the Draft process."
On why the Combine is so beneficial for him as an evaluator: "I think the access to the players is just critical for us; having a chance to meet with these guys, to really talk to them about their personalities and who they are, how they see themselves, their goals, their dreams. For us to get a chance to assess things like growth mindset, motivation, ability to overcome adversity, resiliency and things like that. For me, that's the biggest thing. And then, of course, all the physical testing that we do. We found ways over the last couple of years, especially, to exist without the physical testing, but I think to see a guy workout and to see a guy compete against his peers, that's something that helps us throughout the process."
On how RB J.K. Dobbins is progressing from his injury: "It was certainly a big blow losing J.K. [Dobbins] and then Gus Edwards, and then Justice Hill – all three of our guys. Three of our mainstay players, losing those guys in the span of two weeks was very, very challenging as an organization. Saying that, we are very confident that those guys will all come back this year and play winning football for us. J.K., specifically, obviously suffered a serious knee injury, but he's a young player. He's a hungry player, [and] he has a great mindset. He's been working very, very hard, and we are very, very confident that he'll come back and be the type of player that he was two years ago."
On if he's seen RB J.K. Dobbins during his recovery: "Yes. Yes, I've seen him. I've seen him. The interesting thing – a little side note – J.K. [Dobbins] and I, we're neighbors. We live probably a quarter of a mile apart from each other. So, he would come over, and we would give him cookies. We'd bring him … My wife is kind of like a mother to the players, so she would bring care packages. So, I would see J.K. a lot, and I would also see him at the facility doing his rehab. He's bouncing back and forth between L.A. [Los Angeles] and Baltimore. Again, I'm very confident that he's going to come back and really flourish this year."
On WR Rashod Bateman bouncing back from his early season groin injury: "Rashod [Bateman] made great progress. He suffered the injury, as a lot of our guys did, early on. He missed, how many games? Maybe four or five games, maybe six games early in the year. The thing I've been impressed [about] with Rashod [is] his route running, [he has] very, very good hands and his attitude this year – his ability day-in and day-out to compete, to learn the offense, to challenge the defensive backs every single day, and he made plays when he had the chance. He's very strong to the football. We think he's going to make a big, big jump this year in his second year, and we're very excited for his future."
On the Ravens' process for drafting a quarterback, having traded picks in the past to draft their quarterback: "We've actually done it twice, with Joe Flacco, and then obviously, with Lamar [Jackson]. We talked about this a few weeks ago; we also drafted Tyrod Taylor in the sixth round, and many, many years ago, Derrick Anderson, I think, was in the sixth or seventh round. So, we've actually done a pretty good job of getting quarterbacks in different areas of the Draft, kind of a non-traditional way of finding quarterbacks. I think the biggest thing is the process itself, allowing your coaches to contribute [and] listening to your scouts, and then building out the information, the background, talking to various people. I think it stems from having very good area scouts who start the process for you and are able to generate as much information as possible, and then we really begin the evaluation process. So, for instance, in Joe Flacco's case, we had the chance to see him down in Mobile [Ala.] at the Senior Bowl [and] how he threw the ball in bad conditions. With Lamar [Jackson], he was a guy that we had seen play many, many times, live, in-person and on tape. We really studied him, and we tried to keep our interest in him as quiet as possible. The biggest thing is, I think, as an organization having conviction in the player and not necessarily being swayed by the public opinion, or by the media rankings, or the draft prognosticators and different things like that, and just really believing in what you do and what you see. Having conviction and then being able to play the game – finding a way. In both cases, with Joe and Lamar, we made trades. In Lamar's case, we traded from the second [round] up into the first [round]. In Joe's case, I think that year we had the eighth pick, and then we traded all the way back to maybe [Pick] 26 and then back up to [Pick 18]. But using the Draft board, understanding how that works, and having the flexibility to go get the guy and to get him at a good spot."
On the importance of assessing a prospect's league value and using that to your advantage: "That's a big part of it. I think assessing league value is a really important job, especially as you get closer to the actual Draft – how other teams see the player and using that to your advantage."
