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Delano
04-30-2009, 11:24 AM
April 19, 2009
<nyt_headline version="1.0" type=" "> Ravens Form N.F.L. Draft Team That Has Game Plan (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/19/sports/football/19ravens.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2)</nyt_headline>

<nyt_byline version="1.0" type=" "> By JUDY BATTISTA

</nyt_byline> OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ozzie Newsome thought he was a draftnik during his Hall of Fame playing days, even interrupting a round of golf during Ken Stabler’s charity tournament one year to call back to Cleveland to ask whom the Browns were drafting that day.

Then Newsome retired, and the first day of the rest of his career proved one thing: he knew a lot about playing tight end and almost nothing about the draft. His very first day as a low-level member of the scouting department came in the spring of 1991, when the Browns, then under the rookie coach Bill Belichick, were convening their draft meetings. Newsome walked into a room filled with members of the personnel department and was stunned.

“I was overwhelmed with all of the information, how they were describing the players,” he said. “All I knew was names. It was like, ‘Whoa!’ I was really intimidated by the whole process.”

That does not happen much anymore to Newsome, who has evolved with the Baltimore Ravens’ front office into one of the N.F.L.’s most successful drafters. For fans, last year might have been the Ravens’ finest hour, when they maneuvered through the first round to select Joe Flacco, ending a decade-long search for a franchise quarterback.

But for those who study the draft, the Ravens are considered almost unmatched because of their acumen in the middle rounds, where the remaining players have greater shortcomings. Football Outsiders analyzed the Ravens’ draft picks from 2001 through 2007 to determine the value of each pick, based on games started, compared with players at the same position chosen within 10 spots by other teams. During that time, the Ravens’ picks had the best average value. The Indianapolis Colts were second.

“They’re not consumed by one or two players to make the team better — that’s what happens to a lot of teams, they think they need this one player,” said the former N.F.L. executive Michael Lombardi, who worked with Newsome in Cleveland. “The Ravens take a broad brush to the draft room. And they don’t overreact.”

The Ravens’ process of methodical, minute preparation belies the frenetic appearance of draft day. The groundwork is laid years in advance, with a pipeline of scouts who start with so little experience they are not allowed to evaluate players. And it continues with a period of self-evaluation — something Newsome credits Belichick with teaching him — during which the Ravens figure out what they are looking for and how players will fit into their system.

That avoids what Detroit Lions Coach Jim Schwartz, who was also a young member of Belichick’s scouting department, calls the phenomenon of the “square peg into a round hole,” when a front office drafts a player who might be highly regarded, but who does not fit how the team plays.
“A lot of people spend time trying to find things without knowing exactly what they’re looking for,” Newsome, the Ravens’ general manager, said. “We start by saying, ‘This is what we would like to have in a linebacker, in a left tackle.’ Then the picture becomes clear.”

The deliberateness is a reflection of Newsome, a placid personality in the N.F.L. maelstrom. In draft meetings, Newsome rarely airs his opinion before hearing from coaches and scouts — he said Ernie Accorsi, the former Giants general manager, taught him how to run a meeting. Steve Bisciotti, the Ravens’ owner, joked that he schooled Coach John Harbaugh last year in what he called “the communication of Oz,” which meant advising Harbaugh to go home while awaiting a decision, because Newsome liked to sleep on it.

“He’s as good as anybody as I’ve been around to be able to sit and process information,” the former Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “Rarely do you have an idea of how Ozzie feels about a player because he’s not going to prejudice it. I’ve been there when the No. 1 guy is clear about how he feels about a player. That puts a lot of pressure on the guy in either knocking the player down or building him up.”

The Ravens usually use free agency to fill gaps in the roster, because Newsome does not like to feel pressured by a need on draft day. Even when there is a true need, Newsome sticks to the mantra: right player, right price.

According to Football Outsiders, one of the Ravens’ best picks was Dawan Landry, a 2006 selection who started all but two games in his first two seasons before being hurt last year. The Ravens waited until the fifth round to take Landry despite going into the draft with only one safety on the roster. A nervous Bisciotti occasionally reminded Newsome about the need at safety. But as each round went by, a safety was not the best player available, and the Ravens selected another position. Newsome responded by gently patting the air with his hand, and repeating, “We’ll get a safety.”

Last year, when the Ravens were selecting eighth and eying Flacco, the director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said they knew they “would have laughed us out of the N.F.L.” if they had taken Flacco eighth. So they moved back to 26th to get Flacco where they thought he was the right value. DeCosta was content to sit tight and take Flacco 26th, until Bisciotti could wait no longer. The Ravens traded up to 18th to take Flacco.

“I’m sitting there saying, ‘What’s going to happen if he’s gone?’ ” Bisciotti said. “That was one time that Ozzie went against what he really believed and did it for the sake of the owner. Ozzie is a great balance for people who are type-A personalities — owners and coaches might be a little more type A. We’re high maintenance. Ozzie is low maintenance.”

One reason Newsome has such faith in his system is because he has trained almost everybody who works in it. In a program Newsome borrowed from Belichick, the Ravens rarely hire a scout from outside the organization. Rather, Newsome has his 20-20 club. He pays 20-somethings who hope to rise through the personnel department $20,000 a year. They work 20 hours a day filing tapes, picking up free agents at the airport and cleaning out the refrigerators of released players who have abandoned their apartments. In 1996, Coach Ted Marchibroda used to give DeCosta $100 and ask him to get an oil change for his car and keep the change. DeCosta dutifully scouted out the places that would do an oil change for $9.

