Eric DeCosta opening statement: "Thanks everybody for joining us today. We're excited to be at this stage of the Draft process. It's a big offseason as we've talked about. We concluded our final set … Basically, our final set of draft meetings on Saturday morning. We have approximately 200 players ranked on the Draft board as draftable prospects, which is a very strong, healthy number. [We're] excited about the opportunity that lies ahead of us and very appreciative for all the work the coaches and the scouts have done to build the best Draft board that we can build."
Eric, with T Orlando Brown Jr., what do you figure about the chances … Or how can you gauge the chances of possibly granting his trade request either the days leading up to the draft, or the day of the draft? Also, can you confirm – there was a report of the free agent visit for T Alejandro Villanueva. Can you confirm his visit as well? (Jamison Hensley)
DeCosta: "That's a really hard question for me to answer, because I really can't answer that question. I'm not going to talk about any ongoing discussions with Orlando [Brown Jr.], or whatever that might be. There are always a lot of moving parts in any offseason. We're just getting ready for the Draft, and we're basically just approaching this as how can we build the best possible team to play in September. I'm also not going to comment on any reports of players visiting or not visiting Baltimore. Again, it doesn't really benefit us to talk about those kinds of things, especially this time of year. So, I'll just leave that question alone."
Hey Eric, as you go over the years, is there a particular ruse or misdirection, something that worked out that you're fond of – either for you, or [executive vice president] Ozzie Newsome, or something – over the years? Maybe if you want to go back to a little further so it's not quite contemporary. But has this been effective in that regard in using this press conference to help you? (Pete Gilbert)
DeCosta: "Well, if I comment on any past subterfuge or ruses that we might've used, then I might not have the opportunity to use those same maneuvers again. (laughter) I think just one of the things that we've always tried to do over the years is prevent the list of players that visit us to get out publicly. And some of you guys were very good at getting those names over the years. So, what we've tried to do sometimes is just bring in players that we really have no interest in – just to get their names out there and get them attached to us. Going back to – I think I can tell this story – Lamar Jackson. We were certainly very interested in Lamar and it was important for us to get him here to spend a day with us, but it was also really important for us to not get that name out there. So, it helped when Lamar came out because he didn't' have an agent. When agents aren't involved, it's much easier to keep secrets. That's one thing we've learned over the past 25 years. So, even though people were trying to find out if Lamar Jackson visited us, we were able to keep that very, very quiet, and I was proud of that. It's very hard, as coach [John Harbaugh] would say, to actually have secrets in this business, especially if more than one person knows. But that was an instance where it was really beneficial to us to keep that quiet, and we were able to do that."
Hey Eric, when you look at pass rusher, in your history you guys have hit on your first round picks – OLB Terrell Suggs and OLB Peter Boulware – but you've also found some talent in the mid-later rounds with OLB Adalius Thomas in the sixth round, OLB Jarret Johnson [in the] fourth round, OLB Matthew Judon a fifth-round pick. Is this the type of draft where you see depth at pass rusher? Or is this the kind of draft where you think it's going to be top-heavy in finding a guy? (Todd Karpovich)
DeCosta: "It's a strong draft I think with edge pass rushers across the board, basically, in any round. So, there are certainly some players that we like at the top of the board in the first round [and] second round. But as we look at the depth of the Draft, we see really good players at that position – outside linebackers scattered throughout. And I think one of the things that really benefits us is I think our coaches and scouts are very aligned on the type of qualities that we want at that position. I think we've been blessed to have been in the same scheme – although the scheme has changed slightly over the years – we know what an outside linebacker looks like, and I think our coaches do a great job of developing those type of players. So, that really helps us, I think, in the Draft. We've been fortunate over the years to find some players that we were probably able to get at a really good spot that present a very good value to us long-term."
Since the season ended, you guys have made some additions, you've lost some players. Do you feel like you're a better team now than you were when the season ended? Or how much work do you think is needed? Particularly, I know you signed WR Sammy Watkins and re-signed OLB Tyus Bowser and tried to improve the pass rush, but how much work is needed ahead? (Jerry Coleman)
DeCosta: "There's a lot of work to be done. We always feel that way. We wouldn't be in this business if we felt complacent. We look at this as a great opportunity with the Draft. We've got some picks and ability to add some really good players to the mix. Guys that should come in immediately and contribute. We also see opportunities between now and September to possibly add some veteran players. There are still some unrestricted free agents on the market, some players that would possibly be post-June 1 cuts that we can look at as well. And there are always going to be trade opportunities as well. So, a lot of different ways to add players to the team. We're going to build the best team we can in September so that coach [John Harbaugh] and all the coaches and players have the best possible chance to win games in September."
