Inside the castle: Ravens brass talks NFL Draft

In the end, this organization is usually about finding the best guy available regardless of need. But, is this draft more about need when you look at it in totality?

GM Ozzie Newsome: “No, not really. It came off in a certain way. I think Eric and I, we had a number – we always have a set number of picks – and I think this may be the first time … I know our top 100 players got picked. It was close to the other 150 of them got picked. We normally don’t have that, but that’s the type of draft that we had this year, where our board was very similar to the other 31 clubs.”

Ozzie, you drafted three smaller school prospects. Did it just happen to be that they were the best players on your board, or has there been some sort of shift in the way you guys put your net out there in terms of the draft?

Newsome: “I think it’s the latter. We go into the small schools and do the same amount [of work] as we do the big schools. Our quarterback is a small-school guy. But, if you take Gino [Gradkowski], Gino went to the University of West Virginia and decided to transfer to Delaware for the reasons that he did. But, our scouts, when they go into the Delaware or Cal Poly or South Carolina State, it’s just like when they go into Ohio State, Maryland or Alabama.”

Ozzie, can you take us through the next step? You talked about calling the undrafted guys and bringing them in. Will that begin on Monday? And when, collectively, will you have the rookies back inside the building?  

Newsome: “We will start the process of calling the undrafted guys once the draft is over. That’s when everybody knows who is available, and all 32 clubs will be doing the same thing. This is probably a mass-recruiting period for the agents and for the players. I think John will have his rookie minicamp the weekend of May 11. So, that’s when we will get the opportunity to get them out on the field and see what we have.”

But by Monday, will you have an idea or will this process still be going on Monday do you think?

Newsome: “We think we’ll be finished, but up until we get them in, get a physical on them and get them under contract, they are not ours. They’ll be committed, but they won’t be ours.”

With Christian Thompson, how much does positional flexibility come into it because he’s big enough to play up near the line of scrimmage and also a fast guy who can play center field? 

Director of player personnel Eric DeCosta: “Well, I think he can do both very well. I think he was the fastest safety at the Combine. We look at him as a real physical guy, the kind of safety that we like. He will come up and really hit you. He can also play in the back end. We love him as a special teams guy, no doubt. We lost a couple of good players this year at safety who were good special teams players for us. Christian was a player that we identified early. I think he was probably one of our favorite defensive players – certainly one of the favorite defensive players on the coaches’ board this year, and we’re excited to get him.”

Another question on Thompson: He left Auburn. What kind of information were you able to gather as you look at Auburn and also talking to him?

DeCosta: “I think we have great scouts, and they do as good a job as anybody in the league at getting information. We take a lot of pride in that. I think one of the advantages we had in Christian’s case is Joe Hortiz, who went to Auburn. We have great connections there and also [with Northeast area scout] Andy Weidl. There is no better information guy than Andy Weidl. We were able to get a lot of information. Also, Christian is a guy that came to Baltimore. We spent some time with him here. He spent time with our coaching staff and also with our scouts and Ozzie and coach Harbaugh. We feel really good about him. We know he’s a good kid, and we know he’s a good football player.”

From a scouting perspective, do scouts like the challenge of trying to find these players? And also, the fact that you were able to hit on Joe Flacco, Lardarius Webb, does that inspire you to dig for these prospects more from a scouting perspective?

DeCosta: “It’s interesting. There are all different kinds of small-school prospects. The real small-school prospects like me, who went to a small school [Colby College] and played … You have other guys who went to a big school and transfer, so you get a Joe Flacco, who transferred from Pitt, you get a Lardarius Webb from Southern Miss. In terms of Christian Thompson, who went from Auburn, Gino [Gradkowski] from West Virginia … So those guys, we call them small-school players because they played small school, but they’ve also played big school. Because of that, they have a little different perspective than say me. If I went to Oklahoma, it’d be totally different. It is a little bit different.”

Eric, you have used baseball analogies in the past to describe your overview of the draft. What would your analogy be this year?

DeCosta: “You always ask me that. I think we probably had to manufacture some runs this year. We had some players that we liked, and they got picked, and we had to get creative quickly on the fly. I thought that the trade opportunity in the first round was fantastic. We were prepared. I thought we handled that really well – [with vice president of football administration] Pat Moriarty and Ozzie doing the negotiating. We were very organized this year – probably the most organized we’ve ever been in terms of the different scenarios. Things don’t always happen the way you want them to. Some drafts, every player that you want kind of comes to you, and then other drafts – this year comes to mind; 2010 was very similar to this year – sometimes you just get wiped out. You have four players, and all the sudden, boom they are gone. You have to get creative.”

Ozzie, you draft a wide receiver late. Is there still room to bring someone else in late during training camp or before?

Newsome: “Yeah, the roster is still fluent. As Eric stated, there will be some unrestricted guys that are available, and then there will probably be some guys that are going to be waived over the course of the next months because people have drafted players, and they are going to decide to create some cap room or just create the opportunity for a young player to get on the field. So, the roster will not be completely set up until we get to September.”

Ozzie, coming into the weekend, offensive line, there was some definite needs there. You had the chance to add a couple of guys. How much do you think the line improved through the draft?  

Newsome: “Well, we got younger. Both players have positional flexibility. K.O. can be a guard or tackle, and then Gino can be a center or a guard. When John gets down to putting the 45 together, guys that have the flexibility on the offensive line are really, really valuable. But, what it does, it also allows us to put them in multiple positions and see what they’re best at.”

