Secret of draft success for Ravens, Steelers

The Steelers and Ravens have made a habit of drafting Pro Bowl players like linebackers LaMarr Woodley, left, and Ray Lewis. Getty Images

This is the time of the offseason when the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers shine. They build the foundation for Super Bowl-contending teams by finding players in April and not in March.

When it comes to drafting Pro Bowl players, the Ravens and Steelers rank among the top four since 1996, according to the Ravens' public-relations department. Baltimore and Pittsburgh have each selected 15 Pro Bowl players during that span, tied for third-most in the league. Only the New England Patriots (17) and Green Bay Packers (16) have produced more.

The secret to the Ravens' and Steelers' drafting success is establishing a vision of what type of player fits their teams. That philosophy comes from the stability of the organizations. Ozzie Newsome has been the Ravens' chief decision-maker since the team relocated to Baltimore in 1996, and Kevin Colbert has been the Steelers' general manager since 2000. The teams each have had two head coaches (Mike Tomlin and Bill Cowher for the Steelers, and John Harbaugh and Brian Billick for the Ravens) for the previous 13 seasons.

That type of cohesion builds a relationship to the point where the scouting department knows what players the coaches want. The front office has insight on what players succeed in their teams' offensive and defensive systems.

"I think that's one of the enjoyable things about Pittsburgh," Tomlin said at the Steelers' pre-draft press conference this week. "We don't get caught up in draft grades and the evaluation of the draft, and things of that nature like a lot of other things that could distract you. It's simply measured in terms of how we perform."

The Steelers have drafted four Pro Bowl players in the past five years: linebacker LaMarr Woodley (2007), wide receiver Mike Wallace (2009), center Maurkice Pouncey (2010) and receiver-returner Antonio Brown (2010).

Last season, seven of the Ravens' eight Pro Bowl players were drafted by the team: inside linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, running back Ray Rice and guards Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda.

This type of consistent success is more amazing when you consider the level of difficulty. The Steelers and Ravens are finding these Pro Bowl players despite annually picking toward the bottom of each round.

These division rivals don't like each other, but they tend to like the same type of player. The Ravens and Steelers target tough, physical and competitive players.

“His motor in the fourth quarter is really, really important,” Ravens director of player of personnel Eric DeCosta said. “A lot of the guys who impress me are the guys who are getting their butts kicked in the fourth quarter, losing by 20, 25 points, and he’s still making plays or trying to make plays."

DeCosta added, "How does a guy tackle? If it’s a cornerback, does he face up and use his facemask? Does he bring you down? Does he miss a lot of tackles? If he’s a running back, does he run through contact? Does he lower his pads and try to break tackles? You get a sense. When you talk to people, you get a sense. Then when you interview a guy, you get a sense for his toughness.”

The true measure of draft success isn't the number of Pro Bowl players produced. There is a higher standard.

"Super Bowl championships," Colbert said. "That's it. There is no scorecard. Never will be, never has been."