Sit back and relax

While watching the ESPN broadcast of the 2004 NFL Draft, I couldn't help thinking back to the 1982 NFL Draft and chuckle. Back then, I was a senior at Loyola College and an intern with The Baltimore Colts Public Relations Department. The Baltimore Colts Public Relations Department. That's the equivalent of jumbo shrimp, pretty ugly or plastic glasses. In other words, an oxymoron. <br>

Those were the Irsay years in Baltimore and the PR Department could just as easily been called the Cold War Department. Public Relations just didn't exist for the Colts at that time.

But that isn't what prompted the chuckle. 

I observed all of ESPN's modern day technology this weekend; the up-to-date ticker at the bottom of the TV screen along with the teams vertically positioned by division, providing continual updates on each NFL club. ** CURRENT SELECTION** **CURRENT SELECTION** would blink and interrupt the flow of information on the ticker to announce the next draft selection. Within seconds of the announcement, ESPN queued up footage of the most recent draftee's collegiate career highlights. The NFL Draft has become quite the production.

Back in 1982, I remember a large press room that looked like a colorless classroom except for the large Baltimore Colts Banner that hung behind a collapsible table which was strategically arranged with folding chairs for the members of the Colts front office. I remember huddling with my colleagues in the office of Walt Gutowski, the Colts PR Director. After we were notified of the pick by Ernie Accorsi's staff, we ran off to make copies of the players biographies and raced downstairs to the bland conference room to distribute the copies to the media members. 

Soon thereafter, Ernie, Walt, Frank Kush and a few others walked in proud as peacocks to announce the newest Colt. With the second pick in the draft, the Colts selected Johnnie Cooks, a linebacker from Mississippi State. Then there was Art Schlicter, just two picks and 30 minutes later. With the first pick of the second round, the Colts selected DT Leo Wisniewski. In round 3 there was CB James Burroughs and then in round 4 another QB, Mike Pagel from Coach Kush's beloved Arizona State.

Back then, the draft went 12 rounds and with each round, we would repeat the process. As the day wore on, the media attendance gradually dwindled. Who could blame them? The names that followed Pagel included: Terry Crouch, Pat Beach, Fletcher Jenkins, Tony Loia, Tony Berryhill, Tom Deery, Lamont Meacham and Johnnie Wright.

The technology of the draft has advanced light years in sophistication since 1982. 

Take a look again at the list of Colts' draft picks above from 1982. Is there even one impact player from that entire lot? Now, consider the following chart that lists the Colts first round selections in their last nine years in Baltimore to the draft choices of the Ravens in their first nine years in The Land of Pleasant Living:

Here in Baltimore, it looks like more than the technology of the draft process has advanced light years. Fortunately for us fans, so has the selection process by Baltimore's favorite football team.

Yet the Ravens front office still has its detractors. On the radio airwaves, I've heard callers complaining about not trading up to land a premier receiver; for not offering more for Dennis Northcutt; for taking a "no-name" defensive tackle over a higher rated DT in Florida State's Darnell Dockett; for passing on a "certain" stud in WR Keary Colbert; for not drafting an offensive lineman sooner; for passing on Purdue offensive tackle Kelly Butler; for drafting an unnecessary linebacker and for not drafting a hard hitting safety.

What does this front office have to do to deserve your unconditional faith? Haven't they proven themselves time and again?

Look, I love fans that are passionate about the Ravens. The existence of this website alone is evidence of that. But you detractors -- WAKE UP! How can a fan who bases his or her opinions primarily upon the information and disinformation that descends upon them from a multitude of reliable and not so reliable media sources, be more informed and better prepared than a staff of collaborative football professionals to make personnel decisions? Professionals that have spent the better part of their lives studying the game of football and doing it quite effectively as indicated in the chart above. 

