From surprises to a smile and fist bump: How the Baltimore Ravens nailed the 2022 draft

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- A couple of weeks ago, Baltimore coach John Harbaugh had one question for Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton during his pre-draft visit with the Ravens.

“What are you doing here?” Harbaugh asked.

The Ravens held the No. 14 overall pick, and Hamilton was viewed as a lock to get taken in the top 10. Some argued he was the best player in this draft.

After a year in which Baltimore had the worst luck in terms of injuries, the Ravens couldn’t believe their good fortune on Thursday night, when a run on pass-rushers, wide receivers and offensive tackles caused Hamilton to fall to them at No. 14.

"I never dreamed in a million years that he would be there,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said.

Hamilton’s surprising slide -- which can be chalked up to teams either not wanting to use a high pick on a safety or not liking his slower-than-expected 40-yard dash time -- led to the most revered class in this year’s draft, one that has been applauded for its unbelievable value.

It also started the Ravens’ wildest three-day ride of their 27-year draft history, from a secret trade to an influential second-round smile to a historic fourth round.

The Ravens always believed this draft would play a critical role in helping them bounce back from last season’s finish and lead them back to the playoffs. Team officials just felt tapped out by the end of it.

"I’m pretty tired right now,” DeCosta said. "It’s just … I’m glad it’s over. A lot has gone into this. I think we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this draft and the opportunity that it presents.”

The secret trade: Just when you thought Baltimore’s drafting of Hamilton was a shocker, the Ravens delivered a real jaw-dropper when they announced they had traded wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown to the Arizona Cardinals. Baltimore got a late first-round pick in exchange for its 1,000-yard receiver and a late third-round pick.

The deal had been in place for a week, and DeCosta said there was strategy involved in keeping it under wraps until after the Ravens made their first-round selection. Baltimore was likely trying to see if it could grab one of the top wide receiver prospects at No. 14, when no one expected the Ravens to be in the market for one. But Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Jameson Williams were all taken before Baltimore was on the clock.

Although the Ravens were pleased with how they were able to keep the trade quiet, DeCosta did not hide the anxiety this decision caused him. Brown, who requested a trade at the end of the season because he was unhappy with the Ravens’ run-first offense, was DeCosta’s first pick as general manager and one of his favorite players.

“It was something that I anguished over for a long time,” DeCosta said. "He would tell you that he and I had many conversations throughout the spring. I always say the club has to win [the trade], and this was a situation where it was going to be impossible for the club to truly win, but we do what we think is best for the player.”

The Ravens flipped that first-round pick acquired for Brown (No. 23 overall) into two selections (Nos. 25 and 130 overall) by moving back two spots in the first round. Baltimore, which likely wasn't going to have Brown on the team beyond 2023, used those picks on two players who could be around for the next decade: Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum and Penn State punter Jordan Stout.

The second-round smile: The Ravens’ two picks in the first round -- Hamilton and Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum -- were really no-brainers because they were the best players at their positions. The second-round selection of Michigan outside linebacker David Ojabo was sealed by an impromptu exchange.

In the early part of that round, DeCosta walked around the draft room to the far end of the table where defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald was sitting.

“What do you think?” DeCosta asked Macdonald.

Macdonald, who is known for his serious and dry personality, flashed a smile and gave DeCosta a fist bump.

As the defensive coordinator at Michigan last year, Macdonald knows Ojabo better than anyone, which is an invaluable resource with a debated prospect. Ojabo is one of the best pass-rushers in the draft, but he tore his left Achilles in March.

If there was any wavering about whether to take Ojabo, it was gone with that smile and fist bump from Macdonald.

“For Mike, that’s a lot of emotion,” DeCosta said. “It made me feel really good about it, because we haven’t taken a lot of these kinds of players -- with the injury. This is a pretty big injury, so that was one thing that gave me confidence that this was a really, really good thing to do.”

Historic fourth round: No one had a busier start to Day 3 than the Ravens, who had six picks in the fourth round. That’s the most selections in a single round in the first five rounds in NFL history.

This round also set the unofficial record for ringing phones. Because the Ravens owned 16% of the picks in that round, teams were constantly calling to try to trade up.

"We maybe discussed it once or twice, but we just decided, ‘You know what? We’ve got six picks; let’s use them,” DeCosta said.

The Ravens’ half-dozen picks in the fourth round were more than what three teams had for the entire draft: the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints each had five selections, the Miami Dolphins had four.

Baltimore ended up with the biggest player at the NFL combine in at least 16 years (6-foot-8, 384-pound Minnesota offensive tackle Daniel Faalele), two cornerbacks (Alabama’s Jalyn Armour-Davis and Houston’s Damarion Williams), two pass-catching tight ends (Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar and Coastal Carolina’s Isaiah Likely) and a punter (Penn State’s Jordan Stout).

The round was going smoothly until the Ravens called a player that they were going to draft and it was actually the agent’s number. The agent then couldn’t find the player’s number, and the Ravens were on the clock with five minutes to make the pick. But Baltimore was able to get in contact with the player with about a minute left.

"There was a little -- I wouldn’t say confusion -- just anxiety, but it was fun,” DeCosta said.

Value picks: DeCosta has always insisted Baltimore takes the best player available, and no one can argue that after this draft. The Ravens selected Hamilton even though they have two starting safeties and went with Linderbaum even though they had never taken a center in the first round before.

It all comes down to value. This Ravens’ draft was as much about quality as it was about quantity.

Hamilton, who was Mel Kiper Jr.’s fourth-best prospect, was taken with the No. 14 overall pick. Linderbaum, the 21st-ranked player, was chosen at No. 25. This trend continued for the next three picks: Ojabo (26th-best prospect) was drafted at No. 45; defensive tackle Travis Jones (46th) was selected at No. 76; and Faalele (81st) was chosen at No. 110.

Why did the Ravens get such great value? DeCosta pointed to the investing philosophy of business magnate Warren Buffett.

"If you think the player’s value is greater than where he is available, you take him. That’s what we do,” DeCosta said. "Sometimes, we miss out on guys. It happens all the time. Our pockets have been picked many times. It’s a horrible feeling. But every once in a while, you get really good players that fall to you, and it’s an exciting thing."