OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The 2014 NFL draft may only be a week away, but the Ravens’ intentions at the running back position were clear long before running back Ray Rice got into trouble in Atlantic City back in February.
The 27-year-old is scheduled to be arraigned for third-degree aggravated assault in New Jersey on Thursday, but general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh knew several weeks before the incident between Rice and future wife Janay Palmer allegedly took place that the Ravens would be looking for help at the running back position. With Rice’s legal situation unresolved and the NFL possibly levying a suspension, Baltimore is almost certain to make a significant addition at the position between now and the start of the season.
But that decision had more to do with Baltimore’s 30th-ranked running game and league-worst 3.1 yards per carry average than Rice’s status for the start of the 2014 season.
“We’ll deal with Ray when that time comes,” Newsome said. “But, in talking with John all the way back to when we went to Jupiter to spend time with [owner Steve Bisciotti], we’ve been talking about adding one, maybe two running backs to our team. And this was before the incident that happened in Atlantic City. We felt like we needed to add some depth at that position coming out of the 2013 season.”
The Ravens signed veteran Justin Forsett earlier this month, but a running back will likely be a target on either the second or third day of next week’s draft. Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta was complimentary of Washington’s Bishop Sankey, Auburn’s Tre Mason, Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, and Jeremy Hill of LSU, who are all projected to go in the second or third round. Baltimore has also met with Hyde, Boston College’s Andre Williams, Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, and Towson’s Terrance West.
With new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak implementing a new system, the Ravens will be looking for a natural fit to thrive in a zone blocking scheme.
“You’ve got guys in that second round, third-round area. You’ve got some good later-round picks, too,” DeCosta said. “I think the draft is such at that position where you can get a guy in any round – second through seventh – that can help you play some good football.”
Ravens trading back in first round?
Many pundits have labeled this year’s draft class as one of the deepest in years, and the Ravens seem to support that sentiment as DeCosta claimed they have roughly 180 players they consider to be “draftable,” which is up from the typical 140 to 150 they have on their board in a given year.
With so many talented players available, many have wondered if the Ravens would consider moving back from the 17th overall pick if the right deal comes along, and Newsome confirmed Wednesday that he’s already received calls to do just that.
“If we move back four, five or six spots, we might still have the opportunity to get one or two of those players and get the additional pick,” Newsome said. “That’s how we look at it. Can we pick at 17? We’ll be prepared to pick at 17, but also we’ll be entertaining trades to be able to move back if we have to, if we want to.”
Newsome admitted it would be difficult for the Ravens to move up to draft a player in the first round since they only have four picks they’re permitted to trade. Baltimore dealt its fourth- and fifth-round choices to Jacksonville last fall to acquire left tackle Eugene Monroe and traded its seventh-round selection to Indianapolis for offensive lineman A.Q. Shipley last spring.
The Ravens have a total of four compensatory picks — a third, two fourths, and a fifth — but those selections cannot be traded.
“I could probably say if one or two players start getting really close to us, we’d be clamoring trying to go up and get them,” Newsome said. “I can just say, I know John, I know Eric and I know [director of college scouting Joe Hortiz], and we’ll be telling Steve that we need to go get this player because we feel like he can impact us that much.”
2007 trade that wasn’t to be
Newsome confirmed a report that surfaced earlier this week about the Ravens nearly pulling off a trade in 2007 to select quarterback Brady Quinn from Notre Dame before the Cleveland Browns ultimately made a deal with the Dallas Cowboys.
The Ravens held the 29th overall pick and began discussing the quarterback as he fell in the first round, even calling Quinn and his agent Tom Condon to gather information. However, the Browns were willing to pony up their second-round pick and 2008 first-round choice for the 22nd pick while the Ravens simply stayed put and settled for left guard Ben Grubbs, a five-year starter and one-time Pro Bowl selection in Baltimore.
“What happened is we were in the midst of making a trade – a trade with the team that ended up making the trade to Cleveland – and Cleveland offered more than we did, which was [then-general manager Phil Savage],” Newsome said. “Phil offered more than we did. And so, they ended up drafting Brady Quinn, and we did not get him, because what Dallas and Jerry [Jones] wanted in the trade from the other team, we did not feel like we should go up to that level.”
While no one knows how Quinn might have fared had he landed in Baltimore, the Fighting Irish product and Ohio native was a flop in Cleveland where he made only 12 starts and threw 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Quinn said in an interview with AM 1570 WNST on Wednesday that he’d never spoken to the Ravens during the pre-draft process but often thinks how his career might have turned out differently had they pulled off the trade instead of the Browns.
Ravens fans can only breathe a sigh of relief seven years later as the organization selected quarterback Joe Flacco a year later.
Looking at cornerbacks
Most attention has gone to obvious needs at the right tackle and free safety positions in the early rounds, but the Ravens have yet to add a cornerback to fill the void of veteran Corey Graham departing via free agency.
Newsome and Harbaugh have both complimented the potential of young cornerbacks Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson, but neither has extensive experience. Hortiz estimated that as many as 12 cornerbacks will be drafted in the first three rounds with Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby, and Texas Christian’s Jason Verrett among the candidates to go in the first round.
“We’ve always felt you can’t have enough corners,” Newsome said, “especially when you’re in a league now where it’s a passing league with people putting three or four receivers in the games. You don’t have too many corners.”
Auburn guy sticks up for Alabama
In the wake of Rolando McClain’s latest retirement and left tackle prospect Cyrus Kouandjio’s medical concerns at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, the University of Alabama has received plenty of scrutiny in terms of how reliable their players are at the NFL level, a sentiment that doesn’t sit well with Newsome.
Ironically, it was Hortiz, an Auburn alum, who defended Newsome’s alma mater during Wednesday’s pre-draft press conference.
“These guys, they may fail physicals or be question marks, but they are tough players,” Hortiz said. “They play through injuries, and they play in the NFL. Last year, the running back in Green Bay (Eddie Lacy) failed physicals, and he was rookie of the year. These Alabama guys, they get beat up; they play through it. [Ravens linebacker] Courtney Upshaw had a bad shoulder, and he’s a rugged, tough guy.
“I hate to hear the Alabama guys get beat up [in the media] so much – and I’m an Auburn guy – because all they do is play through pain, and they have such a mental and physical toughness. They get in the NFL and they do the same thing. Sorry to strike a nerve, but I’ve just been hearing it so much.”