Tony Lombardi: Does the trade for Boldin change the type of receiver that might attract you in the 2010 NFL Draft?
Eric DeCosta: Not really. It’s all about getting a good mix of abilities. You don’t want all small guys who can fly. You don’t want all big possession/jump ball-type guys either. In the end, it’s about finding playmakers. And they come in all different shapes, sizes, and speeds. You have to factor in special teams too.
TL: What is a red star player and have you drafted any over the past few seasons?
ED: A red-star player is a guy who is tough, durable, smart, productive and clean off the field from a character perspective. He’s got to play with a high motor and be relentless on tape. A few that we’ve drafted over the years include Haruki Nakamura, Marshal Yanda, Ed Reed, and Ray Rice. Oh, and Cedric Peerman was a red-star last year too. We lost him to Cleveland and then Detroit. Lardarius Webb could have been a red-star from an ability standpoint but some off-field concerns kept us from being able to designate him.
TL: Have you ever just missed on a red star player and did they pan out as you expected in the NFL?
ED: Bob Sanders. We had him targeted in the 2004 draft in the second-round (we did not have a first-round pick that year). Another guy we liked as a red-star was Logan Mankins who New England drafted in 2005. We thought we could get him in round 2 and the Patriots took him at the end of round 1.
TL: What characteristics or qualities do you use when analyzing collegiate talent and building your draft board?
ED: Speed, toughness, instincts, and character as a simple lens. There are other, more specific, positional traits that we evaluate too.
TL: Do you use similar qualities to build your board for available pro personnel?
ED: Pro personnel is a little different. We still place a premium on character and durability becomes more important too as you’ve got a body of NFL work. It’s easier to evaluate pro players since you project less. The future is now so to speak…Everyone is playing against each other in the NFL so there is A LOT less guesswork. Plus we can manipulate the viewing format (i.e. view only a receiver’s chances or a defensive end’s sacks ) rather than grind through all the tape like we have to do in college scouting.
TL: Character is an increasingly important element used to assess a player and his desirability. What sort of character red flags are the Ravens willing to work with and which do you shy away from?
ED: A big part of the process is having good area scouts who can dig for information. I think we have the best! There is no magic formula that you use. It’s case by case, having the information and facts, and making a decision. Repeat offenders are especially problematic as you tend to question decision-making and the ability to learn from mistakes. If you build a team with strong leaders, it’s easier to adopt a player who has made a mistake, knowing that he is immersed in a culture where he can succeed.
TL: You often hear about locker room chemistry and a player coming in and disrupting that chemistry – Terrell Owens comes to mind. Is that overdramatized or can a player really break down the fabric of a team?
ED: Certainly you can have a player who can distract the team. It’s best to remove the cancer quickly.
TL: With so many restricted free agents and without a salary cap, teams can hold on to players longer over the course of the offseason. Many good players could be released well after the draft, even late into training camp. Might this offseason reward the patient organization perhaps even more so than in past years?
ED: Any time you panic, you overpay. The mark of good teams like New England, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh is that they have a plan and stick to it. Successful scouting staffs will continue to thrive in the present system.
TL: This draft seems particularly deep with many declared underclassmen. Do you think that has anything to do with the potential of a rookie salary cap? Might it dilute the talent available in the 2011 NFL Draft?
ED: I almost hope the 2011 NFL Draft class is diluted. It gives us an opportunity next year. Anyone can fish in a stocked pond. The good front-offices will find players that other teams don’t recognize. That’s our challenge moving forward.
TL: Players can get better; coaches can get better; what can front office personnel do to improve and what have you learned in recent years that prepares you better for the upcoming draft?
ED: There is a good book called “The Wisdom of Crowds” that speaks to giving people an independent forum to form their own opinions, without creating bias or trying to influence. Group-think is dangerous in scouting and we’ve worked hard to empower our scouts and coaches. When you get to this point as a football organization, and everyone can work independently and objectively, you are truly able to consensus-build. It’s all about giving people a voice in an open forum and constantly encouraging (rather than suppressing) different opinions.
The other thing we’ve tried to do is really define what it is that we’re looking for. You’ve got to have a clear vision as to what you want your team to look like, player-wise. Once you see that vision, and know what you want, it’s a lot easier to find those types of players in college and pro personnel. That’s a challenge for teams that have a lot of turnover in front-offices face (think Cleveland and Detroit). Constant change is not good in this business.
TL: What would make the Ravens’ pass defense stronger, a stud corner or a stud pass rusher?