April 25, 2013

2013 NFL Draft Perfect For Ravens Draft Wizard(s) | Fanspeak.com's Baltimore Ravens Blog

With the 2013 NFL Draft just hours away, it must feel like Christmas at the Castle in Owings Mills Maryland. The state of the art practice facility is where the current Super Bowl Champion, Baltimore Ravens, conduct their organizations business and are currently locked down in their draft war room,

They are led by Vice President of Operations and General Manager Ozzie Newsome----But you can just call him “The Wizard”.

The Wizard and his staff are licking their chops for a draft that seems to be loaded with players that will make organizations like Baltimore better and deeper heading into the 2013 season.  This is a draft without marquee players but is filled with players that will be a part of marquee teams.

Marquee teams like the Ravens and 49ers, who battled in February’s Super Bowl and happens to own a combined 25 picks in this draft. In other words, there is no Andrew Luck or RG3 to take a bad to mediocre team to the playoffs as a rookie next season. However, there are enough players to help good teams like the Ravens, who lost a ton in free agency, recover quicker than normal.

In order to know what the Baltimore Ravens will do tonight, it is equally important to know the very rich draft history of this franchise and the process of how Newsome and company conduct their business. The Ravens draft history has to be considered one of the best in the NFL since the team arrived in Baltimore in 1996.

With The Wizard in charge, the Ravens have proven through the years that they possess one of the top front office and scouting staffs, not just in pro- football but also in all of professional sports. Since moving to Baltimore in 1996, vice president Ozzie Newsome, have had 17 drafts and selected 17 players in the first round.

For starters, the Ravens do not belong to the National Football Scouting group, which provides member teams a list of and reports on players eligible for the draft. Instead, Newsome, along with Eric DeCosta (Asst. G.M.), Joe Hortiz (Dir. Of college scouting),  and a confirmed 19 full-time members of the personnel department, which does not include the coaching staff, work year round on a proven scouting system that has produced picks, which have earned an amazing 53-combined Pro Bowls, several All-Rookie honors, multiple Defensive Player of the Year Awards and two Super Bowl MVP honors.

The Ravens have had 30 different players earn Pro Bowl honors since the team’s inception in 1996. Of those, 16 are homegrown players – 15 drafted and one signed as a rookie free agent.

The secret to Newsome and the Ravens success has several key components. The staff has continuity, loyalty and longevity. Most of Ozzie’s staff has been with the team since the franchise started in 1996 or has graduated from the “20/20” club.

The “20/20” group includes members who started with the Ravens as young assistants and grew into evaluators with more input. The term “20/20” refers to hiring “20-year-olds for $20,000.” “Actually, the guys started when they were a little older than 20 and for more than $20,000, but that’s what we call them,” said Newsome.

According the Ravens Draft Day Press release guide, Baltimore’s personnel department includes six area scouts, two pro personnel evaluators, who focus on college talent at this time of year, and additional support staff to handle the load.

Eric DeCosta, who has himself turned down opportunities to become a General Manager in the NFL and is the likely successor to Newsome says, “We do a lot of cross-checking. A number of us look at everyone, and then we have the area scouts look at certain players from other regions so we get multiple grades and opinions on all the players.”

Once the Ravens define a player as a “draftable” talent, John Harbaugh and his staff are assigned to add more study, which could include visits and workouts with some of the players. “Another advantage we have is that many of us have worked together or known each other for a while, so we scout the scouts and coaches,” Newsome says. “We may have a scout or coach who has proven he really knows how to spot talent at a certain position. That opinion carries more weight when we’re finalizing the board.”

Newsome encourages all scouts and coaches to have strong opinions. “We have very open dialogue. We want everyone’s opinion, especially from the scouts who have looked at the players the longest. I think another strength of our room is that we respect and listen to each other,” Newsome says.

Newsome always talks about taking the “highest-rated player on the board” when it comes time to select a player. The Ravens’ history proves that. When they had a Pro Bowl left tackle with Tony Jones, Baltimore selected Jonathan Ogden, a future Hall of Famer and 11-time Pro Bowler who was the first pick (fourth overall in ’96) in team history.

When they had Pro Bowl players like Priest Holmes and Shannon Sharpe, the Ravens selected Jamal Lewis and Todd Heap in the first round. “When we have grades that are even, we sometimes select the player in the area we have the greatest need,” Newsome notes. “But, our confidence in our staff and the process we use make draft days easy, exciting and fun. The hay is in the barn, so to speak. The hardest work is done year round prior to the draft.”

The 2013 NFL Draft does not have the glamour and glitz of past drafts but it has a ton of depth and depth at positions the Ravens have plenty of needs.

