You’ll hear it over and over for the next few days. You can’t miss with your first selection in the draft.
Most fans point to Ozzie Newsome’s astounding ability to identify first-round stars, but equally impressive is the front office’s ability to avoid duds.
Anything a player accomplishes beyond the end of the period for which he may be tendered without competition is of reduced value. For many of these players in particular, such a discounting still results in lots of value, but the Ravens had to compete with other teams and pay a market price after their rookie deals.
These rankings are difficult, because we’re talking about a number of players who are certain Hall of Famers or will receive consideration.
1. Ray Lewis 1996 (26): A+. In comparing the legacy of Lewis and Butkus, my key differentiators are:
- Winning percentage of teams: Lewis .562 (including playoffs), Butkus .393
- Playoff record of teams: Lewis 14-7 (2 SB), Butkus 0-0
- Games played: Lewis 243 (including playoffs), Butkus 119
- Career Approximate Value (NFL Reference): Lewis 222, Butkus 120
Both were great on-field talents, but Ray did it for much longer and made the players around him better.
2. Ed Reed 2002 (24): A+. It’s going to look strange to see him in a Texans uniform. He was an outstanding gambler on defense, both in terms of playing for turnovers and making the most of them after the ball was in his hands. Any interception not run back for a TD is a qualified failure. As Ravens fans we understand the difference between scoring and setting the offense up at the 10 or 20-yard line is often 4 points, but it shocks me how many fans dislike risk on the defensive return and instead prefer to put the risk in the hands of less-talented offensive players who are facing a defense.
3. Jon Ogden 1996 (4): A. He’s dropped a notch for being the 4th overall selection, which is the highest the Ravens have ever selected (Boulware was also #4). What’s the probability of drafting a Hall of Famer at that spot? Looking just at the years 1970-2000, there were 6 HOFers selected #4 (John Hannah, Walter Payton, Dan Hampton, Chris Doleman, Derrick Thomas, Jon Ogden) and 2 more are likely to go (Charles Woodson and Edgerrin James), so experience says 27%. Of the others, Willie McGinest might get consideration with time, but he’s the only one (unless the Art Schlichter lobby gains a lot more steam).
4. Terrell Suggs 2003 (10): A. Let’s turn the clock back to draft day 2003. The Ravens almost traded up for Leftwich. Had they done so, they would have lost out on Suggs, but also not drafted Boller. So here’s the question…would you rather the Ravens had Leftwich, the 2003 2nd round selection (#41, acquired by the Browns and used to draft Jeff Faine), and the 2004 1st-round selection (#21, assuming no difference in record, Vince Wilfork), or have Boller and Suggs?
5. Haloti Ngata 2006 (12): A-. If one were to debate whether Savage or Newsome drove the Ravens’ draft success in the late 90s and early 2000s, the 2006 1st round is a point for Oz as Savage accepted a 6th round selection to let the Ravens move up 1 spot for Ngata and took Kam Wimbley instead. I actually saw a Browns fan with a Babatunde Owshinowo (the 6th round selection) jersey at a game in 2006, but he would play just 2 career games.
6. Joe Flacco 2008 (18): A-. Flacco’s regular season success has been uneven (like any QB has a truly even set of performances), but typically better than the stats alone would indicate. He holds the all-time record for road playoff wins with 6 and has 18 TD and 2 INT in the last 3 postseasons. Joe could certainly move up further in these rankings if the Ravens remain successful and he is likely to make a Pro Bowl in the next 3 seasons.
7. Jamal Lewis 2000 (5): B+. An article on the Football Outsiders site ranks his 2003 season well outside the all-time great list, but he carried a team with Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright at QB. Looking at the players drafted at 4 and 5, there is a significant drop off. The highly-peaked pick value charts may not be too far off.
8. Chris McAlister 1999 (10): B+. We’ll never hear exactly what happened with the game he missed at San Diego in 2003. Other than that game, I don’t think CMac ever gave less than full effort on the field. He remains the Ravens’ best corner ever in terms of career value although Webb’s 2011 was the best single year.
