Ravens believe in their system

OWINGS MILLS – Inside the Baltimore Ravens' draft room, a color-coded chart shrouded in secrecy and simply called the draft board will largely determine what actions the team takes in today's opening three rounds of the NFL draft.

Whether the Ravens trade up from the No. 22 overall pick of the first round to select Oklahoma offensive tackle Jammal Brown or Georgia defensive end David Pollack, stand pat to take Oklahoma wide receiver Mark Clayton or trade backward to stockpile extra picks, their decision will come back to two common denominators:

Trust in their scouts' knowledge, and general manager Ozzie Newsome's track record of identifying future Pro Bowl selections in the bottom half of the first round.

The Ravens believe they're dealing from a position of strength without any particular glaring area of need and are highly unlikely to deviate from their value rankings to reach for a particular player. The Ravens are much more likely to bank on a proven, productive prospect rather than a projection pick with flashy workout numbers such as former Arkansas quarterback Matt   Jones.

It's a philosophy that has worked adeptly for Baltimore late in the first round, where they picked All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis with the 26th overall pick in 1996, reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ed Reed at No. 24 in 2002 and Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap with the 31st overall pick in 2001. In each case, the Ravens essentially took the best football player available, not necessarily the top athlete.

"A lot of times when teams take players in the latter half of the first round, there's a reason why those guys are there: They may not have the speed, they may not have the character, they're missing something," Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. "We try to typically find guys who have the passion to play the game.

"That's the thing about Ed and Ray Lewis, their football competitiveness is off the charts. If you have a chance to take a rare competitor, that's what you try to do."

A miss in the first round, which has arguably happened just once for Baltimore when it drafted Travis Taylor 10th overall in 2000, can carry dire football and financial ramifications.

"It kills you in two areas," Newsome said. "First, you spend two or three years waiting to see if that player is going to be productive for you. Second, they eat up salary-cap space for you and you don't ever get that back."

Newsome said he's unwilling to trade next year's first-round draft pick and is more likely to look to trade back. However, he might be inclined to package the Ravens' second-round draft pick (53rd overall) to move up as high as No. 13 to No. 15 to obtain a sliding blue-chipper such as USC wideout Mike Williams or West Virginia cornerback Adam Jones.

"Realistically, I'll probably only talk to teams as high as the 15th or 16th spot (Kansas City and New Orleans) because I'm not willing to pay the price to go to 10 or 11 this year," Newsome said.

The Ravens could also use their third-round pick (84th overall) to move up as high as the Cincinnati Bengals' No. 17 pick.

Especially if it could mean drafting Brown, a blocker with a mean streak, ahead of the St. Louis' Rams' No. 19 overall selection. The Ravens are believed to prefer Brown over University of Washington offensive tackle Khalif Barnes.

It's hard to say if the Ravens will take action before or after they're on the clock.

"This might end up being like the '98 draft, where there was some smoke going on about people making trades, and once the draft started, nobody got any phone calls and everyone had to pick," Newsome said. "That could happen."

If the Ravens stay put, Clayton could act as a complementary target opposite newly-acquired veteran Derrick Mason to try to upgrade the 31st-ranked passing game.

The Ravens are enamored of Pollack for his pass-rushing skills and compare his tenacity to gritty, retired defensive end Michael McCrary.

Baltimore would likely find it hard to pass on gifted Florida State defensive tackle Travis Johnson if he makes it past Marvin Lewis' Bengals at No. 17.

"There are some players in this draft if they were to slip down to 14, 15, 16, 17, you'd hope to get one because you'd think they'd have a chance to come in and start right away and be an All-Pro some day," DeCosta said without specifically naming anyone.

Among the players the Ravens hosted at their training complex: Brown, Pollack and Georgia inside linebacker Odell Thurman.

The Ravens strike a confident stance as far as their ability to evaluate talent as they head into their first draft without former top scout Phil Savage, the new Cleveland Browns' general manager.

"I think our system has been battle-tested over the years," DeCosta said. "The process -- and Ozzie always talks about the process -- doesn't change. We do the exact same things we did nine years ago.

"Over the years it's worked in the first round and I think it's worked in the sixth and seventh round. And I hope and pray that it works again this year."

As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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