Two questions: One, do you think this Draft is a lot more, or somewhat more unpredictable because of all the COVID- factors? I hear or read some people saying that around the league. And two, there are two wide receivers you guys have been linked to a lot – LSU WR Terrace Marshall Jr. and Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman. If you could talk about both of those guys as far as their similarities or differences. (Cliff Brown)
Hortiz: "In terms of the COVID-, it's a little unique this year in terms of scouting the players. Our guys did a lot of it through Zoom. During the fall, we were able to go out to games once the league opened that up. So, we got a chance to them play games live. And then, obviously, it loosened up this spring. We were able to get to campuses and work guys out and put our hands on players, so to speak – to see them upfront and in-person live. As coach [John Harbaugh] says all the time, 'Could you feel the speed of a player? Could you feel the power?' Our guys were there to see that and get that exposure. It feels very similar to a normal year – just to be exposed to them through Pro Days and the Senior Bowl as well.
"In terms of [Rashod] Bateman and [Terrace] Marshall [Jr.], both [are] talented guys who have some versatility. Marshall has played outside and then moved inside. Bateman did the same thing in each of the past two years. So, they've showed off their ability to play from different spots of the offense. Both [are] talented guys. A little different at what they do best, but certainly two guys that we have our eye on."
This is your first year going into the new era of 17 regular season games. Does that change, at all, the way you look at your board, the way you think about the Draft in terms of what you think you'll need for what a regular season is going to look like now? (Gerry Sandusky)
DeCosta: "I hadn't thought about that too much. I think what we learned from this past year was the value of the practice squad. We were able to have a bigger practice squad this year, and it really helped. I thought that the scouts, the pro guys, [director of player personnel] George [Kokinis], and all the guys upstairs – and also, our coaches did a great job with the practice squad, developing those guys, getting them in each week, learning the scheme, helping to service both sides of the ball, and finding some good, young players that we can develop. Then also, looking at maybe some veteran players that were still out there and available that we could bring in and gave us a boost at different points throughout the season on special teams, on offense or defense. I think in a long season – which we saw that this past season was a very long season – having as many good, young players that have experience is a really beneficial thing. And we'll continue to do that."
We know that you draft well around here Eric, and Joe and John. But when the New York Post says that the Ravens are the best drafting team over the last five years, is there anything you can use from that? Do agents tell their clients, 'They draft well, so they're looking at you, so that's a positive.' Anything you can take from that? (Kirk McEwen)
DeCosta: "I think we've probably had the most picks over that span. And I look at the Draft in many ways – and I have to say, it's a luck-driven process. If you have more picks, you're going to hit on more players, and that goes back to a philosophy that I think [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome] started back in 1996. We started really going after [complementary] picks and trading back as much as we could in any given round. We've had some success; we've also had some big misses. We've had a lot of picks, and I think that's the Number One indicator to see teams who have success in the Draft, is how many chances they have to draft good players. And then that, and then also having the development machine, having the coaching staff, the strength and conditioning people, the wellness people, getting these good, young players in here and giving them a chance to get better – and that's what it's all about."
Eric, I was just wondering how much the opt-outs influenced kind of how you look at a player? Obviously, it's a unique circumstance over the past year. Does that influence this year's Draft class and individual prospects? (Ryan Mink)
DeCosta: "That's a good question. That's a hard question to answer. I think everybody that evaluates players has a different way of looking at the opt-out players. There's always a little bit, with me, anxiety, because if a guy didn't play this year, what's he going to look like next year? There have been some players who haven't played a football game in 400 or 500 days in college, and that makes you nervous. On the other hand, we've seen many times players in our program that might've gotten hurt, missed the majority of a season, came back the next year and played very well. So, it's a nuance thing. I think it depends on the player himself. It depends on his personality, his 'drivers' and all those different things. It depends on what he's been doing over the last year. It depends on maybe the program he came out of, the position he played. I mean, there are so many different factors. It is a challenge, but it's not something that we haven't thought about. We've been thinking about this, really, since last May – what would happen in a situation like this with a pandemic. I'm proud of the fact that the scouts and coaches, we were able to come up with a plan of looking at players, and evaluating players, and going to visit players, and all these different things without a Combine. Unique challenges for sure, but I think we've had a good plan and I think we'll be ready in the next 10 days."
