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.”