Were you surprised that Tommy Streeter, based on size and speed, fell all the way to the sixth round? Maybe what kind of caused that and did you feel fortunate that he fell into your lap?  

DeCosta: “Tommy was the best player on our board. We were excited about him. It’s unusual to get a receiver with that kind of size who can run like that. Ozzie alluded to another size/speed guy that we developed a long time ago – Michael Jackson. These kinds of guys are rare at times, the measurable. If you have a chance to get a guy like that and you are in the right position in the draft, it’s probably a good thing, and he was the guy. We hadn’t addressed the position. There were some other guys that we liked at the receiver position that got taken, and he was clearly the best guy at the time for us to take.”

How much return ability does Asa Jackson have? What does he bring as a returner?

DeCosta: “Well, he has done kickoffs and he has done some punt returns. He doesn’t have an extensive experience doing both. He is a quick-footed guy. He has some suddenness. He ran a 4.4 [40-yard dash] at the Combine. You can see some burst and some twitch. He catches the ball pretty well. He’ll be a guy that can go back there and compete. We’re not going to anoint him as the punt and kick returner, but we think he has a chance to be a guy that can compete with some other guys. We haven’t even ended looking for those kinds of guys, and we’ll continue to do that.”

Newsome: “And to add to that, one of the reasons why we think he can is what Eric pointed out to me earlier today. On some of his interceptions, to see his ability to return for touchdowns and some of the skills he displayed once he got the ball in his hands when he intercepted the ball [was impressive].”

After brining in QB Curtis Painter, do you think you could go with three quarterbacks this season, or will he have to fight it out with Tyrod Taylor for the backup job?  

Newsome: “Well, what we did is this time of the year you’ve got to have enough arms to be able to go through all the OTAs and through the minicamps, and having the opportunity to bring in Painter, Kyle [Boller] and Dennis Dixon, they all did a very good job. And when we sat down with Cam [Cameron] and Jim Caldwell, we just thought the best fit for us right now was Painter. Whether we end up carrying three quarterbacks, I don’t know. I mean, do you put a young guy on the practice squad – try to get him to the practice squad – and keep the third quarterback? Or do you just go with two because you don’t want to expose a young player through the waiver process and somebody else claims him. So, that’s part of putting together the 53, which is like I said a couple of months downstream.”

With the offensive line draft picks, were you looking for guys that could play different positions along the line?

DeCosta: “Well, I think flexibility is critical at every position. We really look for that, and I think both guys we’ve seen play different positions. K.O. [Osemele] can play guard, he can play tackle. He can probably play left tackle, right tackle, possibly both guards. And Gino, we’ve seen him on tape play center and also play guard. He plays both pretty well. So, having that flexibility … Some of those guys on the offensive line – the most valuable guys – are guys who can play more than one spot for you in a pinch – Marshal Yanda, going back to Chris Chester; he could play multiple spots. Those kinds of guys really help you out when it comes time to play the games.”

To what do you attribute the fact that a lot of other teams had similar draft boards to yours, and was this draft frustrating in that regard?

Newsome: “From my perspective, I think because of all of the information that’s available, it is very helpful for all of us to get that information. The way that we have the tape distribution right now through the dub center, we all get the same tapes. So, we’re all looking at the same plays. I think that has helped the whole league, which is good. It forces people like Eric and myself … You have to be on your ‘A’ game, because other people have just as much information as you have and are able to watch the same plays that you’re watching. So, I think access and the information has allowed everybody else to kind of hone in. But, what it takes to win in this league, I think every team understands that now. So again, that draws a lot of players the same. But once we got past about 12 picks in the first round, the board started going in a lot of different directions. They talk about the kid [Bruce] Irvin getting picked by Seattle and that he was in the Top 15 in I don’t know how many other boards. But then it starts to scatter, but people are still picking players that we’ve all had a chance to get some exposure to.”

DeCosta: “It just was a funny kind of draft. Usually in the second round, you start to see some volatility in players that you may not even have on your board at all start getting picked. And this year, really, we didn’t see that very often at all. And I think in looking at our 150 – as Ozzie said – there might be only three guys on our 150 that haven’t been drafted. And those guys, I think, are medical guys that failed physicals. So, that would be one explanation for that. We’ve never seen that. Usually we’ll have 25 players, maybe 20-25 players, that don’t get drafted that are free agents that we can target. This year, our free agents – the real quality players – seemed to have dried up. The league is just … Everybody has seen the same players, which is [something] we’ve never seen.”

Ozzie, what is your take on what your competitors in the AFC North did this weekend in the draft?

Newsome: “You start with Cleveland, anytime you can get a running back, it shortens the game. And them getting a guy like Trent [Richardson] and then getting a quarterback – but not only a quarterback – a quarterback that has some maturity, I think that learning curve may be a lot shorter with him. So, they did a good job. And then Cincinnati, Marvin [Lewis] having two first-round picks to get the offensive lineman and the corner that they got … And then you move on to Pittsburgh … So, I think all three teams really helped themselves in this year’s draft, and they just made competing in the AFC North that much tougher.”

What factor led you to not drafting an inside linebacker this weekend?

Newsome: “I think Jameel McClain, Albert McClellan, Dannell Ellerbe and Brendon Ayanbadejo had a whole lot to do with that.”