This is the third of a series of articles examining how the league�s current elite built their juggernauts.�� In the first two, dealing with the Rams and Buccaneers, we�ve seen that both teams have emphasized speed to build dominant units.�� The Rams offense depends entirely on that attribute; the Bucs have pressed the point on the D-side, especially in their Front 7.� In parity-ball, any team has a limited number of opportunities to get impact players; both St. Louis and T�Bay increased their chances via trades but beyond that, both have developed systems that allow less talented players to contribute.� T�Bay�s 1st round studded Front 7 covers up their mid-round laden secondary; the Rams get significant contributions from small but swift players.�
There is a reciprocal relationship between the draft and FA.� The Rams have drafted fairly poorly, they have just (7) homegrown starters and so have lined-up (10) mainly pedestrian FA/CC.� In contrast, the Bucs have (17) homegrown starters (and (22) homegrown backups) and so have been able to afford to bring in (5) former Pro Bowl players.� Draft well, get premium FA; draft poorly and take potluck.
In the mid-90�s, both the Rams and Bucs were bottom-feeders; both have risen towards the top on the basis of overwhelming superiority on one side of the ball.�� The Ravens show the same pattern of development.� This is less true for the Titans and doesn�t apply at all to the Broncos but, for now, turning towards Charm City:
The Baltimore Ravens:�
Following the �95 season, Art and Honey Modell loaded the shattered remnants of a once-proud franchise and skulked off through the Appalachians to the Chesapeake.� �95 had been a disaster for the un-Browns; a power in conference through �94, the no-Names collapsed in their last season on the nation�s North Shore succumbing to a combination of age, injury and the public humiliation that surely must attach to association with the Modell clan.� The not-Browns landed with baggage but not many players; last year, DE Rob Burnett was the only starter remaining from the Lake, not Bay, days.� The Ravens opened for business in �96; that year, they had the #4 overall pick.� They had #4 in �97 too and earned #10 overall in both �98 and �99.� Yet, last season, they won the Super Bowl, clearly out-classing their opponents.� Five years from chump to champ, how is this possible?
The Ravens have absolutely ignored any distinction between �building through the draft� and �winning now with impact FA.�� Last winter, we read that the Stiller FO had, evidently for the first time, developed a rating system that integrated UFA on the open market with prospects likely to be available in the springtime draft.� The Ravens seem to have been doing this for sometime; in the period including �96 and �97, Goose arrived via FA to protect Ray Lewis (96/1/28) and Mike McCrary arrived to form four corners of the Front 7 with hold-over DE Rob Burnett and OLB Peter Boulware (97/2/4) and Jamie Sharper (97/2nd).� In �98, FA Rod Woodson went bay to bay to form a secondary with Duane Starks (98/1/10) and Kim Herring (98/2nd).� Unit by unit, from front to back, using FA and the draft simultaneously, the Ravens did establish a dominant defense.� Sam Adams put that group over the top in 2000 but, excluding McAlister (99/1/10) for DeRon Jenkins (96/2nd) at CB, the Ravens had their D-side set a season or so previous.��
That so, the Poe-birds got offensive.� Lightly regarded Quadry Ismail arrived in �99; prior to the �00 season, the Ravens acquired several QB, Sam Gash, Shannon Sharpe, Jamal Lewis (00/1/5) and Travis Taylor (00/1/10).� Last winter, they shucked two QB and acquired Grbac and Searcy via FA; their #1 draft pick was TE Todd Heap.� For several seasons, the Ravens signature unit has been their defense and there, the D-line.� The clock is running on that group; � D-line starters are on the wrong side of 30.� Possibly, in a year or so, the Ravens� offense could be carrying the team while they re-build upfront on the D-side.�
