OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — History could repeat itself for the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL draft. The last time the Ravens had the 29th overall pick, they selected guard Ben Grubbs in 2007.
Grubbs became a starter as a rookie and helped the Ravens make the playoffs in each of the last four years.
General manager Ozzie Newsome desperately tried to re-sign Grubbs during the recent offseason, but the two-time Pro Bowl alternate accepted a $36 million deal with the New Orleans Saints.
So now there’s a good chance the Ravens will use the 29th pick Thursday to snare another offensive lineman, someone who can open holes for running back Ray Rice and protect quarterback Joe Flacco.
The player just has to be worth it.
Newsome insists he won’t draft to fill a need if there’s a more talented player available.
But the Ravens offensive line is thin. This could be the final season for center Matt Birk, who turns 36 in July, and there is no depth at guard beyond Marshal Yanda. The best linemen in the draft will likely be gone by the time the Ravens are on the clock, but their options could include David DeCastro of Stanford and Wisconsin big men Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz.
“All those guys, you figure they get picked in the latter half of the first round, the early part of the second round,” said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens director of player personnel.
Baltimore’s success over the last four years has forced Newsome and DeCosta to make the best of drafting in the back end of each round. Yet they still managed to secure starters Michael Oher, Lardarius Webb, Terrence Cody, Jimmy Smith, Torrey Smith and the tight end tandem of Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.
The Ravens enter the draft with eight selections, none more valuable than the first, although each pick will be given the same amount of thought and consideration.
And then, while Baltimore is on the clock, it might be traded away. For the Ravens, it’s not so much their draft number but the number of draft picks. After all, Webb, Dickson, Pitta and up-and-coming defensive end Pernell McPhee were all taken in the third round or later.
“We want as many picks as we can get because I think the draft is all about luck,” DeCosta said. “The more picks you have, the better chance you have to get lucky. We need players at every position across the board. The more picks we have, the better chance we have to hit on a few guys. That’s really where we are with that.”
Newsome has pulled off a trade in each of the last 10 drafts, more often than not to get extra selections. Two years ago, for instance, he dealt his first-rounder to Denver for three picks.
“There’s nobody that covets picks more than the Baltimore Ravens,” Newsome said. “And so, the notion of giving up a pick is pretty distasteful for us unless the player is pretty darn good.”
If Konz or some other notable offensive lineman is available, the Ravens might select someone rated higher on their board.
“We have said this for 16 years: We will not take need over a real good player at another position,” Newsome said.
Baltimore could use a linebacker to replace departed free agent Jarret Johnson or someone to groom as a down-the-road replacement Ray Lewis, who turns 37 next month. They might seek a wide receiver to go with Smith, or a safety to provide stability in the back end of the defense with Ed Reed, who turns 34 in September.
“I try to come up with a theme every year before the draft. My theme this year is deep depth,” DeCosta said. “It sort of goes back to Branch Rickey, quality out of quantity, a lot of picks just to get as many players as you can. I think we need a lot of good young players. Last year, we thought we needed playmakers and we brought in Torrey Smith, we brought in Jimmy Smith. We got some guys like that.”
Newsome and DeCosta must be doing something right, because the Ravens are the only team in the NFL to win a playoff game in each of the last four years. But despite reaching the AFC title game twice during,. that span, Baltimore hasn’t been to the Super Bowl since winning it all during the 2000 season.
The hope is that this will be the year.
“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished,” DeCosta said. “We’re just trying to get better. We look at the team as clinically as we can and try to address what we think are the most important issues. That’s what the draft is about, that’s what free agency is about. We’re just trying to improve so that next year when we’re in that same position, we’ll win the game.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)