OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Minutes after making his first draft pick as Baltimore Ravens general manager, Eric DeCosta couldn't hide his excitement over taking wide receiver Marquise Brown.
"He’s a player we followed quite a bit this fall," DeCosta said, "and some of you may know I have an affinity for Oklahoma players."
This affinity has turned the Ravens into Norman East, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Baltimore selected two Oklahoma players in this year's draft (Brown in the first round and guard Ben Powers in the fourth) after choosing two last year (tight end Mark Andrews and offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., both in the third).
If all four end up starting this season, that would mean over one-third of the Ravens' offense contributed to an Oklahoma attack that scored 172 touchdowns over the past two seasons -- 13 more than any other FBS team. Quarterback Lamar Jackson will try to make himself at home with this supporting cast as much as Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray did.
"The mentality they create there, the offensive style they’re running, that fits what we’re doing here in Baltimore," said Joe Hortiz, the team's director of player personnel. "So, I think that plays into it. But it’s really just opportunity meeting our draft board, and it’s just worked out great for us. We certainly love the mentality they come in with, so we’re going to keep shopping there hopefully."
Hortiz joked that Oklahoma has become the new Alabama for the Ravens. When Ozzie Newsome was Baltimore's general manager, the team drafted more players from Newsome's alma mater (11 in total) than any other school.
Now, after taking two more Sooners this year, Oklahoma has tied Alabama for the most Ravens draft picks from a single school.
That trend didn't go unnoticed in the Baltimore draft room. After making their third-round picks, the Ravens looked at their draft board and saw a couple of Oklahoma players they would like in the fourth round.
"Alabama, that's old news," coach John Harbaugh chided Newsome.
"We're going to draft Oklahoma guys now," DeCosta said to pile on.
Newsome then responded, "It's one thing to say you're going to take a player from Clemson, but Oklahoma?"
The Ravens' love affair with Oklahoma players can be traced to 2005, the first season in which DeCosta replaced Phil Savage as Newsome's right-hand man. That year, Baltimore used its first two picks on Oklahoma players: wide receiver Mark Clayton and pass-rusher Dan Cody. Even though neither lived up to expectations, that started a run in which the Ravens selected eight Oklahoma players over the next 15 drafts.
This year, Baltimore looked into trying to get an Oklahoma player in the second round after taking Marquise Brown in the first. The Ravens were interested in trading up for Sooners offensive lineman Cody Ford, but the move would've cost a chunk of their remaining draft picks.
Instead of getting an Oklahoma offensive lineman in the second round, the Ravens took one in the fourth round, choosing Powers. How close are the Ravens to the Oklahoma program? When the Ravens called Powers to notify him that he was getting drafted by Baltimore, Orlando Brown, the Ravens' starting right tackle, was at his draft party.
"He’s one of my best friends, and to have him with me in Baltimore. ... It’s something that we’ve talked about playing together for a long time, similar to me and Mark [Andrews]," Brown said. "For it to actually come true, it’s a blessing."
Despite this latest wave of Oklahoma players, they're currently outnumbered in the Ravens' locker room. Alabama has six on Baltimore's 90-man roster (cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey, Anthony Averett and Cyrus Jones; running back Mark Ingram; offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman; and linebacker Tim Williams), which is one more than Oklahoma.
But if the Ravens have success with Sooners such as Andrews, Orlando Brown, Marquise Brown, Powers and safety Tony Jefferson (a top free-agent pickup in 2017), Baltimore could continue to tap into its central U.S. pipeline.
"Those guys paved the way," Powers said of his former Sooners teammates on the Ravens, "and they know what we’re bringing from Oklahoma and the standard we come from and the will we have to win."