The qualities you want in a general manager are similar to a poker player: calmness, patience and — perhaps most of all — inscrutability. One of the more interesting traits of Ravens GM Eric DeCosta, however, is that he often wears his heart on his sleeve.

DeCosta has acknowledged as much: “I’m not a patient person,” he said this month. He can sometimes be found during games pacing in the press box. When it comes to big decisions, he feels pressure, but he’s learned not to let it rattle him in important moments.

“I’ve learned to take a breath,” he said last month at a Q-and-A at Penn State. “Sometimes, honestly, it’s better to just go home, have a beer, go to sleep, see how you feel the next day.”

Discipline has been a hard-won trait for DeCosta, which is why this year’s NFL draft is poised to be one of the stiffest challenges to playing this round with stone-faced restraint.

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Despite the No. 1 seed and AFC championship game appearance last season, the Ravens roster is in desperate need. Offensive line is the glaring weakness after losing three starters from a veteran-driven unit. Even though they just extended Rashod Bateman, the Ravens always need help at receiver. They shored up the middle of the defensive line, but edge rusher is a question mark again after Jadeveon Clowney signed in Carolina.

Sound draft strategy is fairly well understood. Accumulate picks to take more shots in the draft. Draft the best available player over positional need, which reduces the tendency to reach. Teams that follow these principles tend to be healthier organizations, and few are historically better than Baltimore at hitting on picks with a time-honored process.

But it’s worth wondering how much the urgency to win will affect the strategy. Lamar Jackson’s contract, along with other star contracts, is squeezing the team’s cap space and limiting its ability to bring in free agents. Some of DeCosta’s draft successes, such as Patrick Queen and Justin Madubuike, have taken years to develop into elite players.

Do the Ravens feel comfortable giving their 2024 draft picks that much runway? Or do they need higher-floor, lower-ceiling players whom they can count on to contribute in the coming season? Do they trade up — a tactic that has been a boon and a bust for them — in search of the top-end talent in what is generally considered a shallower draft?

Desperation is generally considered a bad trait to guide draft picks. But the reality of the Ravens’ situation will pressure DeCosta to make compromises.

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If you go by what the Ravens have been saying, they feel comfortable stockpiling picks. DeCosta acknowledged that trading for Roquan Smith — a home run move for the franchise — is uncharacteristic, a kind of one-off. Baltimore feels its best teams of the past haven’t just been talented at the top but deep.

“We see this year’s draft and we see next year’s draft as real opportunities for us to begin to build that depth up again,” DeCosta said this month.

Defensive tackle Justin Madubuike is one of the successful draft stories during Eric DeCosta’s tenure as Ravenas general manager. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

In February, DeCosta also dismissed the idea of a Super Bowl window: “I’d like to believe that, with careful roster building and good drafting and development of players, the window is going to always be open.”

It’s good to preach these principles as an organizational leader, but in the draft room on-field readiness is going to come up. Whether from their returning roster or from the draft, the Ravens will need difference makers to get over the AFC title game hump in 2024 — and it’s hard to imagine that it will be easy to pick rookies in the first few rounds who need a year or two to find their footing.

This year’s draft might be one of the biggest hands DeCosta has played. With the salary cap pressing down on him, each chip is going to matter more. Every pick will be scrutinized all the more for a team that is going to need to make difficult payroll cuts every coming offseason. It all will be judged by the bottom line: whether the Ravens can win a Super Bowl with two-time MVP Jackson as their quarterback.

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If nothing else, credit DeCosta for growth. He may not possess natural patience, but he is projecting plenty of it as the draft approaches.

“We’re in the same place as we were last year at this time,” he said. “Go back and look at what some of you wrote last year and see how we ended up. We have a lot of time to make moves.”

DeCosta believes now that time is on his side. This draft, more than others, will test how sound that philosophy is.

Kyle joined The Baltimore Banner in 2023 as a sports columnist. He previously covered the L.A. Lakers for The Orange County Register and myriad sports at The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s a Mt. Hebron High and University of Maryland alum.

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