NFL Draft: Ravens eye playmakers

Street Talk NFL Draft: Ravens eye playmakers

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OWINGS MILLS – Studying video of players until his eyes are bloodshot as he prepares for this weekend’s NFL draft, a recurring thought consumes Baltimore Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta: finishing games.

Last season, the Ravens squandered leads in the fourth quarter nine times.

They lost four of those games as they gave up 119 points in the fourth quarter, the most since the inaugural year of the franchise.

So, finding players that can help the Ravens finish off games is of pivotal importance as the hours tick down until they’re on the clock with the 26th pick of the first round.

"Playmakers, to me, are guys that can finish off games," DeCosta said. "It’s a guy that makes a critical play when that play needs to be made. They come in all different shapes and sizes."

DeCosta referenced kickers who connect on the game-winning kick, receivers who deliver the crucial catch over the middle to extend drives and offensive tackles who knock down defensive lineman three consecutive times on the final series.

"When you think of a playmaker in football, you’re thinking maybe running back, receiver or maybe a corner," DeCosta said. "In my mind, it’s a guy who makes a critical clutch play to help you win the game."

For the Ravens, that could mean taking several different approaches to the draft.

The ideal scenario for them would be keeping the 26th pick and having a coveted prospect such as Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, Florida offensive lineman Mike Pouncey, Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith, Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder or Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith fall to them.

Solder is a 6-foot-9, 315-pound mobile tackle who still needs to fill out.

"I could see Solder fitting in well with the Ravens," said Russ Lande, a draft analyst for The Sporting News and a former scout for the Cleveland Browns and the St. Louis Rams. "He’s a tremendous athlete, but very raw. They could put Michael Oher back on the right side."

Smith is regarded as a wild card because of his character red flags.

A large shutdown cornerback at 6-foot-2, 211 pounds who has sparked comparisons to former Baltimore cornerback Chris McAlister, Smith has visited the Ravens. He has also been compared by NFL scouts to troubled Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Smith flunked three drug tests at Colorado, had two arrests for underage drinking offenses, had two abortions paid for by parents of women he impregnated and was arrested for third-degree assault.

"Smith would let them upgrade at cornerback, but he’s a gamble," Lande said. "I could see Ozzie Newsome being willing to gamble on a kid with character questions. If the best cover corner in the draft is sitting there at No. 26, I see them gambling."

If the Ravens’ most coveted prospects have already been taken, they could stand pat for someone like Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward or Temple defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson.

Heyward is an All-Big Ten pick who’s regarded as a safe draft prospect.

"There’s a good chance he’ll be there," Lande said. "He can be that down guy. He can be a stud for them."

Wilkerson’s raw potential is considered impressive. He’s 6-5, 315 with 4.8 speed in the 40-yard dash.

"He has greater upside than Heyward and has real long arms, but he’s more of a developmental player," Lande said.

A third option would be to trade back and still obtain UCLA outside linebacker Akeem Ayers, Pitt defensive end Jabaal Sheard, Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed, Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith or Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling.

The likelihood of a trade seems strong considering Newsome has maneuvered in the first round with trades up or back in each of the past three years, landing quarterback Joe Flacco and tackle Michael Oher in the process.

Last year, they retreated out of the first round by sending their pick to the Denver Broncos, who selected Tim Tebow.

Baltimore wound up with outside linebacker Sergio Kindle, among other players. Kindle missed his entire rookie season with a fractured skull.

The Ravens utilize owner Steve Bisciotti and chief negotiator Pat Moriarty on trade scenarios because of their knowledge of the NFL value chart.

"I can ask: ‘OK, New England is on the clock at 17. What will it take for us to move to 17?’ Somebody can give me an answer to that quickly because they’ve prepared themselves for that," Newsome said. "We will have our board graded to where if a player [like] Michael Oher starts to come down the board, then we will start to say, ‘OK, he’s the guy that we should go and get.’"


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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors.  More from Aaron Wilson


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