The Ravens held their annual draft luncheon on Tuesday. What did we learn? Well, the NFL players really are locked out and the Ravens’ chef grills up a mean turkey burger. Other than that, useful information is usually hard to come by in these Q&A sessions with general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Baltimore brain trust.
But there were a few tidbits to take away from the 45-plus-minute news conference with Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh, Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta and Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz. And it wasn’t that they, too, enjoyed the turkey burgers. Here are five things we learned Tuesday afternoon:
1. Even one of the NFL’s smartest personnel departments is unsure how this unique draft will play out: Due to the lockout, the draft will be held before free agency -- Newsome was a player the last time that happened -- and players can’t be traded during the draft. That means there is plenty of uncertainty as to how things will play out next weekend. Will there be more or fewer trades? Are teams more likely to draft for need because they couldn’t address holes in free agency? And how will a potential rookie wage scale impact the draft? “Each and every team will probably be as prepared for this draft [as] they will ever be because … that’s all they’ve been able to do,” Newsome said. “Now what does that mean for the draft? We don’t know.” You can count on one certainty, though: the Ravens drafting the best player available. Newsome said that mindset hasn’t changed. “What we try to do is to look at our board and to try to get players to come into Baltimore that are going to be able to contribute early then be here for a long time."
2. A lot of teams will find defensive linemen they like in the first round (and maybe even the Ravens): The first round of the draft is stockpiled with defensive linemen. Players such as Marcell Dareus, Nick Fairley, Robert Quinn and Da’Quan Bowers could each go in the top 10 picks, and DeCosta estimated that 13 or 14 defensive linemen could be drafted in the first round. Hortiz believes there’s something for everyone. “It’s a really deep draft in terms of [defensive] linemen,” he said. “And there’s a different variety of guys. You have your nose tackles, your D-tackles and your D-ends, pass rushers [in the 3-4]. From a talent standpoint, it’s to each your own.” The Ravens could be in the market for a defensive lineman or a hybrid end at pick No. 26.
3. The Ravens expect to draft at least one wide receiver, and they expect him to be a good one, too: T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte Stallworth are both free agents, and Derrick Mason is 37, so the wide receiver position is considered to be one of the Ravens’ most pressing draft needs. The top tier at the position -- A.J. Green and Julio Jones -- will be long gone by the Ravens’ selection, but there is a sizable group of second-tier receivers who can be had in the second and third rounds. "It’s a very good board for receivers this year,” Newsome said. “I do foresee, unless something changes, of those nine picks we have, probably one of them will be a receiver." Hortiz, who cited Steelers wideout Antonio Brown as an example of a rookie who had an impact in 2010, expressed confidence that the Ravens can get contributions from a rookie receiver in 2011.
4. The pass rush needs to be addressed, but the Ravens haven’t yet closed the book on Sergio Kindle: The Ravens must take steps to improve their pass-rushing personnel, whether it’s a hybrid linebacker to tag-team with Terrell Suggs or a five-technique lineman who could potentially provide interior production like Trevor Pryce did in his prime. But the Ravens’ expectations for Kindle -- and they haven’t revealed them publicly -- could dictate how they address the pass rush. For what it’s worth, Newsome said the Ravens are still holding out for contributions from Kindle. “To be able to sit here the day we picked Sergio and to say that he was going to fall down a flight of stairs? I couldn’t have predicted that one,” he said. “But that story is not written yet.”
5. The Ravens are really impressed with Cam Newton, even though it pains Ozzie to admit it: Newsome said that in the first round, the Ravens would not hesitate to take a player they feel can help them beat the Steelers in the AFC North, no matter the position. That seemed to include Newton, a Heisman-winning quarterback and national champion at Auburn. Of course, the possibility that Newsome -- an Alabama alum -- would want to get an Auburn jersey tattooed onto his torso is more likely than that of the Ravens landing Newton late in the first round. Still, consider Ozzie impressed with his skill set. “I saw what he did to Alabama when they were down 24-0. In Tuscaloosa. Against Nick Saban. You don’t do that unless you’ve got some rare, rare ability,” Newsome said. “How it’s going to translate to the National Football League? We’ll see.”