Ravens Fill Holes With ‘Tough, Physical’ Draftees
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — While posing for pictures with the top three draft picks of the Baltimore Ravens, coach John Harbaugh wore a sly smile as he stood on his tip-toes next to the imposing figures of Courtney Upshaw, Kelechi Osemele and Bernard Pierce.
Harbaugh was doing his best to fit in with the group. It would not be a stretch, however, to believe Baltimore’s draft Class of 2012 will blend in nicely with the reigning AFC North champions.
Not only do the newcomers cement some of the gaps created during the previous three months, but they’re accustomed to playing the brand of football that has enabled the Ravens to make the playoffs in each of the last four years.
“We think they’re a great fit for our team. They fit our personality,” Harbaugh said Saturday. “They’re tough, physical, hard-nosed, rough, tough kind of guys.”
Yes, Harbaugh said “tough” twice. For good reason.
The 6’2″, 272-pound Upshaw terrorized the Southeastern Conference as an outside linebacker for national champion Alabama. Osemele is a 6’5″ 333-pounder who could be an instant fit in Baltimore’s offensive line, and the 6-foot, 218-pound Pierce ran 1,481 yards and scored 21 touchdowns in his final season at Temple.
On Saturday, Baltimore drafted 300-pound center/guard Gino Gradkowski of Delaware and free safety Christian Thompson of South Carolina State in the fourth round.
Cornerback Asa Jackson of Cal Poly was taken in the fifth round, although his immediate value to Baltimore might come as a punt returner. In the sixth round, general manager Ozzie Newsome picked wide receiver Tommy Streeter of Miami, who scored eight TDs for the Hurricanes as a junior before leaving for the NFL draft.
The Ravens are looking for a long threat to go with Torrey Smith, and they’re hoping Streeter does a better job of it than did Lee Evans.
The selection of Thompson extended a trend that began with Upshaw, who was selected in the second round after Newsome traded away his first-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings for their second-round pick and the fourth-rounder.
“Big, physical. He fits the mold of these three guys right up there,” Harbaugh said of Thompson. “There is a theme to our draft right now.”
The other trend: Filling holes.
Upshaw was chosen to replace outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, who signed as a free agent with San Diego. Osemele and Gradkowski will compete to fill the void left by the departure of free agent guard Ben Grubbs. Pierce will compete to be the backup to Ray Rice, a job held last year by the recently retired Ricky Williams.
“You always try to draft the best player out there and try to make your team as strong as you can,” Harbaugh said. “There’s also the element of need. All three of these guys (Upshaw, Osemele and Pierce) are probably at positions where they can help us right away. We have some opportunity in there for these guys to play.”
And Thompson? Well, the free safety job is still held by Ed Reed, but Thompson is an ample replacement for last year’s second-stringer, Haruki Nakamura, who played 15 games in 2011 before leaving for the Carolina Panthers.
Upshaw expected to be picked in the first round, but being chosen by the Ravens proved to be a decent consolation prize.
“I just want to come in and produce,” he said. “I’m very happy and honored to be part of this defense, to play for this organization. I wouldn’t want it any other way than to be here.”
Osemele can play tackle and guard, and Gradkowski can play guard and center. The last player the Ravens took out of Delaware was quarterback Joe Flacco.
“Who would have thought? We were going to bring Joe some more weapons, and we got him a Delaware center,” Harbaugh said. “Joe is excited about that.”
The fourth-round pick used to take Gradkowski was obtained Thursday from the Vikings after the Ravens provided Minnesota their slot in the first round. Gradkowski will start at guard, but could ultimately replace veteran Matt Birk in the middle of the line.
“It’s a perfect spot for me,” Gradkowski said. “Come in and maybe play guard my first year and eventually take over at center. It’s a perfect scenario, and I couldn’t be happier.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)