Among some fans, there’s a refusal to learn much from the experience of the New England Patriots - in large part because there seems to be a sentiment that having the best QB in NFL history paired with the best coach/GM in the NFL has given them a leg up that no other team could possibly approximate. The simplicity and attractiveness of that perspective is apparent, even though I disagree with it vehemently.
Nevertheless, rather than dash myself upon those rocks once again, I thought it could be productive to look elsewhere for an example of successful team building and draft strategy. Fortunately, we have one of the best of them just up Route 95, in Charm City: The Baltimore Ravens.
Perhaps it’s little surprise that the Ravens have been managed so well, and have been so successful over the past 20 years. After all, their long time GM, Ozzie Newsome cut his front office teeth working under Bill Belichick with the Browns in the early 1990s, before shifting to the Ravens as they came east to Baltimore.
But Newsome deserves a ton of credit in his own right. Once out from under Belichick’s tutelage, he grew into one of the best GMs in the game. After Newsome’s retirement in 2018, the reigns were handed over to long time assistant GM, Eric DeCosta, so there has been a continuity of GM operations in Baltimore all the way back to their transplantation from Cleveland (and even before).
Enough of that history lesson, however. Now onto another. We’re going to take the time machine back to the 2010 NFL draft and proceed up through the present, looking at the Ravens’ team building strategy - as it pertains to the draft - since that point.
In 2009, the Ravens finished 9-7, led by Joe Flacco in his second season. The Ravens beat the Pats in the wildcard round and lost to the Colts in the divisional round, securing the 25th pick in the 2010 NFL draft.
Beginning on Day 1 of the draft, the Ravens were active on the trade wire. They parlayed that #25 pick into picks 43, 70, and 114 in a trade with the Broncos. I will include the “career AV” values - as a rough estimate of player productiveness - in parentheses for the players selected at various picks throughout this article.
At 25, the Broncos selected Tim Tebow (Career AV 12), while the Ravens turned 43 into Sergio Kindle (Career AV 0), a LB who washed out, 70 into Ed Dickson (Career AV 18), and 114 into Dennis Pitta (Career AV 17). This, the first trade looked at in this article, beautifully illustrates DeCosta’s opinion on the draft:
We look at the draft as, in some respects, a luck-driven process. The more picks you have, the more chances you have to get a good player. When we look at teams that draft well, it’s not necessarily that they’re drafting better than anybody else. It seems to be that they have more picks. There’s definitely a correlation between the amount of picks and drafting good players.
The two top players in the trade were the least productive. One of the top two was a complete bust. The Ravens hedged their risks in more picks, and it paid off. That was the extent of the Ravens draft day trade activity in 2010.
The Ravens 2010 finish earned them the 26th pick in the 2011 draft. And that’s where things got weird. At pick 26, the Ravens went over their allotted 10 minutes and the Chiefs were allowed to leapfrog them and pick there instead. Why did they go over their time? As it turns out, the Ravens had a plan in place to trade back from pick 26 to pick 29 (and a 4th round pick) with the Bears, but the Bears failed to call the trade into the league office, and the Ravens paid the price by slipping a spot in the draft (where they picked Jimmy Smith, Career AV 37, so don’t feel too badly for them). [More detail on this strange episode can be found here].
On Day 2, the Ravens traded up to pick 85, sending their picks 90 and 191 to the Eagles. The Ravens took Jah Reid (Career AV 12). The Eagles picked Curtis Marsh (Career AV 1) at 90 and Jason Kelce (Career AV 79) at 191. Here the Ravens didn’t hedge, but their trade opponent did, and it was wildly successful.
Their impressive 2011 performance netted the Ravens the 29th pick in the 2012 NFL draft. And what did they do with pick 29? Trade back, of course. The Ravens sent 29 to the Vikings for picks 35 and 98. Pick 29 worked out for Minnesota, as they selected Harrison Smith (Career AV 65). The Ravens ended up picking Courtney Upshaw (Career AV 27) at 35 and Gino Gradkowski (Career AV 11) at 98.
On Day 2, the Ravens traded up with the Falcons, collecting pick 84 (Bernard Pierce, CAV 10), for picks 91 (Lamar Holmes, CAV 10) and 164 (Jonathan Massaquoi, CAV 6).
In 2012, the Ravens went 10-6 during the regular season, but ended up defeating the Colts, Broncos, and Pats on their way to defeating the 49ers in the Super Bowl, to collect their second NFL title in just over a decade.
Of course, the Super Bowl victory netted the Ravens the final pick in the first round of the NFL draft. They stood pat and selected Matt Elam (CAV 12).
The only draft trade action on the part of the Ravens this year was another Day 2 trade up. The Ravens grabbed Arthur Brown (CAV 3) at number 56 from the Seahawks, while the Seahawks received 62, where they selected Christine Michael (CAV 9), and pick 165 and 199.
The Seahawks then packaged 165 (Sam Martin, CAV 17) and 199 (Theo Riddick, CAV 26) to trade up with the Lions for pick 137 (Jesse Williams, CAV 0). Advantage Lions.
The Ravens finished the 2013 season at 8-8, and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
The Ravens’ mediocre finish in 2013 secured them the number 17 pick in the 2014 draft. With that pick, they selected LB CJ Mosley (CAV 67).
The Ravens were pretty quiet this year, only participating in one draft day trade, on Day 3 with the Browns. They traded up for pick 218 (Michael Campanaro, CAV 4), sending their 2015 6th rounder to Cleveland.
