Talent search

Ravens rarely miss on identifying stars in first round of NFL draft

April 22, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

When the Ravens make their first-round pick in next weekend's NFL draft, most of the decision will be based on the work done by the scouts and coaches traveling all over the country.

Another factor will be based on the 25-mile drive from the airport to Ravens headquarters.

When the Ravens bring in draft prospects for visits, they give them "van grades" for how they act on the ride - when the players think no one is watching.

But the scouting assistants who shuttle players back and forth certainly are. They take mental notes on everything, from how the players treat them as drivers to how they act while on the cell phone.

"There are a couple of players we avoid every year because of the way they conducted themselves," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "Everything means something in the end result."

The reason why the Ravens stand above most teams on draft day is because of this type of legwork done by the organization.

Instead of relying on outside resources like a majority of the league, the Ravens make their decisions based on information solely obtained by those within the team.

The Ravens' reports on college prospects are filled with conversations scouts have had with college trainers, observations made by their coaching staff on a player's pro day workout and impressions about character from face-to-face interviews to those unsuspecting trips from the airport.

This system has produced some of the best drafts over the past decade, and it doesn't matter if the Ravens are drafting in the top 10 or bottom 10 (like they're doing this season).

The Ravens have built their reputation by selecting future Hall of Famers in the first round (offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis) and an All-Pro player in the sixth round (linebacker Adalius Thomas).

They have consistently drafted Pro Bowl players at the top of the first round (linebackers Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs and cornerback Chris McAlister) as well as finding elite players at the bottom of it (safety Ed Reed and tight end Todd Heap).

"I put the Ravens at the highest end of the NFL with New England, Philadelphia and San Diego over the last several years," said Mike Mayock, the NFL Network's draft expert. "[Ravens general manager] Ozzie Newsome and his staff have done a terrific job."

The Ravens are different from most NFL teams because they don't subscribe to any psychological testing. Rather than using a doctor's report, the team builds its own profile of a player through interviews.

They are also one of the few teams - the Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders are the others - that aren't a part of the two major scouting services.

Teams pay Blesto and National Football Scouting about $100,000 as a means of collecting basic data (physical measurements, timings, physical test results, background information and a brief discussion of football playing ability) on prospects.

The Ravens' decision to remain independent came from their days as the Cleveland Browns, when coach Bill Belichick and executive Ernie Accorsi opted to do so.

"We felt like we could take the money we were paying the combine and put additional scouts on the road, making them more accountable for all the players that are draft eligible," Newsome said. "It means they have to do more work going in, which is OK with us."

Starting them young

The Ravens' scouting expertise comes from their 20-20 vision, so to speak.

Unlike teams that replace scouts by hiring replacements elsewhere, the Ravens groom theirs in the "20-20 club." The Ravens hire 20-year-old college graduates for $20,000 a year as entry-level assistants who organize files, pick up players from the airport and learn how to identify the players the team wants.

"They spend the first couple of years grading our players and the players in the league," Newsome said. "Now, they have a picture of the players on this team and you can take that picture to any college campus."

After a couple of years, the Ravens will promote productive assistants to area scouts.

Of the Ravens' nine current talent evaluators (five area scouts, two national scouts and two pro personnel directors), seven have followed this path in the organization. It took DeCosta only 10 years to go from the 20-20 club to head of the Ravens' college scouting department.

"When Ozzie hired me, he told me that I was going to learn everything about this organization from soup to nuts," DeCosta said, "and I have."

Key to success

Going from a fan to having a seat inside the draft room, owner Steve Bisciotti has learned the Ravens' system without having a football background.

And Bisciotti believes he knows the Ravens' key to success in the draft.

"Ozzie is the one constant," Bisciotti said. "So until proven otherwise, Ozzie is the reason why we've been so successful."

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