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Eric DeCosta is often asked for baseball analogies when it comes to putting a bow on his draft.
Last year, the beaming Ravens director of player personnel said the Ravens “had good pitching, hit the ball well and won the game.”
This year, DeCosta and General Manager Ozzie Newsome – the team’s two draft leaders – were in a different mood.
“I think we probably had to manufacture some runs this year,” DeCosta said Saturday night minutes after Baltimore put in its final pick. “We had some players that we liked and they got picked, and we had to get creative quickly on the fly.”
The Ravens go into every draft with 150 draftable players. In a good year, DeCosta said in early April, all their picks come from their top 100. That means when they are picking in the seventh round’s 230s, the Ravens hope to be taking a player their board projects to be a third-to-fourth rounder.
But this year, Baltimore was forced to pick from the lower regions of its board.
DeCosta said all but about three players on their top 150 list were selected, and they had medical concerns and failed physicals. He said he’s never seen that happen before.
“Things don’t always happen the way you want them to,” DeCosta said.
“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 of a sudden, boom they are gone.”
Same as this year, the Ravens traded out of the first round in 2010. They took linebacker Sergio Kindle with their first choice, followed by nose tackle Terrence Cody, tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, wide receiver David Reed, defensive tackle Arthur Jones and offensive tackle Ramon Harewood.
This year, two players many pundits linked to Baltimore went barely ahead of the Ravens.
After getting past the Steelers at No. 24, linebacker Dont’a Hightower was snatched up by the New England Patriots one spot later, four picks ahead of the Ravens. Guard Kevin Zeitler was taken by Cincinnati two picks later.
In the second round, center Peter Konz nearly slipped to No. 60 overall, but the Atlanta Falcons snagged him at No. 55. Tackle Mike Adams went to Pittsburgh with the next pick.
The Ravens didn’t say they were targeting those players, but they could be examples of the players DeCosta said were quickly wiped out.
“Our board was very similar to the other 31 clubs,” General Manager Ozzie Newsome said.
So how could other teams suddenly have similar draft boards to the Ravens, who have for years been praised as being one of the best evaluators in the league?
Newsome blames it mostly on the ease of finding information on the prospects. He also said every team in this league understands what it takes to win now.
“Other people have just as much information as you have and are able to watch the same plays that you’re watching,” Newsome said. “So, I think access and the information has allowed everybody else to kind of hone in.”
There were still a few shockers in the first round. There was Seattle’s choice of outside linebacker Bruce Irvin at No. 15, for example. San Francisco took wideout A.J. Jenkins at No. 30.
But usually in the second round, DeCosta starts to see some players start to be selected that the Ravens may not even have in their top 150.
“It was a funny kind of draft,” DeCosta said. “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.”
DeCosta was thrilled with the first-round trade, which enabled Baltimore to get an extra fourth-round pick (used on guard/center Gino Gradkowski) and still snag outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw.
He said Baltimore was prepared for it and handled it well with Newsome and Vice President of Football Administration Pat Moriarty doing the negotiating. DeCosta said the Ravens were probably the most organized they’ve ever been this year in terms of the different scenarios that could play out.
It’s just that Baltimore didn’t expect the rest of the league to be on their same page after that.
“I think [having the same information] has helped the whole league, which is good,” Newsome said. “It forces people like Eric and myself … You have to be on your ‘A’ game.”