The Ravens ended up going 10-6, winning the wild card against the Steelers and then losing in the divisional round to the Pats.
A trip back to the playoffs earned the Ravens the 26th pick in the 2015 draft. With that pick, they selected Breshad Perriman (CAV 11).
On Day 2, the Ravens traded up with the Cardinals, sending picks 58 (Markus Golden, CAV 23) and 158 (Shaq Riddick, CAV 0) to Arizona for pick 55 (Maxx Williams, CAV 6). That was the extent of their draft day trades in 2015.
The 2015 season, where the team went 5-11, was the Ravens’ worst finish since 2007.
The abysmal finish in 2015 landed the Ravens the number 6 pick in the 2016 NFL draft. With that pick, they selected Ronnie Stanley (CAV 41).
On Day 2, the Ravens traded back from pick 36 with the Jaguars, collecting picks 38 and 146. They then turned and traded pick 38 to the Dolphins for picks 42 and 107. Here’s how the final dispensation of those picks went:
- 36 (Jags) - Myles Jack (CAV 29)
- 38 (Dolphins) - Xavien Howard (CAV 19)
- 42 (Ravens) - Kamalei Correa (CAV 10)
- 107 (Ravens) - Chris Moore (CAV 4)
- 146 (Ravens) - Matt Judon (CAV 27)
The Ravens proceeded to go 8-8 during the 2016 season, and missed the playoffs for the second year in a row.
The Ravens ended up in the middle of the pack, with pick #16, and selected Marlon Humphrey (CAV 20) in the 2017 draft.
For the first time in the period examined as part of this exercise, the Ravens didn’t trade, either up or down, in the draft.
During the 2017 season, the Ravens went 9-7, and missed the playoffs for the 3rd year in a row. This will end up being the franchise’s worst 3-year stretch since the period just after the move from Cleveland in the late 1990s.
In 2018, the Ravens started the draft with the number 16 pick. Then they did something they hadn’t done since the 2012 draft, months before they won the Super Bowl. They traded back. The Ravens sent #16 to the Bills for picks 22 and 65. The Bills selected Tremaine Edmunds (CAV 23). The Ravens then traded back again, sending picks 22 and 215 to the Titans for picks 25 and 125. The Titans took Rashaan Evans (CAV 14) at 22. We’ll get back to pick 215 later.
The Ravens used pick 25 on Hayden Hurst (CAV 6). The journey for picks 65 and 125 was far from over. At the end of Day 1, the Ravens traded up for pick 32 (Lamar Jackson, CAV 33) and 132 (Jaleel Scott, CAV 0) from the Eagles, with Philadelphia receiving pick 52 (then traded to the Colts), that pick from the Titans, 125 (Avonte Maddox, AV 7), and a 2019 second round pick (Miles Sanders, CAV 9).
On Day 2, the Ravens took pick 65 and traded back with the Raiders, getting picks 75, 152, and 212 in return. Here is how those picks turned out:
- 65 (Raiders) - Brandon Parker (CAV 7)
- 75 - Traded to the Chiefs for picks 86 and 122
- 152 - Traded to the Titans
- 212 (Ravens) - Greg Senat (CAV 0)
The Chiefs selected Derrick Nnadi (CAV 11) with 75. The Ravens used 86 on Mark Andrews (CAV 17) and 122 on Kenny Young (CAV 7). But they weren’t done.
On Day three, they traded back again sending pick 152 to the Titans (Dane Cruikshank, CAV 2) for picks 162 and 215.
- 162 - Jordan Lasley (CAV 0)
- 215 - Brad Bozeman (CAV 11)
The Ravens went 10-6 with Lamar Jackson in his rookie season, and ending up losing in the wildcard round of the playoffs.
In the 2019 draft, the Ravens began with the 22nd pick in the first round. As they had the year before, they traded back. They sent 22 to the Eagles, who selected Andre Dillard (CAV 3), in exchange for picks 25, 127, and 197. The Ravens used pick 25 on Marquise Brown (CAV 8), pick 127 on Iman Marshall (CAV 0), and pick 197 on back-up QB Trace McSorley (CAV 0).
On Day 2, the Ravens traded up for 93 (Miles Boykin, CAV 3) in exchange for sending the Vikings 102 (Alexander Mattison, CAV 4), 191 (Marcus Epps, CAV 0), and 193 (Oli Udoh, CAV 0).
The Ravens had a near fairy tale season in 2019, going 14-2, and with Lamar Jackson winning the league MVP in his second year. Unfortunately for them, they ran into a blazing hot Titans team in the divisional playoffs, and their season was abruptly cut short.
Merely publishing this piece is likely to draw cries of “bias” or “promoting an agenda” from some circles, and I suppose I am biased towards trying to learn from the successful examples of others, and promoting an agenda to have the Redskins be a better run team.
That having been said, I went into the exercise expecting to learn primarily from a positive example set by the Ravens, and have ended it with a much more complicated understanding. Their team building hasn’t been flawless, and their performance has suffered as a result, but after losing their way, it seems they have found themselves back on a productive path.
That isn’t to say that every move they have made - or will make - is the right one, but we can learn just as much (and perhaps more) from their mistakes as we can from their successes. I look forward to discussing the topic more with you in the comments.
For those interested in learning a bit more about the Patriots’ draft strategies, check out these resources: