Eric DeCosta apologizes several times before he sits down. He was supposed to meet with a reporter nearly three hours ago and clearly feels bad he wasn't able to keep the appointment.
He has a pretty good excuse, however. A one-hour meeting with Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh and Steve Bisciotti turned into a three-hour meeting. When the owner wants to know what his general manager, his head coach and his director of player personnel are thinking on the eve of the NFL scouting combine, the owner is going to get as much time as he wants.
"I think one of the best qualities about the Ravens is that everybody has a voice," said DeCosta, who was the Ravens' director of college scouting for six years before being promoted to director of player personnel a year ago. "Coaching and scouting and management, we work together. That's what makes this job pretty special. Ozzie has always fostered an environment where everyone has a chance to speak their mind and give their opinion, and that's worked well for us."
It's crunch time at The Castle. The NFL combine begins today in Indianapolis, and everyone in Baltimore - including, apparently, the owner - is curious about whom the Ravens will be evaluating during the next four days. Will they zero in on a particular wide receiver and try to fill a glaring need in their offense? Will they try to shore up an injury-riddled secondary? Will they decide after watching workouts and conducting interviews they're interested in trading up to grab someone? Or trading down to grab multiple players?
The Ravens aren't about to reveal their hand. To anyone.
"We lie to everyone, including reporters," DeCosta said. It's clear he's having some fun, but that he's also telling the truth. "We just lie, lie and lie, and eventually we start to believe our own lies."
This much is clear, though: The Ravens won't deviate from their strategy of drafting the best player available. When you look at mock drafts that suggest the Ravens might reach for a second-round talent at the end of the first round because they're trying to fill a hole at a certain position - say, wide receiver - you can more or less dismiss it. The Ravens might mislead people, but they don't deviate from their draft strategy.
"You have to make an honest evaluation of every player, regardless of need," DeCosta said. "And obviously, you'd be foolish to not consider need at some point. If you've got two players that are extremely close in ability, certainly you'd probably take the need-based pick. Where you get in trouble, in our experience, is where you overinflate a player's ability because he's a need. As the draft unfolds, you look at the strengths and weaknesses of your team, and try to improve. But we'll never be a team that drafts based on need. We just won't do it. I think when you do that, you set yourself up for failure."
The Ravens do, however, have holes to fill, and it might work to their advantage that this appears to be a deep draft for cornerbacks and wide receivers, their two most glaring needs. The Ravens haven't had much success drafting wide receivers in the past, but that doesn't mean they'll shy away from picking one this year if the right player is there.
"I don't think Ozzie has an aversion to taking a wide receiver in the first round," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. "I think Ozzie's true to his board. I think the Ravens are as good as any team in the league at staying true to their board and not panicking. ... If you look at wide receiver and you look at corner, you say, 'Luckily this is a good year for both positions.' "
So whom are the Ravens targeting? There is a good chance they'll be keeping a close eye on wide receivers Arrelious Benn (6 feet 2, 220 pounds) from Illinois and Demaryius Thomas (6-3, 224) from Georgia Tech; Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham; and cornerbacks Kyle Wilson of Boise State and Patrick Robinson of Florida State. Although none of them, outside of Gresham, are considered the top prospect at their positions, they're talented players who could be available with the 25th pick of the first round.
DeCosta said that, typically, Ravens officials will go to the combine with their minds mostly made up. The scouts already know whom they want.
"We fall in love with guys every year," DeCosta said. "Sometimes you get them; sometimes you don't. Sometimes you do get them and they don't pan out, and other times they do. That's the beauty in scouting."
In some respects, the combine is a chance for the coaching staff to get to interview players the scouts have already targeted, evaluate them, and watch them compete against everyone else in a controlled environment. If the coaches agree with the scouts' take, they'll bring the player in for more interviews and bring him to Baltimore for a private workout. But there are occasional surprises.