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Eric DeCosta: The master of misdirection

He had us all fooled on the first night of the 2021 NFL Draft

NFL: OCT 18 Ravens at Eagles Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Heading into his third draft at the helm of the Baltimore Ravens front office, General Manager Eric DeCosta had two first-round picks for just the fifth time in franchise history. The previous four occasions yielded fantastic results, with none more impressive than the 1996 haul that landed a pair of future first-ballot Hall of Famers in Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden.

The pressure was on and DeCosta not only didn’t flinch but his poker face was stone cold. By the end of the opening night of the 2021 NFL Draft, he came away looking like a bandit after having Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman and Penn State edge rusher Odafe Oweh fall in his lap at pick No. 27 and No. 31 overall, respectfully.

Last night, he admitted in his post-first round presser that the board fell favorably and the right players enticed them to stick and pick instead of trading back like many (including myself) thought they would.

“I think we had a really good plan, but we also had a lot of hope,” DeCosta said. “We had some players that we really wanted to go after, and this is a year that things kind of fell the way that we wanted them to fall.”

“We were very fortunate to get two players that we think are excellent players at their positions and really fill, also, some significant needs on our team in positions that we wanted to address,” he continued.

Leading up to the draft, DeCosta dropped a pair of masterful misdirects that made the Ravens faithful falsely believe that they had an inkling of what he would do if he decided to stick and pick in the first round.

The first made national headlines and sparked controversy last week in the Ravens’ annual pre-draft press conference (comically referred to as the Liars’ Luncheon). DeCosta said that he was “insulted” by the way that the team’s wide receiver depth chart was being perceived both in the media and among their disgruntled fan base.

This led many to believe that he and the Ravens would predictably not value wide receivers as high early on in the draft. Even if one of the top prospects at the position were to fall in their lap, the growing assumption was that they’d take a defensive lineman or some other less-flashy positions of need and roll the dice with the guys they already have and maybe another mid-round wideout.

EEEHHHH! WRONG!

He didn’t pass up one of the most complete and dynamic receivers in the entire draft when he fell to him, giving Lamar Jackson another play-making weapon in the passing game.

The second misdirect was more under the radar and came via a video from the official team website in which DeCosta took fans behind the curtain on a tour of the Ravens’ draft war room. About 4 minutes and 20 seconds into the video, DeCosta points to a plaque on the wall that featured a quote from Nick Saban that read, “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.”

DeCosta went on to elaborate that the quote reflects how they approach scouting prospects at every position and how they value proven production over raw potential. This writer thought he was reading between the lines and took this to mean that they would not spend one of their coveted two first-round picks on a player that didn’t produce at a high level. I even went as far as to tweet that the prospect that they ultimately ended selecting at No. 31 overall was the exact kind of player that they would avoid taking early.

EEEHHH!!! WRONG AGAIN!

He took a raw edge rusher that didn’t record a single sack in seven games in 2020, yet possesses elite athleticism and arguably the highest upside of any pass rusher in the class.

DeCosta still wholeheartedly believes and abides by the foundational values and pillars that his mentor, long-time friend, and predecessor Ozzie Newsome imparted on him in terms of understanding value, coveting picks, and overall roster construction.

However, he continues to pave his own path by doing going against the historical and predictable grain of the organization in the draft. He took a wide receiver in the first round for the second time in three years by selecting Bateman after he used the No. 25 overall pick in 2019 on Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown in his inaugural draft.

He also drafted a player in the first round who didn’t have a lot of experience or production in college but has the physical tools and athletic traits that they believe could translate to success at the next level for the second year in a row. He used the No. 28 overall pick in 2020 on Patrick Queen who not only was a one-year starter in college but hailed from LSU, a program that the Ravens had never drafted a player from prior to that point.

DeCosta duped us all on the opening night of the draft and probably has some more tricks up his sleeves. I was pleasantly surprised and I’m sure a lot of you were, too. He is equipped to address the team’s other needs with seven more picks over the next two days and I’m excited to see what unfolds.