John, you and Eric were quite clear early in the offseason that the offensive line was definitely something you wanted to focus on. You came out and signed G Kevin Zeitler early as a big addition. Where are you in the process of upgrading that group? At this point, can you give us an idea of how you see G/C Bradley Bozeman fitting in, in terms of position? (Jeff Zrebiec)
Harbaugh: "The good thing about Bradley [Bozeman], just starting with that, is he's versatile. He can play left guard, or for us, center. He played center at Alabama. So, I'd say he's in the conversation for both those two spots. He's proven himself as a starter and we're excited about him. As far as where we're at, we're in the process. We have the Draft, we still have free agent possibilities – that question was asked earlier. And guys are competing. We have guys who will be fighting for those jobs. So, we'll see how all that comes together for us. I'm very confident we're going to have a great offensive line next year."
When it comes to drafting for best available as opposed to need – quote-unquote – how would you describe your philosophy as you've come to understand it during your time in Baltimore and throughout your career? (Bobby Trosset)
DeCosta: "This question, I can talk about this question for five hours. (laughter) Basically, all we do is we evaluate the players, and we really try to stack the players best, over next best, over next best, all the way down the board – that's the key. The key is really the comparison of the players, looking at their strengths and weaknesses, how they fit with scheme, how they fit our culture – which is unique here. We look at all the personality quirks, and the 'drivers,' and the motivations, and the grit, and all those different things. It's really like a big mosaic – it all just kind of fits. And then, what we do is we look at the strengths and weaknesses of the team. We've got some positions that are probably pretty stacked with a lot of talent on this team. We've got other positions that are talented, but we need depth. We have other positions where there may be a hole at some point. So, we factor that in. Now, what we're not going to do is pass up an elite player or a highly-skilled player at a position if we think that guy can upgrade us over time. And what we've seen, and we see this is every single year – this is an important point – as you assess the strengths and weaknesses of your team, it can change. It can change overnight. It's a very fluid process. You go out one day thinking you're stacked at tight end, and then all of sudden Nick Boyle gets hurt, and then you're trying to find tight ends. You think you've got five or six corners deep, and then all of sudden you lose corners in a mini camp practice, or you lose corners in a preseason game, or you lose two corners in one week – one guy pulls a hamstring and the other guy rolls and ankle – and the next thing you know, you're trying to find corners on other teams. So, the idea of strengths and weaknesses on your team and needs, and all those different things is very, very fluid and it can change very quickly. So, what we try to do is every single player that we add to this team, we ask ourselves, 'Can this guy play winning football?' And if he can, and if he's motivated, and if he can fit this culture, then we'll consider that player very strongly – regardless of need or not needed at any given time."
John, [executive vice president and general manager] Eric DeCosta is going to pick these players and you're going to coach them. What is your understanding as to how available they will be to you once they are drafted in terms of on the field? And what was your reaction to players saying they will not participate in the voluntary workouts? (Mark Viviano)
Harbaugh: "We're coaches. We coach; that's what we're preparing to do. We love our players, and we love to teach. We work together with any player [and] every player that chooses to be here to help in every way we can. Individually, collectively [or] as a team, [we] help them build their game and achieve their goals and dreams as football players. So, that's how we look at it as coaches. It's pretty simple."
This question is for Eric. You talked a little bit earlier about the value in having a lot of picks. As you look at this Draft in terms of the number of picks that you have, is that where you want to be? Do you want to try to add picks? How do you view that? (Garrett Downing)
DeCosta: "Well, we've been in the pick business for years. I think if your team is strong and if you think you have a pretty good roster, then it's tougher for guys to make the team. So, you don't want to have 15 picks, or 13 picks, or 12 picks every year, but this is a good Draft. We see a lot of talented players at the starter-level, potentially. So, if we have the chance to get a pick or two extra, then we'd probably do that. We don't necessarily want to have 11 or 12 picks this year, but there is a sweet spot. I think, just looking out, next year we think we'll have a chance to have some additional picks. So, the idea is to always have some surplus picks in your back pocket that you can use. So, I think we see the opportunity over the next couple of years to probably draft somewhere around 20 players. We like that number. It keeps us young, but also experienced across the roster, and that should give us a chance to compete long-term."