On how to find a quarterback in the later rounds of the Draft: "Well, everybody wants to win, and everybody wants a quarterback. It's very hard, especially if the guy is regarded as being one of the first picks in the Draft, it's very hard to get a quarterback. The challenge as an organization is how can you play the game effectively and how can you get the quarterback that you want. Who do you like? Who do you see? I mean, look at the New England Patriots with Tom Brady. They got him in the sixth round, and the rest is history. So, there are quarterbacks that go in the first round, second round, third round, all the way through, including free agency, that end up being very, very good players. We got Tyler Huntley as an undrafted free agent, and he's played winning football for us when he's had the chance. We think his future is very, very bright. So, the idea is really finding a quarterback that has the skills, and then does he match what you want to do offensively? Does he have the personality? And does he want to get better? If you can find those guys, you have a chance."
On finding ways to stay one step ahead of your opponents: "Yes, I mean everybody copies you. If you have a good idea, it's going to last about six weeks, and then someone else is going to do it. You always have to try and be ahead. So, a few years ago, I would say Lamar [Jackson] was probably a little different from everybody else, but now you see a lot of quarterbacks that have some of the same types of skills. No one is exactly the same, but the game is changing dramatically in many different ways, from decision-making … You see coaches now going for it on fourth down; you didn't see that three [or] four [or] five years ago. The rise of analytics, the mobile quarterback, things like that … Years ago, for instance, we felt like we had an opportunity to collect 'comp' [compensatory] picks, and it took a long time for other teams to catch up. Now, everybody is doing it. It's just that when you have a good idea, somebody else is going to come along and cannibalize it."
On what defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald will bring to the Ravens:"That's a good question. We're fortunate with [defensive coordinator] Mike Macdonald that he has a history with us. He kind of grew up in the NFL with us, and so he understands the culture. I think the scheme is going to be very similar to what we've been doing. We may have some changes along the way, [and] those changes may manifest themselves in terms of how we call the defense or how guys line up and different things. But we've been good on defense for a long time. I think we understand, as an organization, what it takes to be good on defense [and] the type of players that we're looking for. Mike's been with us, and he'll be a big part of that."
On the relationship between the Ravens and Michigan and how that dynamic plays out:"Yes, I think it's an interesting dynamic with [Ravens head coach] John [Harbaugh] and [Michigan head coach] Jim [Harbaugh]. In some years, we've sort of allowed Jim to take some of our coaches, and now Jim has allowed us to bring [defensive coordinator] Mike [Macdonald] back. I've often thought … And we've seen it sort of in different ways. I could reference [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome] and his relationship with Alabama; John and his relationship with Jim and Michigan – having those kinds of connections sometimes, that pipeline where you can get good, reliable information. So, if we want to get information, say, on a Marlon Humphrey from a guy like Coach Saban down at Alabama, having Ozzie Newsome on staff, that's going to really help us get the best information that we can on Marlon. The same thing would hold true with the Michigan players and also the coaches at Michigan. And also, if Jim is looking for a coach, and maybe we have a good young coach that John thinks can help Jim, then we go that way, as well."
On a potential contract extension with QB Lamar Jackson:"I hope so, at some point, that we will. I think we've discussed this at length, and I said this before: We will work at Lamar's [Jackson] urgency. So, he and I have had ongoing discussions. We've talked fairly recently, as well. He knows how to find me; I know how to find him. I was very happy to see him working out on the west coast recently with some of our guys. That's exciting [and] something that we really think will help us this year be the very best team that we can be. He's a guy that when we think about the Ravens three, four, five years from now, we envision Lamar being a very, very big part of that team and definitely a player that can help us win Super Bowls."
On the evolution of the quarterback position and the importance of a franchise quarterback to sustained success:"One of the things that I've seen over the years – and I just think about my 26 years – is sort of the rise of the quarterback and the evolution of the quarterback. And really, what we see now is it is very, very hard to win in the NFL without a blue-chip quarterback – it just is. There are certainly going to be anomalies, but to think that we could win a Super Bowl, like we did in 2000, with primarily a dominant defense, that's very hard to do now. The game has changed, the rules have changed, the way that teams play has changed. The passing game is more important than ever, and all the various components of that. You've still got to be able to block, though. You've still got to be able to protect the quarterback. You've still got to be able to run the football when you have to run the football. You still have to be able to control the line of scrimmage at the end of the game. And you still have to, in my opinion, play excellent defense. You've got to play great special teams. That's going to be a staple of every winning team – is a great special teams. So, yes, it's definitely a quarterback league [and] it will continue to be a quarterback league, but you can't just have a quarterback standing alone; you've got to have really good pieces behind him to be the best possible team."
