Every year I see effectively the same argument during the draft period:
"We Should Take Player X, he has a bad personal history/attitude, but is uber talented!
We saw it before with the Vontaze Burfict debate which people still use to point out what a missed opportunity it was that the Ravens didn't get him (never mind that all 32 teams passed on Burfict as he went undrafted).
Unfortunately for fans, late round draft picks are not meant to be used on high-risk lottery picks like I see being suggested for Colt Lyerla, a guy who has a cocaine history. At least this is not what Ozzie Newsome and ex-Special Teams coach John Harbaugh use them for.
The Ravens have a demonstrable history of using these late picks for three things:
- Strategic Depth (i.e. drafted purely to backup a known quality starter)
- Value (e.g. a talented but recently injured player dropping in the draft)
- Special Teams
There's good reason for this. Strategic Depth is a necessary component of a 53 man roster. Players get injured and are pressed into duty - hopefully for a few games until the starter returns but sometimes for longer. At that point you don't want that backup to start but you just have to hope he's better than expected and isn't a liability on gameday. Only in the extremely unlikely scenarios do they turn into real life lottery wins like Antonio Brown or Tom Brady - players those teams never expected to be top flight studs.
Value picks are guys who might have been rated much higher but for a poorly timed injury history (such as Marlon Brown or Marcus Lattimore). They fall because teams can afford to let them fall and take other quality guys with healthy ACLs, not because the injured player didn't demonstrate good tape.
Special Teams is obvious in that not everyone on a 53 man roster is meant to play offense or defense - they might be strategic depth too but their primary role is special teams play. After all, the kicking game is a notable and underrated component of the NFL. Consider that the Ravens had the #1 Special Teams in the NFL in 2012. They then nearly lost the 2012 AFC Divisional game thanks to two disastrous special teams mistakes. And THEN they arguably won the 2012 Super Bowl because of huge special teams play. Having a few guys on ST that can be counted on to play and play well is a proven commodity as coaches like Harbaugh and Bill Belichick have demonstrated.
Let's consider the supporting evidence from recent drafts. For our purposes we'll call late rounders 6th and 7th round picks.
2011, 6th round: Tyrod Taylor. In 2011, Joe Flacco was the unquestioned starter, coming off three successful seasons and playoff victories. Taylor, a productive and extremely fast starter from a big school in Virginia Tech, was not drafted to challenge Flacco but to provide not only a young and cheap QB depth replacement for Marc Bulger but also an offensive wrinkle in the undesirable scenario that Flacco missed time. Anyone who has watched Taylor throw knows he was not intended to hopefully be a lottery pick that might one day challenge Joe for a starting job.
2011, 7th round: Anthony Allen. Starting RB on a triple option offense from a big program in Georgia Tech. Clearly drafted to be a special teamer and depth, playing behind Ray Rice in his prime. Served as a very valuable Special Team blocker, springing Jacoby Jones for numerous return touchdowns in 2012. Eventually cut once Kyle "Juice" was drafted.
2012, 6th rd: Tommy Streeter, WR. Very little production in college but played at a big school and had great measurables at 6'5" and 40 time. Intended purely as strategic depth. Cut in 2013 training camp as he was beaten out by many other WRs. Probably as close to a lottery pick as we get since he hadn't produced anything at all, but simply had the measurables to take a chance on late.
2012, 7th: Deangelo Tyson, DT. Showed nothing spectacular in college, but was a decent starter on a big-time SEC school at UGA, which is a better baseline than most. Strategic depth only behind the oft banged up Haloti Ngata and aging (34 y/o) Ma'ake Kemoeatu. Occasionally filled spot duty as a rotational Dlineman. Unexpectedly had to play significant snaps in the Super Bowl when Ngata went out and famously let Kaepernick around him for a 4th Qtr TD.
2013, 6th #1: Kapron Lewis Moore, DE. Value pick, tore his ACL in the national championship as a productive starter on a talented Notre Dame team. Fell to the 6th for obvious reasons before being snatched up as depth behind Art Jones, who was a known likely candidate to leave in free agency.
2013, 7th #1: Aaron Mellette, WR. Little more than a depth pick as a dominant receiver at a small, no-name school. Eric DeCosta has stated before that they look for total dominance from small school guys. Doesn't offer much on special teams as a bigger bodied WR but is capable of it, if he makes roster.
You'll note that none of our recent draft picks are in the mold of Vontaze Burfict or Colt Lyerla - highly questionable players with bad personal conduct histories or bad conduct at the combine. Burfict if you recall not only disparaged his entire coaching staff but performed every drill terribly at the Combine. He called himself the "best LB in the draft".
All 32 teams passed on him. That he chose to sign as UDFA with Bengals only means that he viewed them as the best fit. And a good choice given that Rey Maulauga is terrible and the Bengals having few standouts in the linebacking corps. Burfict kept himself clean so far but he also plays behind one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Doesn't change the fact that he was essentially undraftable. Only in hindsight (so far) does it look like he should have been. More often than not, it doesn't work out this way.
These aren't the type of guys the Ravens will use late picks on. They are worth far more to them it seems than mere throwaways on a high risk lottery pick.
As fans we seem to view these picks like we view fantasy football 13th rounders: total throwaway lottery picks on an upside RB or WR that you're hoping stuns everyone or the guy in front of him gets hurt. Ozzie and John take a bit more of a practical approach as one would expect of a real NFL team that has more needs than simply offensive playmakers.
Bottom line: don't expect us to be throwing away our 7th round picks on guys like Colt Lyerla come May. It might be more fun to argue for a guy like him than a boring special teamer, but history shows its not likely to happen.