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OWINGS MILLS — Eric DeCosta has five or six intriguing names on his mind, but heâ€™ll only insert one into a designated envelope.
During a pre-draft exercise for the team’s scouting department over the past two years, the Baltimore Ravensâ€™ director of college scouting has accurately forecasted which player the team would ultimately wind up drafting in the first round. By late this afternoon, DeCosta will find out if he was right again as he was about Haloti Ngata and Mark Clayton.
â€œWe always have a safe pick that we think will be there,â€ DeCosta said. â€œThere have been some years where that safe pick came to Baltimore and wound up going to Pro Bowls. We always kind of have a sense for whoâ€™s going to be there if we get stuck and the board gets wiped out. Weâ€™ve got two guys like that this year, too.â€
With the 29th overall pick this year, the Ravens are hoping history repeats itself with a Pro Bowl football player plummeting to them toward the bottom of the first round.
Whether itâ€™s tight end Todd Heap, safety Ed Reed or middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens have built a strong track record of acquiring talent after their NFL brethren has already taken a pass.
This year, that player could be USC center Ryan Kalil, who visited the Ravens along with the New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns, and Central Michigan left tackle Joe Staley, Auburn guard Ben Grubbs or Texas guard-tackle Justin Blalock.
"History is a good indicator that we are going to get a player who falls down to us who we have pretty highly rated," DeCosta said. "It could be a top-20 player, could be somebody from our top 25. I feel confident that will happen again this year, and we’ll get a guy that we’re very excited about on draft day.â€
If the Ravens get Staley, it would represent something of an upset.
DeCosta predicted that Staley wonâ€™t make it past the New York Giantsâ€™ 20th selection. Also, the Kansas City Chiefs (No. 23), Saints (No. 27) and New England Patriots (No. 28) have all been linked to Staley. The converted tight end has rare speed with a 4.79 clocking in the 40-yard dash despite his 6-foot-6, 306-pound frame.
â€œVery, very good player," DeCosta said. "I’ll be surprised if he’s out there very long."
Besides Kalil and Blalock, the Ravens had Arkansas tackle Tony Ugoh, Tennessee guard-tackle Arron Sears and second-day Missouri Southern sleeper tackle Allan Barbre in for visits.
Beyond the offensive line, the Ravensâ€™ best player available philosophy and All-Pro linebacker Adalius Thomas signing with New England could mandate pondering the merits of drafting a hybrid pass rusher like Purdueâ€™s Anthony Spencer or Floridaâ€™s Jarvis Moss or possibly a sliding all-around linebacker like Miamiâ€™s Jon Beason, Penn Stateâ€™s Paul Posluzny or Florida Stateâ€™s Lawrence Timmons.
Even though the Ravens appear set at cornerback with All-Pro Chris McAlister and veteran Samari Rolle, Rolle struggled last season in deep coverage and was beaten for several touchdowns. If speedy, trash-talking Arkansas cornerback Chris Houston, who has 4.32 speed, is still there, it would be a tempting proposition where his value could outweigh more immediate needs.
"We donâ€™t — especially on the first day of the draft or the top four picks — factor in need," Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "We factor in who’s the best player. There have been some occasions where we took a player knowing that we had needs at other positions.â€
Meanwhile, the Ravens could also exercise a trade-back scenario.
Because the defending AFC North champions only have eight total picks with two selection during the first day because they traded their third-round selection to the Buffalo Bills to land running back Willis McGahee, trading down could be an attractive possibility to acquire more picks.
"We are more likely to trade down than trade up," Newsome said. "If it happens, it won’t be until we’re on the clock. We do have a limit as to how far we’ll go back and that will based on the number of players that we have rated so that we still get one of them."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland