Ravens enter draft with air of unpredictability

Trying to determine what the Baltimore Ravens will do with the
26th overall pick in the NFL draft is as futile an exercise as
predicting the day the lockout ends.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome could select a cornerback,
perhaps Jimmy Smith of Colorado. Newsome might decide upon a pass
rusher or an offensive lineman, two areas of concern for a team
that had no opportunity to add depth through free agency because of
the labor situation.

Or, Newsome could simply trade the pick.

More often than not, Newsome makes a mockery of mock drafts by
pulling off the unexpected.

A year ago, the Ravens dealt the 25th overall choice for three
selections in the latter rounds. Baltimore walked away with nothing
on the first night of the draft, but the trade gave Newsome the
opportunity to make some shrewd choices over the next two days.

The Ravens have nine potential selections this time around,
which means Newsome will have some bargaining power after the draft
gets under way on Thursday night.

Three years ago, through a series of trades, Newsome took
quarterback Joe Flacco with the 18th overall pick. In 2009, he
moved up to snag offensive tackle Michael Oher.

When the Ravens start talking trade, that’s when owner Steve
Bisciotti gets involved.

”I can ask: ‘OK, New England is on the clock at 17. What will
it take for us to move to 17?’ Somebody can give me an answer to
that quickly because they’ve prepared themselves for that,”
Newsome said. ”We will have our board graded to where if a player
(like) Michael Oher starts to come down the board, then we will
start to say, ‘OK, he’s the guy that we should go and get.”’

The league has an informal chart that indicates the trade value
of each first-round pick, and Newsome has that information readily
available in the team’s war room.

”We’ll utilize that trade chart, that information, to start
calling teams,” he said. ”All of that will be talked about, and
that’s one of the things that Steve is very big on. He’s very much
a part of us trading up and trading back, and that’s where he’ll
start to interject himself.”

Flacco and Oher have been valuable starters since the first game
of their rookie season. Trading last year’s No. 1 pick, however,
has not panned out.

After dealing their first-round selection to Denver, the Ravens
took Texas linebacker Sergio Kindle in the second round. Kindle
fractured his skull while falling down a flight of stairs before
training camp and has not yet played a down in the NFL.

”I couldn’t predict that one,” Newsome said. ”We will wait
and see how that outcome is going to be. But that story is not
completely written yet.”

Newsome’s success in the draft is well documented, beginning
with his first two picks in 1996, the year the Ravens came from
Cleveland. After taking tackle Jonathan Ogden with the fourth
selection, he snagged linebacker Ray Lewis at No. 26.

Ogden is almost certainly headed to the Hall of Fame, and Lewis’
exceptional play is an indication of what might be available if the
Ravens opt to keep the 26th overall pick.

This might be the best chance this offseason for Baltimore to
improve a team that has reached the playoffs for three straight
years but still isn’t quite good enough to play in the Super
Bowl.

”Honestly, we treat the draft the same every year,” said Eric
DeCosta, director of player personnel. ”We feel the pressure to
get it right every single year regardless of all this other stuff
that is kind of hanging out there right now. We have to nail the
draft every single year. That’s the lifeblood of this
franchise.”

Newsome has been successful in part because he often takes the
best player available rather than drafting for need. Cornerbacks
and linemen are the need this year, and the Ravens would consider
themselves fortunate if one of their shortcomings can be addressed
with the highest-ranked player on their board.

If Baltimore has the opportunity to get Smith or center Mike
Pouncey of Florida, Newsome might pull the trigger. But the unknown
status of Kindle might force him to look for a pass rusher.

”It’s a really deep draft in terms of D-linemen,” college
scouting director Joe Hortiz said. ”You have your nose tackles,
your D-tackles and then your D-ends and pass rushers. I would not
be surprised to see a lot of those names that are being projected
right now in the top 32-35 picks to jump off the board.”

There will probably be a heated conversation in the room when it
comes time for Baltimore to make a move, but everyone has the same
objective.

”We understand what we need as a team,” coach John Harbaugh
said. ”We might put it in different rank or order, but there are
going to be factors involved – like free agency being a part of it,
who comes back, who doesn’t come back, who’s healthy, who’s not
healthy.

”You can make an argument in a lot of different directions, but
we all understand how we feel, and I know we know what we need to
do to make our team better.”