OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta, a longtime Boston Red Sox fan, often applies a baseball perspective to the NFL draft.
The basis of DeCosta’s desire to stockpile draft picks is this: You increase your chances of getting hits when you increase your at-bats.
The Ravens received official confirmation this week that they will be swinging early and often in this year’s draft, accruing a number of selections that few teams have ever had in the early rounds.
Baltimore now has nine picks in the first four rounds of this year’s draft -- 10 overall -- after getting two compensatory selections on Wednesday. These are the most picks in the first four rounds in Ravens history and the most in the league in six years. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, there have been just six other instances of a team having nine or more selections in the first four rounds in the common draft era, which dates back to 1967.
Of course, Baltimore could trade some of these picks in an effort to move up in a round. But, for now, the Ravens are thinking about the possibilities of how these built-up assets can lift a last-place team back into the postseason.
“We feel like all of those nine picks will probably come within our top 80 players," DeCosta said. "So, if we do our job correctly, if we stack the board the right way [and] if we’re able to play the combinations correctly, I think we have a really good chance to build some serious and quality depth to help this team be the best it can be.”
How did the Ravens land so many picks?
When it comes to the draft, the Ravens are the anti-Rams. While the reigning Super Bowl champions frequently trade picks, Baltimore wants to add more selections because they represent the lifeblood of its team-building.
The Ravens still own all of their original picks in the first four rounds, like 16 other teams do. Baltimore's other five picks in the first four rounds came from creativity with selections from the Orlando Brown Jr. trade, a long-held organizational philosophy and a new league rule.
Third round (compensatory): As part of the NFL’s minority hiring resolution instituted in 2020, the Ravens were awarded two third-round comp picks when the Houston Texans hired David Culley, Baltimore’s assistant head coach and wide receivers coach. Last year, the Ravens used the extra third-rounder on safety Brandon Stephens, who started 11 games as a rookie. This year, Baltimore still gets the other comp pick even though Culley was fired two months ago.
Fourth round (from New York Giants): Baltimore has the fifth pick of Day 3 of the draft because of this shrewd move by DeCosta. It started with the Ravens acquiring a fifth-round pick from the Kansas City Chiefs last year as part of the compensation for trading Brown, a Pro Bowl offensive tackle, to the Chiefs. Before the 2021 regular season started, Baltimore then sent that pick from the Chiefs, along with reserve offensive lineman Ben Bredeson, to the Giants for their fourth-round selection. So, DeCosta turned a pick at the bottom of the fifth round (from the AFC West champion Chiefs) into a selection at the top of the fourth round (from the four-win Giants).
Fourth round (from Arizona Cardinals): The Ravens once again improved upon a pick they got from the Chiefs in the Brown trade. With the Cardinals wanting to move back into the fourth round during last year’s draft, Baltimore gave up a 2021 fourth-round pick (the one from the Brown trade) and a 2021 sixth-round pick in exchange for Arizona’s 2022 fourth-round pick and a 2021 fifth-rounder. This fourth-round pick from the Cardinals is No. 126 overall, which is 10 spots better than the fourth-rounder they gave to Arizona last year. Also, Baltimore used that fifth-round pick from Arizona in 2021 on cornerback Shaun Wade, who was later traded to the New England Patriots for a seventh-round pick in 2022 (which was then paired with center Greg Mancz in a trade with the Dolphins that netted a 2022 sixth-round pick) and a fifth-round pick in 2023.
Fourth round (two compensatory picks): It was tough for Ravens fans to watch the team let pass-rushers Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue leave in free agency and go on to total a combined 22.5 sacks. As a result of losing them and not signing top unrestricted free agents last offseason, Baltimore gets two fourth-round compensatory picks. No team has relied more on the compensatory pick system than the Ravens. Baltimore traditionally focuses its offseason signings in March and April on players who’ve been cut because they don’t count against the compensatory pick formula. The Ravens have collected an NFL-best 56 compensatory picks since the system began in 1994. Baltimore’s comp picks have produced 13 starters, including center Bradley Bozeman, tight end Nick Boyle and punter Sam Koch.
‘A really good depth draft’
A windfall of picks doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. It really depends as much on the quality of that year’s draft as the team’s analysis of the prospects.
In 1991, the Dallas Cowboys had an NFL-record 11 picks in the first four rounds and came away with six starters including defensive tackle Russell Maryland, offensive tackle Erik Williams and wide receiver Alvin Harper.
In 2016, the Cleveland Browns were the last NFL team with nine or more picks in the first four rounds and drafted just two full-time starters (linebacker Joe Schobert and defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah).
As of right now, it sounds like the 2022 draft is one where the Ravens are fortunate to have nine picks in the first four rounds, which are currently two more than any other team this year. Baltimore certainly has several positions of need, from offensive and defensive lines to pass-rushers to playmaking defensive backs.
It was important for the Ravens to identify those players in Indianapolis who can help Baltimore rebound from an 8-9 season, their first losing one since 2015.
Ravens director of player personnel Joe Hortiz told the team's website at the combine that the depth of the entire class is what really stands out to him.
"Last year, with the players being able to come back to college because of COVID, it added to the pool this year," Hortiz said. "You’ve got a lot of deeper groups at each position in the third day of the draft, where it kind of pushes some other guys up. It’s definitely one of the fullest boards we’ve had."