In the meantime, Newsome and his staff get a read on an up-and-comer’s work ethic and intelligence. The older scouts tutor the younger ones in what to look for, so everybody’s eye is trained the same way.

“We even grade our lunches,” DeCosta said. “If I say it’s a 6.2 lunch — all the guys know what that means, pretty good, but not great. A 7.5 is like the Pro Bowl is, if I say the soup is a 7.5 today, everybody runs to get the soup.”

There are other differences to the Ravens’ system. They are one of the few teams in the league that do not subscribe to scouting services that provide a packet of information on players before the February scouting combine. The Ravens’ scouts do the legwork in gathering the background and the measurable statistics that would be in those reports. It takes eight grinding weeks after the draft, when the scouting department devotes itself to looking at tapes of juniors and calling their universities. But it also produces deep insight into future prospects.

There have been misses, of course. In 2003, the Ravens traded their second-round pick and a future first-rounder to get quarterback Kyle Boller, who never became the franchise quarterback. More often, there are hits, like Adalius Thomas, a sixth-rounder in 2000. Newsome is most proud of unearthing Thomas. He had watched him on tape and marveled at the athleticism of Thomas, who is 6 feet 2 inches and 270 pounds.

There was one problem. “You could watch him on tape and go ‘Wow,’” Newsome said. “Then you’d watch 20 other plays and you see nothing.”
But Newsome, who had been taught by Belichick to value size and speed, took Thomas anyway. He started nearly every game in six of his seven seasons for the Ravens, becoming an All-Pro in 2006 before signing with Belichick and the New England Patriots as a free agent in 2007.

Still, Newsome’s first draft as the director of player personnel in 1996 may define his career. Convinced the Ravens could support a troubled player, Newsome was prepared to take running back Lawrence Phillips because the Ravens needed a rusher. But offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden fell into the Ravens’ lap at No. 4. Ogden was rated higher on the Ravens’ draft board, so they took him. Phillips, eventually taken sixth, washed out of the league after playing only 35 games. Ogden is a near lock to join Newsome in the Hall of Fame. The Ravens got Ray Lewis later in the first round, too.

As he prepares for next weekend’s draft with his reputation burnished, Newsome can afford to laugh at his early good fortune. “I might not be here if it had gone the other way,” he said.

Mr. Krab
04-30-2009, 11:29 AM
Didn't Newsome just about get fired this offseason?

the Talking Can
04-30-2009, 11:34 AM
According to Football Outsiders, one of the Ravens’ best picks was Dawan Landry, a 2006 selection who started all but two games in his first two seasons before being hurt last year. The Ravens waited until the fifth round to take Landry despite going into the draft with only one safety on the roster. A nervous Bisciotti occasionally reminded Newsome about the need at safety. But as each round went by, a safety was not the best player available, and the Ravens selected another position. Newsome responded by gently patting the air with his hand, and repeating, “We’ll get a safety.”

Last year, when the Ravens were selecting eighth and eying Flacco, the director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said they knew they “would have laughed us out of the N.F.L.” if they had taken Flacco eighth. So they moved back to 26th to get Flacco where they thought he was the right value. DeCosta was content to sit tight and take Flacco 26th, until Bisciotti could wait no longer. The Ravens traded up to 18th to take Flacco.

“I’m sitting there saying, ‘What’s going to happen if he’s gone?’ ” Bisciotti said. “That was one time that Ozzie went against what he really believed and did it for the sake of the owner. Ozzie is a great balance for people who are type-A personalities — owners and coaches might be a little more type A. We’re high maintenance. Ozzie is low maintenance.”

One reason Newsome has such faith in his system is because he has trained almost everybody who works in it. In a program Newsome borrowed from Belichick, the Ravens rarely hire a scout from outside the organization. Rather, Newsome has his 20-20 club. He pays 20-somethings who hope to rise through the personnel department $20,000 a year. They work 20 hours a day filing tapes, picking up free agents at the airport and cleaning out the refrigerators of released players who have abandoned their apartments. In 1996, Coach Ted Marchibroda used to give DeCosta $100 and ask him to get an oil change for his car and keep the change. DeCosta dutifully scouted out the places that would do an oil change for $9.

In the meantime, Newsome and his staff get a read on an up-and-comer’s work ethic and intelligence. The older scouts tutor the younger ones in what to look for, so everybody’s eye is trained the same way.

“We even grade our lunches,” DeCosta said. “If I say it’s a 6.2 lunch — all the guys know what that means, pretty good, but not great. A 7.5 is like the Pro Bowl is, if I say the soup is a 7.5 today, everybody runs to get the soup.”


very interesting article, obvious now that Pioli was going to shit can everyone regardless...

RJ
04-30-2009, 11:36 AM
Good article, thanks for posting.

I don't know that Newsome can be called the best at drafting, but I do think he's been the most consistent.

Mr. Krab
04-30-2009, 11:36 AM
very interesting article, obvious now that Pioli was going to shit can everyone regardless...
Which is very exciting because it means that our scouting dept will be much improved going forward. It might be the most important thing an organization can do.

Buehler445
04-30-2009, 11:46 AM
Which is very exciting because it means that our scouting dept will be much improved going forward. It might be the most important thing an organization can do.

Yes. Getting good players in is the single most important job of the franchise. Scheme, coaching, advertizing, tickets, media, all that shit doesn't fucking work if you have shitty players.
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