OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens endured a stressful decision Thursday night where they contemplated whether to draft Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams in the first round or roll the dice and unload the pick to a Denver Broncos team desperate to acquire Tim Tebow.
Two days later after wrapping up a draft already being labeled as worthy of an A grade by analysts, the Ravens were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Instead of selecting Williams, the Ravens swapped with Denver and parlayed their trade into three players: Texas outside linebacker Sergio Kindle, Oregon tight end Ed Dickson and Brigham Young tight end Dennis Pitta.
This marked the first time since 2004 that the Ravens didn’t have a first-round draft pick, but they definitely didn’t seem to mind after acquiring three highly-graded prospects.
“Sitting there Thursday night, it was a very uneasy feeling,” Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “If someone were to ask me the question, ‘Would you make that trade again?’ I’d say, ‘Yes, I would,’ based on the picks we got and based on the players we got with the picks. .. I think this has been a very productive three days for the Baltimore Ravens.”
Now, the Ravens have gotten younger in the front seven on defense and injected some youth and athleticism at tight end to complement former Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap.
They bolstered the defensive line with 6-foot-4, 350-pound Alabama nose guard Terrence Cody with their original second-round pick on Friday before grabbing Syracuse defensive lineman Arthur Jones in the fifth round on Saturday.
The Ravens drafted Pitta in the fourth round after getting Dickson in the third round.
Baltimore also selected elusive Utah wide receiver David Reed in the fifth round.
Reed caught 81 passes for 1,188 yards and five touchdowns last year. Reed, a 6-foot, 191-pounder who doubles as a dangerous return man, caught 106 passes for 1,615 yards and 11 touchdowns in two seasons.
Then, the Ravens concluded their draft with Morehouse sleeper offensive tackle Ramon Harewood in the sixth round 194th overall.
If the Ravens don’t make the trade, they would have been happy with Williams.
However, they would have been unable to address several other needs with only four remaining draft picks.
By executing the deal, they got seven new players.
“That trade was mentally challenging, but it ended up being the beginning of a great draft,” Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. “Without that trade, we’re sort of handicapped.”
Ultimately, determining who got the best end of the deal requires one constant element: time.
“We’ll find out three or four years down the road how good these guys are, but we got players we’re excited about as a coaching staff to have,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Guys we targeted and wanted.”
The Ravens needed to get a cornerback to provide reinforcements since Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb are recovering from torn anterior cruciate ligaments.
In the second round before the Ravens drafted Kindle, the Minnesota Vikings selected imposing University of Virginia cornerback Chris Cook, a 6-foot-2, 212-pounder who had recently conducted a private workout for Baltimore.
Prior to the Ravens drafting Dickson in the third round, cornerbacks Jerome Murphy, Amari Spievey and Myron Lewis were picked.
And before the Ravens selected Pitta, cornerbacks Alterraun Verner, Trevard Lindley and Walter Thurmond went off the board. Baltimore probably graded Pitta higher than any of those players as well as Indiana (Pa.) cornerback Akwasi Owus-Ansah.
“Every year, there’s a run,” Newsome said. “You can either be in the mix or outside the mix. To say we were interested in some of the ones that went, yes. When you’re outside of the mix, we don’t feel like we have to reach.”
Harbaugh said that re-signing free agent cornerback Frank Walker remains a possibility.
And he made it clear that the Ravens didn’t want to just get anyone when they could have Pitta.
“I think there was a group of corners at the top of the Draft that you really liked, and after that it was second-tier guys,” Harbaugh said. “Those guys are kind of like rolling dice – you’re never sure which one of those guys are going to make it.
“We’ll find a way to add a corner. We’ve got guys that can play, two guys are getting healthier and I’m real excited about what we’re going to do in the secondary. We’ll be fine.”
Newsome emphasized that Kindle’s speedy presence as a pass rusher will alleviate the need for a cornerback.
“I think how you affect the passer is you have to get after the passer, and I think Sergio can do that,” Newsome said. “If you can hit the quarterback and you hit him enough times, then you don’t have to be as good in the secondary.”
A former skinny high school wide receiver and cornerback who’s now 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, Pitta spent two years on a church mission in the Dominican Republic.
Pitta, 24, blossomed into a record-setter at BYU, catching a school-record 221 passes for 2,901 yards and 21 touchdowns.
“I definitely think I have a little bit of a chip on my shoulder,” Pitta said in a conference call. “When you see guys get picked before you, you always want to measure yourself to them. And I feel like some teams missed out on a great opportunity to draft me, but I think the Ravens made a smart move.”
Heap had to play a ton of snaps last season while L.J. Smith was unhealthy for the majority of the season.
"Todd Heap is our tight end," Harbaugh declared. "We expect a great year from Todd Heap."
It was a surprise that the Ravens selected back-to-back tight ends.
However, Heap is 30 and has absorbed a lot of punishment over the course of his career.
At some point, Dickson or Pitta could be the starter with the other player operating as a backup and working in double tight end sets for quarterback Joe Flacco.
“It’s kind of unusual for us to have picked a player at a position, and then come back and back it up, but that’s how good we felt about bringing Dennis into the fold,” Newsome said. “Both Dickson and Pitta are excellent receivers, have excellent ability to work the middle of the field, excellent ability to be able to gain yards after the catch, and they provide big targets for Joe.
“We’ve got a 6-foot 6 quarterback, and I’ve listened to [offensive coordinator] Cam [Cameron] for three years talking about ‘big throwing to big.’ Now we have a quarterback that can throw to some big targets in the middle of the field, that even when they’re covered, they’re not covered.”
“They’re versatile,” DeCosta said. “Both guys can split out, and they move around the line of scrimmage. They can play around the point of attack. They can play on the line of scrimmage. I mean, they’ve done it all.”
Newsome acknowledged that there were some stressful moments while debating whether to trade the pick.
Ultimately, he regards the debate as a healthy one.
“The only thing I can say to the uneasiness that went on is that we all want to win,” Newsome said. “At the end of the day when there are disagreements and things get a little testy, it’s only because we’re trying to win. The good part about this building is that people can disagree with each other and people can get after each other a little bit, but it’s all in good taste.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.