Where do things stand regarding a contract extension for QB Lamar Jackson? (Shawn Stepner)
DeCosta: "That's ongoing. That's definitely a fluid thing. Lamar [Jackson] and I have had a discussion about that. It's important to us, and it's important to him. Lamar is obviously a very patient guy. He wants to be the best he can be. He wants this team to be the best it can be, and he wants to win very badly. So, we're aligned that way. I'm confident that we'll continue to discuss this, and I think at some point, hopefully, we'll have some good news for everybody."
You've talked about the value of having a volume of picks in several different ways. Given that, when you're looking at this year's Draft, what do you think are the deepest positions? (Childs Walker)
DeCosta: "I think quarterback is a good position. You have five or six strong guys that can come in and really have a chance to compete to be your quarterback of the future, for sure. Offensive line, I think, is a strong position this year. You have tackles. You have guards. You have some centers in the first couple of rounds. [You have] guys that can come in and really impact your team. Edge pass rush, we've talked about that a little bit. We see probably somewhere between five to eight guys in the first couple rounds that would have a chance to come in and really be legitimate edge setter, pass rusher-type of guys that can do a multitude of different things for you. And then wide receiver; it was a strong position last year, I think it's a strong position this year, and you have a bunch of guys in the first three rounds that can really come in and compete to be significant players for you early on."
You talked about the guys who opted-out and how each person is different to evaluate. Having said that, is there a position that is easier to come off of after some time off? Is there a position that is easier to evaluate? A lot of the top offensive linemen haven't played in a year. Are there any nuances to what positions are better? (Aditi Kinkhabwala)
Hortiz: "In terms of whether they've played or not, I don't know if it makes it easier. Obviously on an offensive lineman, you can see them play every rep in their college tape. So, if they didn't play as much, or if they didn't play this year, or if they opted-out, or if their school didn't play as many games, certainly going back to  tape and being able to see them play every rep helps. Some of those players that did opt-out showed up at the Senior Bowl, others didn't. So, we had a late look at them. But certainly, the positions where … Wide receivers [or] DBs, if they opted-out, you had to search. You maybe had to watch more film, but the great thing is on a lot of those players, you had  and  [tape]. Albeit you're looking at a player when he's much younger, but you're able to go back and see him move around and assess the athlete. Then there's a little bit of a projection of where he is that we're able to kind of answer a little bit when we showed up at the Pro Days this spring."
Eric, as you guys plan a future with QB Lamar Jackson together, obviously it is a significant financial commitment, more than what you've had to pay for a rookie contract. How does having a quarterback like that potentially locked down change your team-building process, especially as it pertains to the Draft? (Jonas Shaffer)
DeCosta: "It's great to have a QB. It's great to have a QB who wants to win badly. He prepares to win, and he cares. He's a part of this community. That's a really important thing; we don't take that for granted. We try to be as strategic as possible in the short term, but also in the long term. I think [senior vice president of football operations] Pat Moriarty and [director of football administration] Nick Matteo do an awesome job looking at the salary cap and the implications of deals that we make. We try to be responsible in the short term. We try to be aggressive as well. We've tried to be proactive, as I think you've seen in the last few years with contracts with veteran players [and] with guys that we've drafted and developed. We've tried to keep as many of those guys as possible. We understand that if we do sign a long-term deal with Lamar Jackson, that's going to change the way we've operated the last couple of years. We certainly understand that, and we look at that as a great problem to have. We aspire to [have] that type of problem. We want to have the franchise quarterback. We want to have the quarterback that cares as much as we do, and he's a leader, and he's the face of the team, and he represents the team as well as he does, and he gives us a chance to win every game. So, that's a positive. It will change the way that we do contracts, potentially. We will have to be probably a little bit more careful about which players we sign and which players we don't sign. We may lose some good, young players. That's unfortunately just the salary cap age that we're in, and it happens to every single team. So, we'll be aggressive, if possible. I think the Draft will continue and will always remain the lifeblood of this organization when it comes to building this team and building the roster, and Draft picks will be more important than ever."
