OWINGS MILLS – Unless the Baltimore Ravens are able to backpedal in the first round to stockpile picks through a trade scenario they’ve discussed with another NFL team, they’ll probably repeat a rich tradition late tonight in the first round of the draft.
With the 25th overall pick, the Ravens are likely to exercise patience and wait until one of their coveted draft prospects gets within striking distance.
That could allow them to land Penn State defensive lineman Jared Odrick, Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty, massive Alabama nose guard Terrence “Mount” Cody or Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski. University of Florida center Maurkice Pouncey is a potential darkhorse option, too.
Those are the most logical possibilities. And that’s because Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson, Michigan hybrid pass rusher Brandon Graham, Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant and Tennessee nose guard Dan Williams are expected to be gone by the time the Ravens are on the clock.
However, the Ravens have a strong history of a player they like falling to them in the latter part of the first round a la Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Todd Heap.
“We weren’t planning on drafting Ed Reed,” Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. “We were going to draft somebody else, and he got picked. And it was a player that we had ranked higher than Ed, quite honestly.
“Ed was our 24th player, I think. We drafted 24th that year, and we got the best player in the draft. So, there is an element of luck to this thing. Sometimes, you need to get lucky.”
The Oakland Raiders drafted Northwestern middle linebacker Napoleon Harris in 2002 with the 23rd pick.
Harris is no longer in the league and Reed is a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year who has been selected to six Pro Bowls.
If Odrick gets past the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 18 and the New England Patriots at No .22 overall, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year could be a sound fit with the Ravens as a versatile defensive tackle-end.
Odrick isn’t flashy, but he’s aggressive, sturdy and plays with sound technique.
“With the influx of 3-4 teams, Odrick becomes even more of a hot commodity,” DeCosta said. “He’s a big kid, he play hard, he’s a guy who can play on the interior as a three-technique or he can kick outside as a five-technique.
“He’s not a dynamic athlete, but he’s a big, strong guy. I would compare him to Aaron Smith of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s a good, solid guy who will probably start for 10 years in the league.”
Thomas could go as high as the Cincinnati Bengals’ 21st overall pick or he could be available to Baltimore if the Bengals go with Gresham.
Thomas is a 6-foot-3, 229-pounder with 4.38 speed who’s regarded as a somewhat raw, developmental prospect with more upside than Bryant. Despite his character problems, Bryant is unlikely to make it to the Ravens’ pick.
There are rumors that the Ravens have cooled on Gresham and are now considering Gronkowski, who, like Gresham, is a medical question mark after missing all of last season after undergoing surgery to repair a protruding disc on his lower spinal cord.
“I think they’ll get an offensive guy like Gresham or one of the two big receivers, Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas,” said Daniel Jeremiah, a former Ravens and Cleveland Browns scout who now authors the Moving the Sticks blog. “I think Wilson and Haden will be gone, but McCourty, Kareem Jackson and Odrick will be there. They’re in a great place to be picking. There’s not much difference between the player you get at 25 and the player you get at 13 in this draft.”
The Ravens have been impressed with McCourty and Wilson throughout the scouting process, but Wilson is expected to be drafted much higher than originally projected.
McCourty, who blocked seven kicks and doubled as a kickoff returner, is also on the Philadelphia Eagles’ radar. The Minnesota Vikings are hoping he falls to them as well.
“They’re tough, they’re fast, they run well, they’ve got good ball skills,” DeCosta said of McCourty and Wilson. “They’re great kids. They can play man, they can play zone. They tackle well. That’s what makes them good prospects.”
At 6-foot-4, 349 pounds, Cody is a huge run-stuffing defensive lineman and a two-time consensus All-American who visited the Ravens. The Ravens are believed to have a very high opinion of Cody, who once weighed 400 pounds in junior college.
Pouncey would fall in line with the Ravens’ best player available philosophy if he doesn’t go to the Atlanta Falcons at 19th overall.
The Rimington award winner also is capable of playing guard.
“We think Pouncey is a fine player, “DeCosta said. “He’s very strong, he’s got a body similar to Jason Brown. He’s got a good, thick, strong lower body. He anchors. A lot of these centers in college football are smaller guys and they don’t really match up well with the 3-4 defense.
“Pouncey is a guy who’s got that anchor ability against the big 3-4 nose tackle. Smart kid, plays at a high level in a big-time program. We think he’s a big-time prospect.”
Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon falls into a similar category.
It may be too soon to draft a successor to Lewis, though.
Weatherspoon is an active, athletic player capable of playing outside linebacker or middle linebacker. He bench pressed 225 pounds 34 times, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds and registered a 40-inch vertical leap and a 10-3 broad jump.
For his career, Weatherspoon posted 388 tackles, 12 sacks, three forced fumbles and four interceptions with two returned for touchdowns.
“I think he is really one of the most explosive guys in the entire draft,” DeCosta said. “He’s a great kid, very, very smart. He had an unbelievable junior year, and not quite as good of a senior year. He gained some weight, but he had an unbelievable Senior Bowl and a great combine. He’s working out extremely well.”
If the Ravens move back a few spots, they could still wind up with massive Alabama nose guard Terrence “Mount” Cody, Alabama cornerback Kareem Jackson or Florida State cornerback Patrick Robinson.
The Ravens have spent a lot of time looking into Virginia cornerback Chris Cook, a fast 6-foot-2, 212-pounder. He’s probably more of a second-round target, but he has been drawing some first-round grades from NFL teams.
There has been some buzz lately about ultra-productive Cal defensive lineman Tyson Alualu, a high-intensity player known for his relentlessness on the field and diligence in the weight room.
The 6-foot-3, 290-pounder recorded 188 career tackles, 24 ½ for losses, 17 sacks, four fumble recoveries, four forced fumbles, one blocked kick and an interception. He’s not expected to last long in the second round.
The Ravens have only five picks currently, the fewest in franchise history.
Last year, the Ravens traded up three spots to land all-rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher.
“Since I’ve been here, the one thing I’ve learned is when you’re picking in the 20s, the draft really does not unfold for you until you get past 15 picks,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “The first 15 picks, we’re just sitting there and we’re taking a guess as to who’s going to pick who and who’s going where. After those first 15 picks, then the draft stats to crystallize itself for us and we can start to go into targeting players that we think will have the opportunity to make it.”
Newsome said the Ravens are ready to go up or down depending upon who’s available.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.