OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta was asked what has been the biggest lesson he's learned from general manager Ozzie Newsome.
"Patience, probably," DeCosta said at Wednesday's pre-draft news conference. "Just don't panic."
Newsome's calm demeanor will be put to the test later this month.
The Ravens have failed to reach the playoffs in three of the past four seasons. They've selected two players in the past eight drafts who made the Pro Bowl during their time in Baltimore. Their long list of needs includes a playmaking wide receiver, an explosive pass-rusher, a couple of starters along the offensive line, a promising cornerback, a hard-hitting inside linebacker and perhaps a big-play running back.
Newsome's 22nd draft is shaping up to be his most critical, even though the even-keeled decision maker refuses to acknowledge a sense of urgency.
"I think historically, for me -- and it started back when I played for [Alabama] coach [Bear] Bryant -- you always feel like you can get better," Newsome said. "Whether we were 'so-called' drafting really well, then to me, I had to get better. Whether those last two or three drafts have not been maybe equal to some of the other ones, to me, you have to get better. You always have to get better."
If the Ravens want to deliver in this year's draft, they have to reverse a surprising trend.
The Ravens established the gold standard in the franchise's first 13 drafts. Their first-ever pick (offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden) was a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee, and two others (linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed) are expected to be the same. The Ravens drafted a staggering total of 16 Pro Bowl players.
Baltimore has failed to maintain that same excellence in the past eight drafts, when the only homegrown players to reach the Pro Bowl with the team have been linebacker C.J. Mosley and fullback Kyle Juszczyk (although quarterback Joe Flacco has turned down invitations to the Pro Bowl in two different years). Just two of the 18 players drafted in 2012 and 2013 remain on the team (nose tackle Brandon Williams and offensive lineman Ryan Jensen), and there have been five full-time starters among the 29 players selected in the previous three drafts.
In 2013, Baltimore's top two picks (safety Matt Elam and linebacker Arthur Brown) were busts and two middle-round selections (Juszczyk and offensive tackle Rick Wagner) became the highest-paid players at their positions for other teams.
"The process in 1996 was the same as it was then, and it's the same as it is today," Newsome said. "We try to refine it. We put pressure on ourselves to get better, but to sit here and say why that happened, I can't pinpoint it."
Part of the Ravens' success early and struggles recently can be traced back to draft position. In those first 13 drafts, Baltimore selected in the top half of the first round eight times. In the previous eight drafts, the Ravens have picked in the top half just once.
That is why this is a pivotal draft for Baltimore. After trading defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, the Ravens own four of the first 78 picks in this year's draft. Only the Cleveland Browns have more (five).
Unlike Newsome, DeCosta acknowledged feeling the stress of finding immediate impact players.
"It is always daunting," DeCosta said. "You feel the pressure. We want to find good players."