Eric, asking you to go on a little bit of the way back machine. When you and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome chose G/C Bradley Bozeman, did you pick him at that time because of his versatility? Or did you think he was capable of being an NFL center? (Stan Charles)
DeCosta: "He was a center at Alabama, so that was his position. We drafted him as a center, quite honestly, because that's the position he played at Alabama. He came in and we had a center. We liked our depth at center, and Bradley [Bozeman], to his credit, really came in right away and he played well. He's a smart guy. He's pretty versatile. He's strong, and he's tough. He's a very diligent player. So, he just adapted to that left guard spot pretty well, surprisingly, at an early age, and we were very happy with that. Now we'll assess where we are as an offensive line and make the best decision moving forward as to where Bradley will play next year."
Eric, when you look at the defensive line, how do you prioritize adding some more youth considering some of the age that you have there and really just even the contract status? A lot of those guys are unsigned after this year. (Luke Jones)
DeCosta: "Well, we drafted a couple guys last year; we're very happy that we did. We'll always look at the defensive line as being very important, especially in our defense and our scheme. Stopping the run is always a priority for us. We were very happy last year with the additions of the guys we brought in across the board – the veteran players we brought in [and] the younger players. Again, one of the jobs as a general manager and one of the jobs I have with [head coach] John [Harbaugh] is that we always look at the short term of the team and also the long term of the team. So, you're right. We have some players that have one-year deals, or two-year deals, [and] we have some younger players. So, we'll just continue to assess the strength of the Draft. Quite honestly, if the best guy available at the time is a defensive lineman, then we'll pick him. And if he's not, we'll pick somebody else."
I have kind of a similar question. Eric, how do you evaluate the need at safety? Obviously, you have two proven starters who played well last year, but kind of the depth need there at safety? (Ryan Mink)
DeCosta: "The safety question I would say, again, DeShon [Elliott] came in last year, he stayed healthy and he played great football. Chuck Clark is in many ways the heart and soul of our defense. So, we love those two players. They're good players. Could we use some depth? Of course. We could use depth at every other position as well. But again, not to beat a dead horse, if there is a really good safety there, we'll pick him. Because in our scheme with [defensive coordinator Don Martindale] 'Wink,' the way that we have players on and off the field [that are] interchangeable, we want good players. If we can bring in a safety who's a young, ascending player who gives us a chance long-term, then we'll do that. Because in this business, as I said, you can be as strong as possible and then you get a couple injuries and things change overnight. So, for us, having depth at every single position is essential."
Eric and Joe, when you look at the drafting of players, especially Pro Bowl players, the Ravens rank among the best in the NFL. One of the questions I get from fans all the time is for the wide receiver position, why has … You've been able to draft Pro Bowl players at every single position. What is it about the wide receiver position that you have not been able to do so? Is that something you guys even think about? (Jamison Hensley)
DeCosta: "I mean, do we think about it? I guess we think about it, but we want to win games. That's really what I think about more often, why did we lose the game? Or why did we win the game? So, we want to have good players at every position. I'm aware that there's some fan discontent with our wide receivers in our drafting and all of that. But in general, I look at our record and how we win games and how we play football. I'm proud of the team. I know Coach [John Harbaugh] is proud, and I know [director of player personnel] Joe [Hortiz] is proud. We have some really good, young receivers. It's insulting to these guys when they hear that we don't have any receivers. It's quite insulting. I'm insulted by it, too, to be honest. I think we have some guys that want to show everybody what they can do. We love our team. We love our roster. We have a lot of really good, young football players who care very badly about it. So, I can't answer the question about Pro Bowlers and all that. If Pro Bowlers get voted Pro Bowlers, they're Pro Bowlers. But I think we've had a lot of good receivers here over the years that have won big games for us. I know this; I think Lamar [Jackson] likes our receivers, you know? I think our coaches like our receivers. I think the teammates, the guys on this team like our receivers. That's my answer to that question."
