Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta is not a patient man, but he’ll have to bide his time when the NFL draft kicks off Thursday. The Ravens have the No. 30 overall pick, their latest first-round slot in over a decade, and DeCosta knows the team’s options will be limited by then.

“If you’re picking 28th or 30th,” he said this month, “you might only have 15 or 20 guys that you really want.”

So what will the Ravens do when they’re finally on the clock? In the two weeks leading up to the draft, The Baltimore Banner will make the case for how DeCosta should handle the Ravens’ first-round pick, from rebuilding their offensive line to bolstering their secondary to moving around the draft board.

Over the past week, we’ve made the case for Oklahoma offensive tackle Tyler Guyton, Texas wide receiver Adonai Mitchell and Alabama cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry. Today, it’s for a first-round trade.

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Trading up

On the day of the first round, the Ravens have traded up five times in franchise history. The results have ranged from spectacular failures to era-defining successes to run-of-the-mill production.

DeCosta has run the Ravens’ draft for about two decades, a stretch characterized by more conservative first-round trades and a preference for quantity over high-end quality in draft capital. If the draft unfolds as some have projected, there might be no need to move. Several well-regarded players at positions of need — McKinstry, Mitchell, Guyton and Arizona offensive lineman Jordan Morgan among them — could be available at No. 30.

“The way your brain works is, you kind of ascribe a value to players, and you’re hoping to get that value at that pick,” DeCosta said this month at the team’s predraft news conference. “You really want to get value. For us, it’s just, you hope and pray that one of those top-20 guys might be there for us at 30, so we have some additional value associated with that.”

Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta says his draft decisions are based on the value of the pick and the value of the player being picked. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

But only the Ravens’ front office knows their draft board. Does the Jones fracture in McKinstry’s right foot knock his grade down? Are the Ravens bothered by Mitchell’s reported character concerns? And, maybe most important, how many teams could be looking to move up to No. 30? DeCosta said this month that, if the Ravens were mulling over whether to trade out of the first round and lose the option to draft a player with a fifth-year team option, they would covet “a premium” in exchange.

The threat of teams with similar roster needs jumping the line could force the Ravens to do the same. ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid said in a radio interview last week that the Washington Commanders trading up from No. 36 or No. 40 to acquire an offensive tackle is “the worst-kept secret in the draft right now.” A run on linemen would hurt DeCosta’s hopes of finding a first-round talent at the position, and perhaps make it harder to find value late in the second round, too.

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With nine picks in this year’s draft and a projected 11 in next year’s, the Ravens have the ammunition to move up. But how high, and at what cost? A review of trades over the past decade found that DeCosta’s draft pick values largely align with those in Jimmy Johnson’s long-cited trade value chart. If that calculus doesn’t change, here’s where the Ravens could move up in the first round with various two-pick trade packages.

In the few instances when the Ravens have traded up under DeCosta, they’ve targeted prospects with rare physical gifts. A handful of players expected to be taken in the low to mid-20s in this year’s draft fit that profile and would also fill a need on the Ravens’ roster: Georgia offensive tackle Amarius Mims, LSU wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr., Iowa cornerback Cooper DeJean and Penn State edge rusher Chop Robinson.

Trading down

Over just the past six drafts, the Ravens have traded down in the first round four times, usually picking up a Day 3 pick or two to fall back a few slots.

A longer wait is a small cost of doing business the way DeCosta wants to. Some teams take big swings; the New Orleans Saints’ Mickey Loomis has never moved down in the first round during his two-decade run as GM. DeCosta covets lottery tickets; three years ago, he called the draft a “luck-driven process.”

“If you have more picks, you’re going to hit on more players,” he said. “We started really going after picks and trading back as much as we could in any given round. We’ve had some success; we’ve also had some big misses. We’ve had a lot of picks, and I think that’s the No. 1 indicator to see teams who have success in the draft, is how many chances they have to draft good players.”

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DeCosta drafts players with conviction, but his approach is grounded in realism. In a 2022 appearance on former Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s podcast, “The GM Journey,” DeCosta cited a “seminal” 2005 study from professors Cade Massey and Richard Thaler called “The Loser’s Curse: Decision Making and Market Efficiency in the National Football League Draft.”

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Evaluating years of pick swaps, they found that, more often than not, a team would have acquired more starts by trading down than by using its original pick. Players who were acquired after trade-ups, meanwhile, performed no better than would be expected for their draft position.

“In paying a steep price to trade up, teams are paying a lot to acquire a pick that is worth less than the ones they are giving up,” Massey and Thaler wrote.

The Ravens could see wisdom in that approach this year, in a draft rich with offensive line and receiver talent. The difference between taking, say, Arizona’s Morgan or Texas’ Mitchell at No. 30 and BYU tackle Kingsley Suamataia and Florida wide receiver Ricky Pearsall at No. 40, respectively, could be negligible enough that an extra fourth-round pick makes a trade down worthwhile.

DeCosta not only has to consider his draft board but also his roster build. The salary cap hits of the Ravens’ veteran stars are only swelling, and the 2025 cap isn’t expected to surge as dramatically as the 2024 cap did. For the foreseeable future, big-ticket free agents will not be in the team’s price range. When the Ravens lose starters to free agency, their hope is to backfill with young, cheap depth. The more picks they acquire, the better insured they’ll be.

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“We feel that’s the best way to build your team, long term, from a cost standpoint,” DeCosta said this month. “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. This past year’s team, we had tremendous depth, and the challenge now, as for these younger players on the roster right now … [is] for us to find additional players who can come in and compete to start and be good depth players for us moving forward.”

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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