On if he's had any communication with DT Calais Campbell:"We have exchanged text messages. I don't want to speak for Calais [Campbell], but I asked Calais that … Basically, I said, 'Listen, if you want to play, I'd like you to let me know at some point, because we thought you had a good year. You are a good player.' I have a lot of admiration for Calais as a person and as a player and as a leader. So, I'm hopeful that we can bring him back. I'd love to bring him back. He's a guy that plays winning football, and he does as much for the team and the organization in the building as he does on the field, and so I have a lot of respect for him."
On what he values more in a defensive back: a player who can take the ball away, or a player who doesn't give up plays:"Both. (laughter) I mean, I think it's such an interesting position, because when you look at cornerbacks, you want guys that can cover, that don't allow completions, guys that force turnovers and guys that tackle. And so, I would say, we have, actually, two outstanding corners – both guys got hurt this year – in Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters. And what makes them both very special is both guys can cover, they both force turnovers, and they have the ability in critical situations to make big plays against good opponents. So, it's a very, very challenging position to play – probably one of the toughest positions in sports to play, in my opinion – and you've got to have speed, athletic ability, but you've also got to have a warrior's mentality. You've got to have a toughness about you, and you've got to have thick skin, because you can get beat, but you've got to come back on the very next play. The fourth component to that is ball skills. The great corners can catch, and they can make interceptions, and they can score. A lot of times, especially younger corners, they play corner because they don't catch very well. So, as an evaluator, what we try to do is assess ball skills, and the guys that have the ability to make the play or actually intercept passes, those guys get pushed up a little bit, because those guys can really make the game-changing play."
On the evaluation and scouting process that took place several years ago for QB Lamar Jackson:"Well, with Lamar [Jackson] … First, we had some scouts that thought he was a very special player, kind of unorthodox and not your traditional quarterback that we've seen over the years. We were blessed, I think, as an organization, to have [quarterbacks coach] James Urban coaching with us and also [former offensive coordinator] Marty Mornhinweg, as well, and both guys had been around Michael Vick, and so they had seen a player like Lamar in the past. One of the challenges sometimes you have in scouting is when you don't have a reference or a memory or somebody that reminds you of that particular player. So, we were blessed to have that, because those guys had been around Michael Vick, and they knew how he would fit with us, and they knew how we could build things out. And I think we were also blessed, in the same way, because having [offensive coordinator] Greg Roman on staff … Greg has always been a coach, a coordinator who could scheme up the running game extremely well in a very, very non-traditional, kind of interesting way. And so, when you have a quarterback like Lamar, it was almost like Greg could go to the lab – he was like a mad scientist – and it allowed us to create an offense that other people hadn't seen. Now, that doesn't last forever. Other teams spend a lot of time in the offseason trying to find ways to beat you – that's just the nature of this business. But when we saw Lamar, we saw a unique talent who we felt was underrated, undervalued, and there was an opportunity for us to get him at a point where we thought we would get outstanding value and then craft an offense around his unique skills."
On evaluating this year's class of top offensive linemen:"If you look at this draft class, you're going to have, in my opinion, some really outstanding offensive linemen, for sure. You've got a guy like Evan Neal, who we met with last night. Extremely impressive – what he did at Alabama. [He's] imposing, physical, strong, [a] run blocker. [He] has a chance to be an outstanding pro. Another guy [is] Charles Cross – offensive tackle. Again, just [an] outstanding athlete. [He] looks like a power forward out there in pass protection. [He's], again, a guy I think that's very, very gifted. [Tyler] Linderbaum at Iowa – a center … We've had very good luck with Iowa players over the years. Marshal Yanda, to me, [will be] a Hall of Famer someday. When we look at a guy like Tyler Linderbaum, we see a lot of the same qualities: tough, gritty, very, very athletic, very intelligent and smart. [He's] the type of guy that can really be the centerpiece of your offensive line. So, teams picking in the Top 15, I think they have a chance to get themselves a really good offensive lineman."