Joe, we've heard a lot of talk about this wide receiver class, and Eric, you've kind of addressed it. Others have said it's the best wide receiver class they've seen in a long time. Do you feel the same way, Joe? How deep is this class? (Ryan Mink)
Hortiz: "I echo what [executive vice president and general manager] Eric [DeCosta] says about the Pro Bowlers. I mean, it's neat and all of that, but it's about winning. That's what we care about when we pick players – players that fit the Ravens. In terms of the wideouts, it is a deep class, and last year was a deep class. I think next year is going to be a deep class. There are more and more players coming out of the position that are developed, and the way the college game is going, I think we're going to continue to see it. It's a unique class, because there's versatility in the class. There are a lot of outside guys. There are a ton of slot players, and like Eric mentioned earlier, there's value throughout the Draft. Our board is stacked throughout. There are not a couple high guys and then a gap. There's a nice column with a lot of names in it. It's exciting as a scout to look up there and say, 'Hey. If we have an opportunity to take a guy high, it's going to be awesome. There's going to be a guy we like, but there's also going to be an opportunity in those middle rounds, much like there was last year for us, to take players that we like.' So, it's nice to go into a Draft knowing that throughout the Draft, there's going to be options for us."
Eric or Joe, if either of you could address specifically WR Terrace Marshall Jr. out of LSU and what you've seen from him in terms of scouting him, and a unique prospect maybe in RB Jake Funk at the University of Maryland? (Mark Viviano)
Hortiz: "We'll start with the local guy Jake [Funk]. He's competitive as can be. The neat thing about him is one, he's certainly been a productive runner there for them at [University of Maryland], but two, he's been an outstanding special teamer which we like in prospects. I think having that versatility is something that's very attractive to him that will be seen throughout the league, not just in Baltimore. In terms of Terrace [Marshall Jr.], he's a guy that played outside last year [and] showed his explosiveness as an outside receiver. He took on a greater role this year in the slot, so he's shown that versatility. He's shown the ability to win at all three levels, and he has great size and speed. So, [he's] a player that, obviously, throughout his career [has] shown the ability to produce from different platforms of an offense."
Joe, I'm wondering if you could give us your evaluation on a couple of the pass rushers who are being talked about toward the end of the first round, DE Jaelan Phillips from Miami (Fla.), OLB Azeez Ojulari from Georgia and then DE Jayson Oweh from Penn State? (Childs Walker)
Hortiz: "Do you want me to just read my reports? Or do I … (laughter) They're all good players; there's no doubt. There's a reason they're being talked about high. They are certainly each different. [Jaelan] Phillips is a guy that obviously transferred in from UCLA to Miami [Fla.] back home and had really an outstanding season this year [with] sack production and plays really hard. [Azeez] Ojulari is versatile [and] does a lot of things in that Georgia defense. I missed the … Who else did you ask about?" (Reporter: "[Jayson] Oweh from Penn State.") "[Jayson] Oweh, yes. A guy who's, obviously, close by. He came in [as] a developmental player early on, has taken on a greater role this year and has shown the ability to be a three-down player there at Penn State this year. He was used more as a situational guy in , and [he] really took on a great role this year. [He's] another guy that plays hard. All three of those guys, I can promise you one thing; when you put on the tape, you're going to see competitive players that fit the Ravens style of football."
Obviously, we're talking about the Draft, because it's front and center at the moment, but historically, it's Year Two and beyond when players have their biggest impact in the NFL. You had a really productive 10-player draft class last year. As you look at last year's draft class, what are you most excited about, as far as their impact this year? (Gerry Sandusky)
Harbaugh: "I'm excited about all of them. I'm most excited about each guy, individually. I couldn't separate one guy from the other. All those guys are great people – they work hard; they have dreams. We talk about their goals all the time, and I just can't wait to see how they pop – what kind of progress they make between then and now. So, I just can't wait. It's exciting to coach those guys, and I think we're going to see big things from all of them. What degree – who, how, what, who I'm most excited about – it would be impossible to say, but I'm very excited. We all are, as coaches, [executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta], [director of player personnel] Joe [Hortiz]. When you draft a guy, and you start coaching guys, you want them to do well, and you can't wait to see them get at it."
