They Know How to Pick 'Em
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- A virtual art show of NFL draft success flanked the auditorium at the Baltimore Ravens' headquarters last week. The organization decorated for its pre-draft news conference by displaying large photographs of the impact players it has successfully unearthed in the draft during its 11-year history. And there were plenty of them.
Images of Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Todd Heap and Jonathan Ogden highlighted the left side of the room. Mark Clayton, Ed Reed, Chris McAlister and Ray Lewis helped fill the opposite side.
The exhibit could have come off as pretentious, but the Ravens have shown that they can play the draft-day odds well. With an organizational philosophy that heavily emphasizes successful drafts and a scouting structure and process that facilitates that goal, Baltimore has established the model for maintaining a successful team during the salary cap era.
"I don't want all figurehead players up at the top," said Eric DeCosta, Baltimore's director of college scouting. "You've got to have a foundation underneath, and you do that through the draft. You can't do it through free agency. That's how you win, consistently, over the long term."
Entering last season, an NFL-best 74.2 percent (46 of 62) of the players Baltimore drafted since 1999 were on an NFL roster. More than half of those 62 players were on the Ravens' roster, a product of the organization's scouting practices and some principles team personnel executives have developed over the years.
Two methods, in particular, set the Ravens' scouting department apart from most teams in the NFL.
Baltimore is one of six teams (the others are Chicago, Indianapolis, New England, Oakland and Washington) that do not belong to the two scouting services used by the rest of the teams in the NFL. These services, which cost about $100,000 to join, share information about college prospects with their members and help spare teams the grueling legwork necessary for scouting.
Thus, the Ravens' scouts must do all of their own work. When they arrive at a college campus, they are responsible for each of the school's draftable players, not just ones recommended by a service that doesn't tailor its information to Baltimore's needs and preferences.
"It forces us to become more reliant on ourselves and not reliant on somebody else's word of mouth," Baltimore national scout Joe Hortiz said. "The scouting services probably grade more off of athletic talent and measurables versus anything else. Whereas we might grade a guy who is the most athletic and talented guy, but he doesn't fit our scheme, temperament, our persona as a defense, what we're looking for in a receiver. We are grading specifically for the Ravens."
Not only does that aid the Ravens with the draft, it has led them to hidden gems such as linebacker Bart Scott, who was undrafted out of Southern Illinois and made the Pro Bowl last season.
Because Baltimore's scouts are on their own when gathering information about a player, they will go to great lengths to get it, Hortiz said. Two weeks ago, Hortiz called a chief of police to inquire about a prospect's character issues. He also talks to athletic secretaries and equipment managers.
Baltimore also built its scouting department by hiring young scouts and promoting them from within. The "20/20 Club," as it is known, alludes to the team's group of scouts in their early 20s hired for a salary in the range of $20,000.