The Super Bowl champions own 12 picks in the NFL Draft, the most in the AFC and second only to NFC Champ, San Francisco.  Based on what the Ravens lost in free agency, and despite the moves in free agency to replenish some of those positions, Newsome and his staff may look to use every one of those dozen selections during the next three days.

Baltimore’s defense lost six of 11 Super Bowl starters, and pass-rushing specialist Paul Kruger, who did not start the game but led the team in sacks this season. In fact, from Week 10 to the Super Bowl, no one had more sacks than new Cleveland Browns’ pass rusher Paul Kruger (12). Kruger, who posted as many sacks as Mario Williams and Jared Allen combined, had 4.5 sacks during Baltimore’s playoff run. 

Three of the four starting defensive backs are gone, as are three members of the front seven.  On offense, WR Anquan Boldin was traded to the 49ers and veteran center Matt Birk retired.

The Ravens did a nice job filling some of those holes during free agency, as Newsome inked some quality talent at even better quality cap friendly deals. The Ravens signed Elvis Dumervil to replace Kruger. Dumervil had 11.5 sacks with Denver last year and versatile safety Michael Huff, formerly of the Oakland Raiders.

The additions of DT Chris Canty and DE Marcus Spears will also help ease the pain. Canty and Spears are widely considered to be a part of one of the best team drafts in the past 10 years, when the Dallas Cowboys selected both players in 2005. Spears was the20th selection in round one and Canty was picked in the fourth round, 132nd overall.

However, there are still many holes to be filled.

Inside linebacker seems to be the consensus as the biggest need for the Ravens. The Ray Lewis retirement did not catch the Ravens off guard but Dannell Ellerbe signing with the Miami Dolphins did. Future Hall of Famer Ed Reed is now a Houston Texan and Newsome cut Bernard Pollard, who played in 94 percent of all defensive snaps last season. Back-up safety Sean Considine is also gone via free agency.

While Lewis and Reed battled injuries during their final two seasons in Baltimore, when on the field, the Ravens won with consistency. No.52 and No.20 were the only two players on the Ravens defense to play all 333 postseason snaps (including penalties) during Baltimore’s Super Bowl run. 

While much of the offense returns intact, at least in terms of the skill position players, the loss of Boldin and Birk will force the Ravens to draft a WR and center at some point during the next three days. They are also uncertain what the future holds at left tackle.

Bryant McKinnie came on to play the position to perfection in late December and during the Super Bowl run but he has not been offered a contract to return and Michael Oher, who the Ravens drafted in the first round (23) in 2009, has never looked comfortable protecting Joe Flacco’s “Blind Side” when he played there. Kelechi Osemele may be able to make the transition but drafting a Tackle, in an offensive line rich draft seems like a no brainer for Baltimore.

In order, the needs have to be Inside Linebacker, Safety, Tackle and Wide Receiver.

There are several scenarios the Ravens may explore tonight and trading up in round one is definitely an option since the Ravens own the most picks of any AFC team. There are four inside backers that are widely considered first round talent.

LSU Linebacker Kevin Minter, Kansas State’s Arthur Brown, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o and Georgia’s Alec Ogletree, who may be the first ILB off the board, are rated as the top prospects for the position.

Newsome and his staff are not only great at evaluating talent but they are masters at reading the board ahead of them. Meaning, Newsome and his staff can with a great deal of success evaluate whom other teams will be selecting.

You must also not forget to factor in “The Raven Way” when evaluating your talent.  The Raven Way is a hardnosed style of football. It is playing for the guy next to you, being ready to perform as the next man up and playing with heart, soul and above all-----a blue-collar toughness. A toughness that players like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed embodied during their days here and players such as Joe Flacco (who has never missed a start), Ray Rice and Terrell Sugggs are likely to carry on.

While a player like Manti Te’o embodies those characteristics of the Raven Way, I believe he was exposed a bit during the BCS National Championship game against Ozzie Newsome’s Alma Matter, Alabama.

I do not think the Ravens are sold on Te’o for the long haul. It is important to keep in mind that the player the Ravens do select is going to be considered the man replacing a legend. Replacing Ray Lewis is impossible but comparisons will be made and No.52’s shoes are the ones the great fans of Baltimore will look for this individual to fill.

This will be the defensive equivalent of Andrew Luck replacing Peyton Manning, or Brian Griese replacing John Elway. Sometime successors have success as Luck did last season and Aaron Rodgers did replacing Brett Favre in Green Bay. But sometime they fail miserably as Jay Fielder did in Miami after Dan Marino called it quits.