Just back to the wide receiver conversation, in regard to expectations from the room. When you get together at this point and try to draft a wide receiver, I'm assuming, given your offense, it's a different kind of wide receiver than maybe you were looking at five or 10 or 20 years ago, with all the totality of whatever fan angst there would be. When you talk about it privately, the level, for your room, knowing how much you run the football, what are you really expecting out of the wide receivers, in totality? (Nestor Aparicio)
Harbaugh: "It was vague enough to try to make it just tough enough to answer. (laughter) We want winning football from our guys. It's guys who fit what we do, certainly, but we want guys who can get open, who can make plays, that play hard. There are different aspects to different types of receivers, but in the end, we'll find certain receivers in the Draft who we like that fit us; fit our needs and fit how we play, fit our quarterback and fit our personality – as [executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta] said – our culture. We'll find those guys, and we'll be targeting those guys. We know who they are already. We've had the meetings, and we'll be trying to get them. So, the same thing with the guys who are already here. Like Eric said – I agree with Eric 100% – I think it couldn't have been said any better than what he said. So, we'll stand by our guys. I'm not about to apologize for our guys. Our guys are going to go out there and win football games for us, and they're going to make plays, and they're going to show people. I can't wait to see it happen."
I'm wondering about Draft Night. Are you guys planning a more traditional Draft Night, "War Room" at The Castle? We all know how everything was affected last year for the Draft. And if so, and everything back to – quote, unquote – normal, I would assume that you guys are happy about that and all being back together for Draft Night? (Shawn Stepner)
Harbaugh: "I have a question for [executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta]: Are we going to have the ice cream bars again this year?" (Eric DeCosta: "I hope we do.") "I miss the ice cream bars."
DeCosta: "I think there are just a few people that are disappointed this year, and it's Michael DeCosta and Jackson DeCosta, because they had a great Draft last year – being a part of that at my house – and they loved the food that was delivered, courtesy of [owner] Steve Bisciotti and [head coach] John [Harbaugh], I think. But they had a great Draft last year, and we're going to be traditional this year. We have a setup. It's going to work out perfectly. It's very similar to what we've done in past years. We're not going to have the exact amount of access that we've had to the Draft Room, but we are very comfortable. It'll be a hybrid, meaning we'll have some technology that we'll use this year. We're not going to have anybody in Cleveland, but we learned last year how to make the picks using technology. We'll have some additional boards. One of the great things – probably the only great thing – about this pandemic was it forced us last year to be creative and to step outside the box a little bit and do some things differently. And we're going to incorporate … Even though we're getting, hopefully, back to more of tradition and things that we've all gotten accustomed to, we've learned how to do some amazing things. Technology, the video guys, our IT people, [director of research & development] David McDonald, they've helped us with the draft process. They helped us this season with what we did with meetings and different things. We're going to continue to do some of those things, because they're smart, and it would be foolish for us to not do that. So, it's going to be very similar in a lot of ways. There are going to be some changes, and I think the changes will end up being very productive."
When you talk about the young receivers that you have – WR James Proche II and WR Devin Duvernay – they obviously missed all of spring football a year ago, and they missed a fair amount of summer prep. So, as we see players wanting to opt-out of in-person voluntary workouts, can you just tell us why OTAs are so important? What happens in spring football that is so vital in the preparation of a team? (Aditi Kinkhabwala)
Harbaugh: "I've been on record saying that already. It's football practice; it's a team game; it's the ultimate team game. Since I've been in the League, in terms of the controversy about the whole thing, it's been voluntary. We coach every guy that wants to be here. Every [player] that decides to show up, we'll coach, and that's what we'll do. So, I'm looking forward to it, and when they get here, we'll be coaching them – that's kind of how it works out. And we've got guys in the building today. We have guys, we have non-rehab guys here. So, guys make their choices, and the guys who are here, we're coaching them up."
I'm just curious how the uncertainty around T Orlando Brown Jr. and a potential trade there affects how you assess a need at offensive tackle, as you go into this draft? (Garrett Downing)
DeCosta: "Well, it doesn't change things very much. If you go back to the early press conferences that [head coach] John [Harbaugh] has had, and when I've spoken in this offseason, we've talked about the importance of the offensive line, and that's a constant. When you play the type of football that we play, offensive line is always going to be a priority for us. We want to build the best offensive line we can in the short term, in the long term, looking out, making sure that we have adequate depth at every single spot. So, it doesn't change our thinking very much. If there's a really good player there, we're going to pick him. That's going to give us the best chance to win, it's going to help our offense succeed, and it's going to make us a tough team to play against."
