Most of the experts have long been in awe of the success that the Baltimore Ravens have had on draft day. They always seem to find the needle in the haystack, especially in the first round. Their #1 picks have regularly made the Pro Bowl in their careers, earning GM Ozzie Newsome and his staff the title of "Draft Gurus."
However, I beg to differ, as the recent drafts have not panned out other than the first round picks. It's pretty easy to know who the first or even second rounders are, but to find the diamond in the rough in the later rounds is the real key to success. Everyone knew Peyton Manning would be a star when he was drafted, but what about Tom Brady.
As far as the Ravens, I really like Joe Flacco, even if the pick at 18 might have been a reach. However, when I see this team's needs, I look at two positions, QB and CB. These should have been the first two picks last weekend. Sure, RB Ray Rice will fill a nice spot in Cam Cameron's two back offense, but there were other RB's that we could have gotten with the later picks rather than spending the second rounder on one. As much as I like Flacco, Michigan's Chad Henne will also be a good pro, as he was the starter at Michigan for four years, playing with success against some of the tougher teams in the country on a weekly basis. After the Ravens selection of Flacco in the first round, the next QB wasn't selected until the third round. This leaves me wondering that if the Ravens used their first round pick on a top cornerback, such as South Florida's Mike Jenkins, would Flacco have been available with their 2nd round pick, or could they have traded back up into the late first round and grabbed him? If not, Henne would have certainly been there, and either way, we'd have our QB of the future, as well as a top corner, which was much more of a dire need than a backup running back.
Who knows what goes on in the Draft War Room. At what point was the trade of a fourth round pick to Oakland for CB Fabian Washington discussed or completed? Was it before the draft even started? Did they view, as Ozzie said, Washington as better than anything they could have drafted anyway? If so, then his philosophy played out and that is why he did what he did. What he did other than the above, was complete the entire draft without selecting even one cornerback. I cannot believe that the potential of at least one draft pick can't be better than what we saw on the field in 2007 from the backups that played in the absence of injured Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister. Therein lies my point. Sure, Washington is a good pickup. However, this secondary is much more than one CB away from being respectable. Drafting Mike Jenkins and trading for Fabian Washington would have solidified a glaring weakness that every team exploited last season, be it the Colts and Steelers or the lowly Jets and Cardinals. Before this team even thinks of contending, the secondary is the biggest need other than QB. Even the Ravens 7th round draft pick, Allen Patrick (Oklahoma) could arguably fill in as a option for Willis McGahee. However, none of the draft picks nor anyone else on our current roster can do the same at corner.
Of course, the draft grade won't truly be determined this upcoming season. It will take years to gauge the success of the full draft. Flacco and Rice should make an immediate impact, even though I'm for putting Kyle Boller or Troy Smith behind center for most if not all of 2007 to absorb the abuse and punishment that he might otherwise be subjected to. Having Flacco start his NFL career spending most of his time running for his life or flat on his back would leave us with a shell shocked ill-prepared rookie. Even though Boller did the same and look where he is after five years, I still expect Flacco to be a much better NFL QB, but am not having delusions of grandeur for his first season.
The rest of the draft picks will ultimately fit in or move on over the next few years. I especially like the Notre Dame safety/pro boxer Tom Zbikowski, who is a hitter and should ultimately take over Dawan Landry's position, as Landry looked lost at times last season, especially without Reed when he was injured. Some of the others will end up being stars, and Miami LB Tavares Gooden could end up contributing early and being groomed under the wings of Ray Lewis to be his replacement at some point in the future. Others will contribute on special teams and as reserves, be it on the Ravens if they stick or with other teams.
Overall, the first couple of picks will end up being pretty good contributors. However, the critical need of this team just was not addressed to my satisfaction, regardless of the contributions from the other players who were drafted on day one. Therefore, that is why I am going against the grain of the so-called experts who gave the Ravens either a "B" or "B+" in the draft. I have always been a big fan with a ton of confidence in Ozzie Newsome. Perhaps now we are seeing how important former Raven Assistant GM and current Browns GM Phil Savage was to this team, as his absence may be a major part of the reason that I am giving the Ravens a grade of "C+" for the 2008 NFL Draft.