Te’o may be better off in Baltimore than if the Chicago Bears select him at No.20. At least the pressure would be somewhat less, as he will also be replacing a legend in Brian Urlacher in the Windy City and he will be doing it 90-minutes from where he played his college football at the University of Notre Dame.

The Vikings or Colts could select Alec Ogletree. That leaves Kevin Minter and Arthur Brown and it comes down to which player best is perceived as a better fit in the Ravens aggressive 3-4 style of play. Arthur Brown is technically an outside backer, while Minter is listed as third best inside backer in Fanspeak.com’s NFL Draft Guide rankings.

ESPN/Scouts Inc. grades Minter at 86 and Brown at 83. The scouting report on Minter strengths read, cerebral defender. Shows very good anticipatory skills to project where the ball is going, demonstrating the burst and agility to beat offensive linemen to the ball. Shows good effort to slip blocks, demonstrating a quick swim move and hand-slap to shake free, as well as a spin move.

Aggressive and shows little regard for his own body, jumping into the pile. Isn't often a textbook hitter but consistently gets his man to the ground in the open field, showing good upper body strength for the drag down tackle. Uses his hands well to strip away at the ball as he is making the tackle.

Times the snap well as a blitzer and closes quickly. Reads the quarterback's eyes nicely when in pass coverage and has a feel for what is happening around him. Enough lateral agility and speed to cover backs. Passionate player with a high-revving motor.

The first weakness listed is the one I believe has the Ravens looking at Arthur Brown over Minter. He is not the physical thumper that some teams prefer in the middle and may lack the sheer athleticism to handle the switch outside vs. NFL speed. Prefers to elude or spin away from blockers rather than physically taking them on and shedding and when he is locked up, Minter struggles to get free.

While Minter is a stud, these weaknesses could pose a problem in the Ravens defense. The weakness report goes onto say, “while he wraps his arms around runners' legs for the sure stop, he isn't a consistently explosive hitter who'll strike fear into ball-carriers. Has been surrounded by an awful lot of speed in Baton Rouge and does not appear to have elite speed, himself. Can be beaten to the sideline and relies on angles, vision and effort, rather than speed to track down ball carriers when in pursuit.

A big part of the Ravens draft philosophy is the division they play in and the AFC North can ill-afford to have a player that fails to strike fear into ball carriers hearts and having a lack of speed in today’s NFL may be too much of chance to take for Newsome.

Jeff Reynolds of the Sports Xchange recently wrote about Arthur Brown, “One linebacker becomes an All-Pro...Arthur Brown of Kansas State got little press in Manhattan and isn't yet a headliner, but he'll make like NaVorro Bowman and go from overlooked rookie to most wanted in short order. Brown can play inside or outside linebacker and his experience stopping the run and in coverage showed scouts he'll play all three downs with the kind of verve coaches want from their defensive captain. This is not a knock on Manti Te'o or Alec Ogletree as much as a nudge to the limelight for Brown. “

Brown’s strengths are exactly the type of strengths the Ravens are looking for.  One report says he is an Instinctive, physical defender who, other than his lack of ideal size, ranks among the surest prospects of the 2013 draft.

Brown possesses excellent key and diagnosis skills. He often takes his initial step toward where the play is designed to go before the quarterback has finished taking the snap. Possesses explosive, active hands to quickly slip blocks and plays with excellent leverage, bending at the knees to consistently get under the pads of would-be blockers and pushing them aside to make the play in the hole.

Furthermore, Brown has very good balance to avoid cut blocks and when knocked to the ground; remarkably quick in popping back up. Very good sideline-to-sideline speed, which could allow him to remain at inside linebacker in the NFL.

This is the part that Ravens fans saw a dramatic drop off in from Ray Lewis during the past few seasons. Brown drops back into coverage fluidly, demonstrating not only the athleticism but also the awareness to handle this responsibility in the NFL. Like Dannell Ellerbe, Brown times his blitz well with the snap, showing the flexibility to slip past blockers, flatten out and close on the quarterback.

As for his weaknesses, Brown has obvious size concerns, though he plays much bigger than he looks. The report reads that Brown has a tendency to take on blocks with alternating shoulders, putting him in excellent position to slip off and make tackles but he could be jeopardizing the long-term health of his body, especially considering his relative lack of size in the first place.

He has not proven to be much of a playmaker over his career, posting "just" three interceptions and not a single forced fumble over his collegiate career. Struggles while at Miami open up concerns about how well he will handle the jump to an NFL team further from home.