The Ravens said all along that they would take the best available player on their board. THEIR BOARD! Not Gil Brandt's, Scouts, Inc.'s, Mel Kiper's or any other draft publication's board that you may have dropped $29.99 on. THEIR BOARD! This isn't being written to discredit the aforementioned draft analysts. The Ravens' board differs because they understand intimately, the needs and shortcomings of their own team better than anyone else. These other boards are created to rank the skill sets of individual players solely based on the merit of individual players. They do not take into consideration the impact that these players might have on each of the individual 32 teams. Their impact would vary depending upon the team that selected them.

For example, let's imagine that LaDainian Tomlinson and Jamal Lewis were both just entering the NFL Draft. Let's assume that the only understanding that you have of each of these players is what you've read in Mel Kiper's Draft Report and in that report, Kiper ranks Tomlinson as the 31st rated player in the draft and Lewis as the 46th rated player. Both are available to the Ravens at #51 and the **CURRENT SELECTION** that flashes is Jamal Lewis, RB, Tennessee. Basing your own opinions on Kiper's report, you are upset with Ozzie's choice. Yet Ozzie and company based their decision on how Lewis' talents might compliment the strengths of the Ravens offense.

Let's look at another example -- this time a non-football example. You are drafting for the Lakers and on the board is Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Jordan is clearly a superior athlete but the Lakers take Magic. They select him not because he's the best player of the two, but because he's the best player to augment and compliment the composition of the Lakers.

Consider this comment from Ravens' Director of Personnel, Phil Savage: "Roderick Green was a player we were considering with that fourth-round pick, and then the deal happened with Kevin Johnson, and we were able to wait almost a whole round and use a pick to go back up and get Green. He can run. He's aggressive. He can rush the passer. We feel good about the combination of Edwards as a defensive lineman and Green as an outside ‘backer-slash-pass-rusher. There were some other combinations that we were not that excited about, but we were pretty pleased with that one." You see, the choice of Green was based in part on how he compliments other talent on the Ravens roster. In this case, the complimentary talent is Dwan Edwards.

If you questioned the offer for Northcutt before, do you now? Kevin Johnson is a better receiver and he cost the Ravens only a fourth round pick -- not a fourth and a seventh. Keary Colbert -- seems like a nice talent but his skill sets are comparable to Johnson's and Johnson has the experience. Colbert doesn't provide the vertical thrust that Devard Darling provides. Colbert as the number 3 slot is not the threat that Darling will be in the red zone. Had you looked strictly at the Kiper's board, you are chanting Colbert, right? Me too, but we didn't know about the plans for Johnson and with Johnson, Darling makes better sense. You've gotta have faith.

Darnell Dockett and Kelly Butler dropped like rocks. The buzz about these players was that "there were flies around them." It doesn't take a genius to find the message in that metaphor. 

Recently, sports author John Feinstein was on ESPN Radio discussing research for his next book. The book's subject? The Baltimore Ravens. Feinstein said that he selected the Ravens for several reasons including but not limited to: their accessibility and willingness to cooperate; the "anti-Snyder" -- Steve Bisciotti; Ozzie Newsome; Brian Billick and the storied, albeit brief history of the franchise. Feinstein marvels at how well the organization works together in unison each with their distinct yet important roles. And despite the organization's encouragement of input and outside of the box thinking, it is by no means a democracy. The final and highly informed decisions are made by Ozzie. That is where the buck stops.

Feinstein cited an example during the 1999 NFL Draft -- Brian Billick's first draft with the Ravens. After selecting Chris McAlister in the first round, the Falcons approached the Ravens about dealing for the Ravens' second round pick in that draft. Billick thought that the Ravens had pressing needs elsewhere and wanted to use the pick, particularly since they had no third round choice. The Falcons were dangling their first round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. Despite Billick's resistance to the idea, Ozzie made the deal. That 2000 #1 pick of the Falcons became Jamal Lewis.

Folks, Ozzie & Company are deserving of our blind faith. Like the airline passenger that trusts the pilot, we should all trust Ozzie and enjoy the flight. Sit back and relax.

You are now free to roam around the NFL.

Tony Lombardi is a native Baltimorean and a diehard Ravens fan. He is also a writer for, a website for all those that bleed purple.

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