Give GM Ozzie Newsome 12 draft picks, and history shows he'll likely come away with a good number of NFL contributors. That's the distinct hope for the Baltimore Ravens, as the defending Super Bowl champions begin the 2013 NFL Draft with glaring holes at inside linebacker, safety and offensive tackle.
Known for draft acumen and finding future Pro Bowl players even when drafting late, such as past finds like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Todd Heap, the Ravens are drafting 32nd overall in the first round and Newsome said the franchise is confident it can find a starter at the bottom of Round One.
Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said the Ravens need to pick carefully and not squander their selections.
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"I think the thing we want to try to do -- this is something that Jimmy Johnson believes -- when you have a lot of picks as he had when he did the Herschel Walker trade, you've got to make sure to approach the draft like every pick is the only pick you have," DeCosta said. "It's easy when you have so many picks to just throw some picks away and deal and do all these different things. I want to make sure that each pick that we have is gold. It's like a lottery ticket, a [scratch-off] ticket. You have to make sure that every pick at that point is the only pick you have. You have to nail that pick."
The Ravens have been linked to inside linebackers like Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, Georgia's Alec Ogletree and LSU's Kevin Minter as well as safeties like Florida's Matt Elam and Florida International's Jonathan Cyprien.
DeCosta expressed confidence that the Ravens will get a good player at their spot.
"The quality of player between 15 and 45 is excellent," he said. "I think there are players in every round that we like. It's slotted very well and defensively, it's a very, very strong draft. Offensively, it's pretty good and up front on the defensive and offensive lines, we see a lot of really, really good players."
But they're far from done.
"What we've done in the offseason thus far will have very little impact on how we've approached the draft, how we've stacked the board and how we will take players off the board," Newsome said. "We feel like if there are quality players on the defensive line, at linebacker and at safety, we still feel like we can add more of those players to our team. To say that we're not going to take the best players, that would be wrong. They talked about us taking some interior defensive linemen. We could do that. Could we take some inside linebackers? We could do that.
"Could we take some safeties? We could do that. We won't pass up good corners. You don't ever have enough good corners [and] you don't ever have enough good pass rushers. Could we come away and say out of the 12 picks, if we use all of them, seven or eight will probably be on defense? Yeah."
Safety is a particular consideration for Baltimore.
"In all seven of the rounds, there is a safety that we could take," Newsome said.
Added DeCosta: "I think you always look at need. We say best player available, but you have to factor need into the equation. If the best player available is a quarterback in the first round, we're not going to take him. So you have to look at the best player available based on need. Obviously, if you have three players that are next to each other in your sequence and one player is a big need and the other players aren't needs, even if the other players maybe are ahead of the one player that is a need, you're going to switch your list because they are all close."
2013 draft picks: 32, 62, 94, 129, 130 (comp), 165, 168 (c), 199 (from SF), 200, 203 (c), 238, 247 (c)
Primary needs: LB, OT, S, WR
General manager: Ozzie Newsome, 19th season
Recent draft picks that clicked:
--WR Torrey Smith, second round (58th overall), 2011
--LB Paul Kruger, second round (57th overall), 2009
--CB Lardarius Webb, third round (88th overall), 2009
--RB Ray Rice, second round (55th overall), 2008
Five prospects who should be on the Ravens' draft radar:
Position, players, school (position rank, overall rank)
TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame (1, 14)
The contract of Dennis Pitta will be a pressing matter throughout the season, but not one the Ravens can address with their 2010 fourth-round pick any time soon. The Ravens are around $3 million under the salary cap, and offensive tackle Michael Oher is thought to be next in line for a new deal. Eifert is a receiving tight end with speed and a wide catch radius because of his body control and agility. His arms are relatively short for the position, which could lead to a slight tumble down the board on draft day. The Ravens are accustomed to providing a soft landing for players who inexplicably slide because teams overweigh measurables and underplay game production.
LB Manti Te'o, Notre Dame (1, 25)
Newsome met with Te'o twice, and even though John Harbaugh was left shaking his head at the sight of Te'o's 4.8 40 at the Scouting Combine, the Baltimore regime wasn't swayed by poor workouts from past top picks, including DE Terrell Suggs, who infamously was timed at 4.9 at the Arizona State pro day only to become a perennial Pro Bowl pick with Defensive Player of the Year credentials. Te'o fits Newsome's description of the type of prospect he envisions being available at No. 32 -- good, solid football players. The Ravens won't pretend they can get by with in-house options. Jameel McClain (spinal cord contusion) still isn't cleared medically. Even after the addition of Rolando McClain, there is still a need. The next two inside linebackers on the depth chart are undrafted free agents Josh Bynes and Albert McClellan.
OT D.J. Fluker, Alabama (4, 12)
A powerful blocker and exclusively a right tackle relying on mass and weight more than agility and lateral quickness, Fluker splits scouting opinion as to whether he's worthy of a top-15 pick or late first-round grade. Because the top three offensive tackles in this class might come off the board in the top five, Fluker is unlikely to linger on the board much beyond No. 20, creating a possibility for the Ravens to swap with the Bears (former GM Jerry Angelo promises this can't go wrong) to give Chicago back a mid-round-range selection it covets. Bryant McKinnie excelled in the playoffs at left tackle, but is now a free agent. Newsome, once the 23rd overall pick out of Alabama, isn't shy about letting his Crimson Tide ties shine through with Alabama products LB Rolando McClain, DT Terrence Cody and LB Courtney Upshaw on the current Ravens' roster.
WR Keenan Allen, California (6, 47)
Not yet recovered from knee surgery, Allen would be the ideal replacement for Anquan Boldin. He's a smooth route-runner and separates with savvy more than blazing speed. If he's gone by the time the Ravens are back on the clock in the second round, Southern Cal's Robert Woods and Oregon State's Markus Wheaton aren't bad bets.
CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Connecticut (12, 85)
"Never have enough" is what Newsome has said in three straight pre-draft sessions about drafting cornerbacks, and Wreh-Wilson's 4.4 speed gets a lot of attention. His size and long arms will attract the Ravens, who can consider pushing him to safety if a better option isn't presented before the start of the 2013 season.