Front Office Has The Right Idea: Save The Best For First

April 25, 2009|By Mike Preston

The NFL draft is full of suspense for the Ravens on Saturday because of their position in each round. Because they are drafting so late, much of what they do will be decided by who picks in front of them.

But the Ravens are right in planning to choose the best player available. If you listen to many fans, you would think the Ravens are only one player away from the Super Bowl because they reached the AFC championship game last season.

That's so far from the truth.

Because of parity and how quickly things change in the NFL, you're never one player away from the Super Bowl. The best way to enter any season is to put together the best 53-man roster possible. Consistently good teams, such as the New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers, have basically the same game plan as the Ravens.

It will be a bonus if the Ravens can fill their two biggest needs - wide receiver and offensive tackle - during the next two days, and they'll be even more successful if they can trade down and add to their current total of six draft picks.

But they should always take the best player available, especially because they have needs but not glaring weaknesses.

"We lost some good players in the offseason," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel. "We're always trying to build, always trying to improve from the bottom up. Quite honestly, we're not really where we want to be.

"We want to improve the offense and continue to make big plays. Defensively, we want to prevent the big plays that have hurt us and be better down the stretch. Late in games we had some breakdowns over the course of the season. I think you'll see us with a better pass rush this season, and with bigger plays on offense."

It sounds as if DeCosta is evasive about whom the Ravens will draft, but he's not. No one can predict how the draft board will fall, especially when the Ravens pick at No. 26. The Ravens want to find a speedy, deep-threat wide receiver to complement their possession-type receivers, Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton.

It might come down to choosing among Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland, Florida's Percy Harvin and North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks. Of the three, I would take Heyward-Bey because of his speed and lack of off-the-field baggage.

"Looking at it, we feel that there are receivers we can select at any round that are pretty good football players, probably two or three guys we like in the first round and three or four guys in the second," DeCosta said. "We have a couple guys in each round, so we'll just see how the board plays out. Your guess is as good as mine."

The Ravens tried to fill the need on the offensive line but failed to sign former St. Louis Rams Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Pace. Veteran tackle Willie Anderson did a decent job for the Ravens on the right side last year despite injuries. Backup Adam Terry showed last season that he isn't the long-term solution. Last year, the Ravens had to keep in a tight end or a running back to help the tackles pass-block, and the team can't go through that again in 2009.

"I would say offensive tackle is something that we are very aware of," DeCosta said. "Being able to protect our investment [in] Joe Flacco on the right side is critical."

The Ravens could have a couple of options at tackle, including Mississippi's Michael Oher or Alabama's Andre Smith, even though Smith reportedly has weight problems. The most interesting moment could come when the Ravens are on the clock in the first round and if Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew slips that far.

Pettigrew is generally regarded as the best tight end in the draft, but he has had off-the-field issues. The Ravens might take him anyway because their starting tight end, Todd Heap, has been in the league eight years and isn't one of coach John Harbaugh's favorites. Plus, Heap is a liability as a blocker. The Ravens want one tight end who is multidimensional, not several tight ends who are one-dimensional.

Besides wide receiver, tackle and tight end, the Ravens don't have many pressing needs. They might want to sign a pass rusher, one who can eventually replace defensive end Trevor Pryce, or outside linebacker Terrell Suggs if the team can't eventually reach a long-term deal with him.

The Ravens do a good job of finding prospects on the second day, especially hybrid outside linebackers or safeties who can contribute on special teams right away. The Ravens have all three Southern California linebackers - Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga - rated highly.

The wise move would be for the Ravens to trade down. The more players you select, the better your chances of finding a starter. The standard belief is the team with the best players always wins the Super Bowl, but that's not true.

It's usually the team with the fewest weaknesses, and probably the team that stays with the policy of taking the best player available on draft day.

Listen to Mike Preston on Mondays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).

ravens' picks

1st round: 26

2nd round: 57

3rd round: 88

4th round: 123

5th round: 162

6th round: 198

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.