With the COVID-19 vaccination and trying to encourage the players to get on board, is that really not your role? Is that the Players Association's role? I know you want them all vaccinated, so you can be around them and vice versa. (Jerry Coleman)
DeCosta: "That's a good question. First of all, a vaccination is a very personal thing. I'm not going to get into the politics of that. I have been vaccinated. I know [head coach] John [Harbaugh] and [director of player personnel] Joe [Hortiz] have been vaccinated, as well. For me, it was the right thing to do. Our players have the right to make a decision that they feel is best for them. There is a benefit to the club having as many people vaccinated as possible. We believe it's the best thing for our players and organization, but again, we support our players and their right to choose what they think is best for themselves, and we'll pivot accordingly."
Over the past couple of years, especially on offense, in addition to selecting good players, you've made speed a priority. I know you've been in the scouting game for a while now. With the rise of things like the GPS trackers that you get from colleges, can you just talk about how your perspective on how to gauge speed, in-game acceleration, quickness and all that stuff has changed over the years, and what you guys now use to judge players in that particular lane? (Jonas Shaffer)
Hortiz: "Certainly, we still use the stopwatch at Pro Days, but like you mentioned, you have the GPS data that we're able to get from schools, and there are other methods that we're able to use. You use it to marry it to what you're seeing. Obviously, our scouts go into schools, and they watch film, and when you put the film on, your eyes are telling you whether a player is fast or not, or whether you perceive him to be fast. But then you're able to take that data and that information and add it to the process, and hopefully, it marries up. So, we have a way of using it all together, and our analytics guys do a great job of working their end, and our scouts, obviously, assess the speed category in their eyes. It kind of works together. Sometimes you have disconnects, and sometimes you have the marriages, but it's great when you see it with your eyes, and then the data backs it up."
I know how you guys have a really good strategy for in-person interviews and how you ask certain questions – things like that. With having the Zoom interviews, do you still feel that you can get a good read on these players? Or is there a challenge, not having a guy you're sitting with face-to-face and really getting a more in-person feel of? (Jamison Hensley)
DeCosta: "We've interviewed so many players this year, hundreds of players this year, and that's, again, one of the benefits of the pandemic – was the technology associated with the Zoom and all that. It's given us a means to interview so many players. Without going into the specifics, we feel very confident, and we feel very comfortable. We've had great access to these players. It's actually been one of the better aspects of the offseason, this year especially – just being able to touch as many players as possible and really get an opportunity to talk to these players. Our coaches have used it, as well, and it's been very beneficial to the process."
Is it fair to say that you guys won't be signing a true free agent until May 3, at this point? (Jeff Zrebiec)
DeCosta: "There are always … At this time of year, you've got to make decisions that are best for the club. If there's a great player that we think we have to sign right now, we'll certainly sign that player. The implications of that might be unknown, but in general, there's a strategy that we use. Every player is different, every negotiation is different, every value is different. We'll look at the strengths and weakness of any decision that we make, and in some decisions maybe it's better to wait until May 3rd, maybe it's not. So, in the end, we're trying to get through the next two weeks, with the Draft. Does that mean we won't sign anybody? No, it doesn't mean that. It means we're focused on the Draft. We can certainly sign a player, but again, we have to understand the rules, we have to understand where we stand, and what's the best way for us to build the team, quite honestly."
Have you had anybody on your staff put in a good word for WR Amari Rodgers? What is your scouting report on Amari? (Ryan Mink)
Harbaugh: (laughter) "You're referring to the fact that Amari [Rodgers] is [wide receivers coach] Tee Martin's son, so of course, we have a good character report. I think we know what he liked for breakfast growing up, at some point in time. He didn't need a good report. He stands on his own. He has high grades from the coaches and the scouts, and he's definitely a player that we're talking about."
Hortiz: "Actually, the one person we didn't have evaluate, officially, Amari [Rodgers] was his father. (laughter) He knows him too well. Amari is a really good player and has been in his career there at Clemson. On top of the player, I told [wide receivers coach] Tee [Martin] when we came back from the Senior Bowl … We had a chance to talk to Amari there. We talk to every player at the Senior Bowl, obviously. He's just a great kid and highly competitive, versatile. At his Pro Day, he did running back drills, and he looked like a natural running back, which he was a running back in high school. But as a slot receiver, he's really physical, strong, knows how to get open – a reliable player. He also has some returner abilities. So, he's a fun player to watch, and it's neat to have, certainly, a really close source to him on the staff."