"Ozzie has operated the draft successfully for years not having needs to address in the draft. Need is a terrible evaluator" said Billick, an analyst for Fox Sports and the NFL Network. "Clearly, you'd like to satisfy your needs, but you don't want to have to reach. That has always been Ozzie's approach to free agency, to satisfy your needs to the point where you can take the best player available in the draft. When we took Todd Heap, it wasn't a need position necessarily. The same with Ed Reed. They were the right player at the right time. Regardless of the need, Ozzie is going to stay true to his board. Everybody says that they stick to their plan and their board, but not everybody does it. Ozzie sets that pace."
The Ravens have been relatively quiet in free agency, re-signing veteran center Matt Birk, linebacker Jameel McClain, and special teams ace Brendon Ayanbandejo, and adding defensive backs and special teams standouts Corey Graham and Sean Considine. But they also lost six of their own free agents, including Grubbs and fellow starters Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding.
With just over $1.5 million of salary cap space — and a strong desire to sign Flacco, running back Ray Rice and cornerback Cary Williams to extensions — the Ravens don't have much financial flexibility to fill holes, magnifying the importance of this draft.
"Every time you have a draft, it seems like the next one is the most important, but I do think getting some help along the offensive line would seem to be an important initiative for them," said former NFL general manager Charley Casserly, an analyst for CBS Sports and the NFL Network. "When you go in, especially when you are the Ravens, I'm not sure that you can get anybody that you can necessarily count on playing right away. What you are trying to do is get players for the long haul. By doing that, they're going to get some depth initially and eventually get some starters out of it."
Citing the Ravens' various needs and the strength of their division, Matt Williamson of ESPN's Scouts Inc. listed them as one of the teams that need to have a good draft.
"It's not going to be easy for the Ravens to maintain the status they're at, and they can't afford to miss on a pick or two because they have plenty of needs, including some smaller ones, too," Williamson said. "They need to find a legit backup to Ray Rice. They certainly need a receiver, but that might be a luxury they can't afford. Maybe they need three starting offensive linemen in a year or two [and] that's hard to come up with. They need a safety. They need a pass rusher opposite Suggs. They have a pretty long laundry list, but if anyone's going to pull it off, I trust Ozzie Newsome to do so."
Since 1996, the Ravens have drafted 15 players that have gone on to make the Pro Bowl, tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the third most in the NFL. It would be unfair to put those expectations on the organization's newest players after this weekend, but the Ravens will certainly need immediate contributions from their 2012 draft class.
"You do the best you can and in the end, you have to make a pick," DeCosta said. "You can't run away from it. You hope you hit on a guy."
Baltimore Sun reporter Matt Vensel contributed to this article