9. Peter Boulware 1997 (4): B. See Ogden above. Boulware and CMac made similar contributions, but Boulware was 4th overall. Great player, good pick, but this is his grade for where the Ravens selected him. I did a study following the Dumervil signing to look at every player (28 including 5 active) who had between 56 and 71 career sacks (range selected because Dumervil has 63.5) prior to age 29. Boulware had 59, but had just 11 sacks from 29 on, fewest of the comp group. The average player in the group had 40.9 sacks at 29+.
10. Todd Heap 2001 (31): B. He was a good receiver, but never better than a mediocre blocker. He’s a certain Ring of Honor player and his best seasons are all of similar quality.
11. Ben Grubbs 2007 (29): B-. The Ravens were left with Grubbs when the 49ers moved up to grab Joe Staley with the 28th selection in 2007. Staley has matured slowly, but is now among the best LTs in the game. Ben is the only interior linemen Newsome has ever selected before pick 56 (Chris Chester). The Ravens were forced to let Grubbs walk after the 2011 season, but they got 5 solid years from him. It’s quite an accomplishment to draft 10 Pro Bowl players among 17 selections.
12. Duane Starks 1998 (10): C+. Starks and Reed are the two 1st-round defensive picks the Ravens ever allowed to walk in free agency. Duane was part of the 2002 cap purge after 62 games (44 starts), 20 interceptions, and 6 FFs. He made a big contribution to the 2000 SB run with 9 picks and 4 FFs. He had just 5 picks in 32 games after leaving the Ravens, so the Ravens front office timed his departure well and the selection gets a higher grade.
13. Michael Oher 2009 (23): C-. Since his rookie year, he has not played well anywhere. Some of that can be excused, by the regular position shuffling and lack of a quality LG in 2011 (until he was at RT). I am hopeful for a year of top-shelf play at RT, but he wasn’t great there in the playoffs next to Yanda. He needs to rediscover his snap-to-whistle physicality.
14. Jimmy Smith 2011 (27): C-. He’s missed a lot of time with injuries his first 2 seasons, and much of his poor play is explained by his sports hernia in 2012. He played well down the stretch in 2011 and returned following his 2012 injuries to be the team’s defensive MVP in SB XLVII. That including big plays on both 3rd and 4th down from the 5-yard line on the 49ers final possession. Much of this grade is based on the fact that I believe Smith is the odds-on favorite to be the Raven’s best CB in 2013.
15. Mark Clayton 2005 (22): C-. Mark’s 5 years with the Ravens spanned the Boller, McNair, and Flacco eras. He had 939 receiving yards in 2006, 17.0 YPR in 2008, and threw a 32-yard TD to Mason in 2008. He had 234 catches for 3,116 yards as a Raven. Those are some diverse accomplishments, but he couldn’t develop ongoing chemistry with a QB to improve his receiving results.
16. Travis Taylor 2000 (10): D+. His career was similar to Mark Clayton statistically, but he grades a slot lower as the 10th overall selection. Career with the Ravens he had 204 receptions, 2,758 yards, 13.5 YPC, and 15 TDs. He’s not what you want from the 10th selection, but the failure rate among 1st round receivers is high.
17. Kyle Boller 2003 (19): F. While Boller fell completely short of the expectations for the 19th selection, even the teams that have drafted well have some dogs in the 1st round. Most teams have 3 or 4 1st-round picks worse than Boller. For example, Atlanta drafted Jamaal Anderson at #8, TJ Duckett at #21, Michael Booker at #11, and Peria Jerry at #24.
The Ravens have been good as well as lucky to avoid early, career-ending injuries with their 1st- round selections. Other than Jimmy Smith, every one of these selections was a starter for at least 4 seasons with the Ravens.
Happy NFL New Year, folks.
Enjoy the next 3 days.
Here’s a look at how the Ravens have performed on draft day in a couple other rounds: