After a great deal of high hopes and expectations, the NFL draft and the end to the lockout both ended just as quickly as they got underway seemingly, and have left in their aftermath a trail of questions, not the least of which being when we might to start to find out the answers to some of these questions.
My feelings about the Ravens draft specifically are mixed. Obviously I’m glad to see the team draft Torrey Smith who has not only been a friend to the Mobtown Sports Beat for a couple of months running, but as the “Microwave King” story is once again making its rounds though the local media, seems to be the kind of player the Ravens need not only in their locker room, but also on a draft board with a calculated character gamble at the top end of it.
I was tough on the pick after hearing it on Thursday night, and my mind hasn’t changed. I do however feel it important to distinguish that hating the pick and hating the kid are two different things entirely. He’ll be wearing purple on Sundays this fall (I hope) and that alone is almost enough to make me want to see him play well. More than football related though, I have even higher hopes for the young man, with the checkered past and a more than ample opportunity to write (and right) his legacy going forward. I am never into the business of cheering against human beings…in life. Furthermore, my track record in bashing draft picks isn’t all that storied either.
With all of that said, and certainly exacerbated by the lingering bad taste from the Kindle pick last season, I hate the pick because of the approach that I see it representing for the Ravens, recently and probably moving forward more than for the player it actually netted.
John Harbaugh in the three years that he’s been at the helm of the Ravens has certainly done a great job of winning football games; there’s absolutely no questioning that. In the process he has also corrected at least one historical franchise bane, that being their ability to develop a quarterback. The other side of that coin though is that the Ravens, unlike seasons past have not done a very good job at developing the other late round and undrafted talent on their roster.
The historical success of the Ravens has been perpetuated not only by the ability to hit on first round draft picks with a seemingly unprecedented level of success, but also through their ability to stash and develop late round or undrafted talent providing them with a healthy pool of low cost contributors. In the salary cap era (if that is indeed where we are to remain) getting production from these types of talents is more than icing on the cake, it’s a necessary component to remaining competitive and having the ability to embrace the tough free agency decisions.
If there’s one thing that’s been missing in the Harbaugh era it’s been the development of guys like Bart Scott, Adalius Thomas, Chester Taylor, Priest Holmes, Kelly Gregg, Will Demps, and countless others who have entered the mix without a great deal of fanfare only to become vital components of the teams that have thrilled us for over the last decade or so.
Recent draft history might suggest that this is troubling to Ozzie Newsome too. Surely in his mind, he’s turning over the same types of 4th round and later players as always, but not seeing nearly the same type of polish being put onto the prospective diamonds in the rough. If that’s the case, it would seem to make sense that Newsome has become much more of a gambler in recent drafts. Siding with football talent over possible character problems might indicate that Newsome has more faith in Harbaugh’s ability to develop the character of these young men than to develop their football abilities. Given Harbaugh’s track record with recent deviants, dissidents and knuckleheads, I’d say it’s at least a close call.
As enjoyable as things have been around here for the last couple of seasons, it’s getting scarier and scarier to think about some of the team’s elder statesmen riding off into the sunset without a corps of reliable or even serviceable heirs apparent, and if they continue to draft high end talent that may or may not be able to get on or stay on the football field, then they’d better start finding ways to develop that late round talent again in a hurry…or this team could be in for a quick and abrupt fall from grace really soon.