The Ravens have drafted intelligently and consistently gotten impact at premium positions in the early rounds and value at supporting positions in the mid-rounds.� In the period from �96 through�00, the Ravens had (7) 1st round selections; the Stillers stuck with their allotment of (5).� In �96, Baltimore had #4 and #28 overall; they selected LOT Jonathan Ogden and MLB Ray Lewis.� In �99, the Ravens took CB Chris McAlister in the 1st and moved a 2nd round selection to Atlanta for a �00 1st. �The Falcons had just exited the Super Bowl; they were drafting #30 overall that spring but following their collapse during the �99 season, their �00 draft slot was #5 overall.� Good value to Baltimore who turned a 2nd round slot one year into RB Jamal Lewis the next.� Shortly thereafter, the Ravens gave Denver their �00 2nd (#45 overall) to move up (5) spots and pick WR Travis Taylor at #10. �
Between the multi-1st years of �96 and �00, the Ravens spent their 1st picks at OLB and CB.� There is a remarkable convergence in the positions that Baltimore targeted with those that, from my Pro Bowl History article (Feb.�01), look like �value at the spot.�� From �96 through �00, the Raven Top 10 picks were: LOT, OLB, CB, CB, RB and WR.� DL-line is another premium position but the Ravens gained their dominance there in FA, and in parallel with their draft acquisition of swift, young players at premium �edge-of-unit� positions.� Generally (excluding Ray Lewis), the Ravens drafted early where speed counts and filled the middle of the D-side, front and back, with experienced vets.�
Over the years, the Ravens have used the 4th and 5th rounds for interior OL, FB, or ST players like Jermaine Lewis.� The late rounds have gone towards upside players like S Anthony Poindexter, DE Adalius Thomas or DT Adrian Wilson.� Some work out, some don�t but there is, IMO, very little lost in gambling on greatness from #200 or so overall.
On the downside, the Ravens have sacrificed quantity in the draft.� In the period from �96 through �00, Baltimore had only (31) draft picks.� During that time, the Stillers had (47). �While the Ravens had (6) Top Ten picks between �96 and �00, they had only (6) more picks combined over the next two rounds.� As a result, this is a fairly thin team.� According to Ourlads, the Ravens have (12) homegrown starters; the same source lists (17/22) backups as original Ravens.� However, of that group (6) are �01 draft picks and (2) are �00 rookie FA.� Given that Baltimore has (9) starters aged 30 or later, the odds are that some highly inexperienced player(s) will be required to defend their SB crown.� The future is now in Charm City, excluding their starting studs, most of the Raven fledglings are either untested or not especially promising.�
The Ravens have followed the T�Bay model of establishing one dominant unit before moving across the LOS.� T�Bay and Baltimore have been methodical, though their methods did vary.� In contrast, the Rams got a dominant offense in spite of themselves.� Excluding Torry Holt, St. Louis has absolutely failed to draft effective skill position players in the early rounds (consider Phillips, Kennison, Banks and the great Trung Candidate).��
Multiple 1st round picks, in multiple years, are a feature common to all three teams.� Each had (2) 1st round picks in �96 (so did the Lions but one was the ill-fated Reggie Brown).� The Bucs double-dipped in the 1st in �95, �96, �97 and swapped the rights to do so in �00 for Keyshawn Johnson.� The Ravens had double 1st round selections in �96 and �00.� The Rams picked twice in �96 and, virtually, in�99 when they enflamed the Colts� lust for Edge James and so acquired both Faulk and Holt. Additionally, the Rams had (3) 1st round selections in �01.�
Parity will kill you; so far, these three teams have refused their fate.� Swapping a present 2nd for a future first seems to be one available means of escape; the Bucs did that twice, the Ravens once.� The difference is that T�Bay had multiple 2nd selections too; the Ravens tapped out fast after the 1st.� Baltimore�s greatness has been predicated on the D-unit and there, on the DL.� That group is aging fast and, if the re-built Billick-led O-side doesn�t develop enough muscle to carry the team, then their mid-range future looks as dark as any raven�s wing.