Brown is listed at almost 6’1” and 241-pounds. If you are very concerned about his size, it may be important to keep in mind that Ray Lewis was listed at 6’1” and 245-pounds entering his final season with the Ravens.

Brown is one of the players whose draft stock is seriously climbing. CBS Sports has Brown going as high as No.20 on two mock boards. Mike Mayock does not have Brown or Minter being selected in round one. But to me, the Ravens will either select Brown or Minter and if Brown is within their grasp and they need to use one or two of their 12 picks to ensure they get him, then do not be surprised to see Newsome trade up to do so.

The Ravens rarely trade up in round one and are more likely to do what they did last year when they traded down into the second round to obtain Courtney Upshaw.

According to Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun, another late scenario has the Ravens trading way up in the first round to obtain Tackle Lane Johnson. Johnson has been consistently rated as the third-best Tackle in this draft behind Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher.

Many of the experts have predicted Johnson will go in the top 10 picks, but the Ravens might trade up for him at a reasonable cost. The Ravens have some options because they have 12 picks. According to scouting reports, Johnson is athletic, durable and the pro scouts like his demeanor. He plays with the nastiness of a defensive lineman.

After dishing out a $120 million contract to Joe Flacco, the Ravens may be thinking it is wise to protect that type of investment.  According to the Preston Report, veteran Bryant McKinnie is still an option for the Ravens, but they prefer to have a player with more stability at left tackle, which is the most glaring weakness on offense. Michael Oher is not the answer and do the Ravens want to risk Joe Flacco’s current streak of 93 consecutive starts including the playoffs by allowing Kelechi Osemele an opportunity to adjust during the season.

McKinnie has remained relatively quiet this offseason, but when he has spoken, he has often stated he wants to come back as a starter, not a backup.

So let us make it official, here is my prediction on what the Ravens will do in about six hours.  

The Ravens will likely stand pat and draft Arthur Brown if he is available. If they feel, he will be gone by the 32nd pick but still around at No.23, (the Colts may want Brown at 24), look for Baltimore to trade up with Minnesota, who has two first round picks to make a deal and take Brown at 23.

Here are my predictions for the Ravens draft through the fourth round.  

Round 2 (pick 62): If the Ravens do not have to trade up in the first round to get a quality ILB, I look for them to make a move up in round two to ensure they get D.J Swearinger, Safety, South Carolina. Captain of the South Carolina defense and a four-year starter, few college safeties hit as hard as Swearinger, according to NFL.com’s scouting report. He would be a nice fit in Baltimore but the Redskins will want him too and they finally have a pick at No.51.

Could the 49ers repay the Ravens for giving up Boldin for so little by trading the 34th pick? Although it may be over drafting Swearinger, it fills a big need and I promise you he is on Newsome’s board.

Round 3 (Pick 94): OL David Quessenberry, San Jose State: FROM NFL.COM, Quessenberry is around 300 pounds now after coming into college at around 240 pounds. He is still going to need to gain the necessary upper-body and leg strength to handle NFL defensive linemen, but the 2012 first-team All-WAC pick should win over scouts with his impressive overall skill set. Quessenberry may be able to stay at tackle at the next level, but might be a better fit for offensive guard.

Round 4 (Pick 129) Chris Harper, WR, Kansas State (keep an eye on Ryan Swope as well): Harper is 6’1 and 230-pounds, he is a converted quarterback, and does any of this sound like a certain WR that was recently traded away?  NFL.com says, “His size/speed combination is impressive. Cornerbacks trying to press him at the line see his quickness and pure acceleration down the sideline. On crosses, sells the outside routes before planting his foot to get inside position. Harper uses his size to his advantage, often shielding defenders. He also possesses a very strong set of hands that he uses to out-muscle smaller defensive backs. Very adept at catching the ball off his frame. He is also very tough to bring down with the ball in his hands.

Round 4 (Pick 130 Compensatory) OL Barrett Jones, Alabama: He drops to the Ravens because of his Lis-Franc injury. Some even have him falling to the fifth round but name the award, and he won it playing at Alabama. In 2010, he was All-Southeast Conference at right guard. When the need arose for him to play left tackle in 2011, he performed so well that he won the Outland Trophy as the nation's best lineman. Last year, he moved to center – and won the Rimington trophy as the nation's top center. He also played on three national championship teams – 2009, '11 and '12. In addition, what meant the most to him was being voted captain by his teammates in 2012.

Please join Alan Zlotorzynski and Stephen Shoup tonight at 8:00 p.m. as they bring you the 2013 NFL Draft of the Fanspeak Radio Network. The guys will break down and evaluate every pick made tonight.  

 

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