Ravens seek hidden gems

Team has had success with undrafted players


The Ravens' newest additions converge from different paths today when they start a two-day rookie minicamp in Owings Mills.

The most prominent players are the 10 that came from the draft. The rest came as the result of the persistence and persuasion of team officials.

Finding the best undrafted free agents has become a tradition and an art with the Ravens.

With other teams willing to spend 20 times as much money on signing bonuses, the Ravens consistently find gems such as Priest Holmes, Will Demps and Maake Kemoeatu in the post-draft rubble by spending more time on them.

The Ravens will call the players for two months. They will write letters to express their interest. They will do everything possible that can increase their chances of luring them here.

"It's almost like being a college coach and recruiting these guys," said the Ravens' Joe Douglas, who coordinates the search for undrafted players with fellow scout Jeremiah Washburn. "Drafted players don't have a choice of where they're going. Whereas these players, you're trying to sell them on the franchise and on the opportunity."

The undrafted rookies who likely have the best shot at making the Ravens this season are: UCLA quarterback Drew Olson, LSU cornerback Ronnie Prude and Massachusetts safety Shannon James.

But those three collectively didn't come close to the signing bonus of Temple defensive tackle Antwon Burton, who received $20,000 upfront from the Denver Broncos. In total, there were 16 undrafted college players who received a signing bonus of $10,000 or more this season, including seven that garnered $20,000.

The Ravens have gone as high as $3,000, but they generally don't pay more than $1,000. Their nickname for the undrafted rookies is "the $1,000 club."

In fact, Olson joined the Ravens for a $1,000 bonus while his backup for the past two seasons, David Koral, collected $5,000 from the Indianapolis Colts.

Instead of dangling a higher bonus, the Ravens closed the deal with Olson with a call from assistant coach Rick Neuheisel, a Rose Bowl-winning quarterback for UCLA in 1984.

"We don't pay as much as other teams in terms of undrafted free agents, but I think we have better recruiters," Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said.

After the college all-star games, the Ravens compile a list of 150 to 200 players who might not get drafted. These are typically players who lack size or come from small schools.

The Ravens eventually whittle that group in half, making 10 to 15 phone calls to either the player or agent during the two-month span leading up to the draft.

They also sent out letters to 70 prospects this year, saying the team hopes they get drafted but keep the Ravens in mind if they don't. The letter ends with the names of Demps, Kemoeatu and linebacker Bart Scott, all former undrafted players for the Ravens who earned millions in free agency this year.

"Having that track record is a very nice thing to fall back on," Douglas said. "You can always throw those names out and the ears will pop up."

Other undrafted players who became productive for the Ravens include center Mike Flynn, defensive tackles Marques Douglas and Lional Dalton and receiver Randy Hymes.

Still, the odds of an undrafted free agent making the team remain long. On average, only one or two per team are able to survive the final cut.

But based on the Ravens' track record, they know that one could make an impact. That's why DeCosta compared the excitement of signing a targeted undrafted player to opening a stocking on Christmas.

"They're not like the big gifts, but it's still fun opening them up and seeing what you find," he said.


Ravens bargains

The three undrafted rookies who have the best chance of making the Ravens' final cut:


Position -- Safety

School -- Massachusetts

Height, weight -- 5-9, 200

Notable -- Recorded a program-record 20 career interceptions. Known for outstanding instincts. Plays more physical in run support than many expect.

Why not drafted -- Played against lower level of competition. Lacks ideal size.


Position -- Quarterback

School -- UCLA

Height, weight -- 6-1, 220

Notable -- Set a school record with 34 touchdown passes last season and threw just six interceptions. Plays with confidence and stays composed in pocket when facing pressure.

Why not drafted -- Lacks arm strength and accuracy. Limited mobility means he won't make many plays with his legs.


Position -- Cornerback

School -- LSU

Height, weight -- 5-10, 183

Notable -- Made one interception and broke up 10 other passes last season. Has enough size and speed to cover NFL receivers. High school quarterback converted to defensive back in college.

Why not drafted -- Has been known to give up big plays and doesn't play consistently. Didn't receive an invitation to the NFL scouting combine or the Senior Bowl.

Jamison Hensley

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