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What's It Like In The Ravens' War Room On NFL Draft Night?

April 27, 2017
With the NFL Draft approaching, I was interested to find out how many Glenn Clark Radio listeners were fascinated with the idea of sitting in on the Baltimore Ravens' war room during the course of the weekend. 

Knowing no one outside of the organization's top brass would be invited to enter the room, I thought it would be compelling to find out what it's like to be a part of the festivities. Kevin Byrne, Ravens senior vice president, public and community relations, has been part of the decision-making group for the organization since it moved to Baltimore in 1996. He joined GCR April 26 to explain what the atmosphere is like

"I think people would be surprised at how calm it is," Byrne said. "There might be, as you sit and wait -- because most of your time is sitting and waiting -- there might be a reaction from somebody. Maybe the owner, Steve Bisciotti will go, 'Oh man, Glenn Clark was taken already?' Because maybe the guy was taken with the eighth pick in the first round and [on] our list he's the 34th-best player. So you get reactions to that sort of thing, and [general manager] Ozzie [Newsome] will say, 'Yeah, picks like that help us because that drives another good player closer to us.'"

Did you expect a more fiery, combative atmosphere? That happens well ahead of time.

"There's not really drama that happens in those three days," Byrne said. "The drama really happens in what I call 'Stand On The Table Week,' which was last week -- or two weeks ago now. Ozzie, Coach [John] Harbaugh and [assistant general manager] Eric DeCosta, scouts and coaches by position come into that room. The board's basically set, and now if you disagree and you want to make your stand Ozzie says, "Get up on the table and make your argument.' So that type of discussion and drama really happens weeks before this week." 

The Ravens have historically preached "best player available" when it comes to how they select players. Typically, a player they ranked higher than where they were picking has fallen to them but not always. 

"My favorite draft room story of all time would be Ed Reed's draft," Byrne said. "Ozzie had targeted a linebacker who he thought would get to the 23rd pick in the 2002 draft. And all of a sudden the Oakland Raiders traded to a slot, and there are people in the room going 'uh oh, they could be coming to get that guy.' And they did."

So with Northwestern linebacker Napoleon Harris now off the board, what would the Ravens do with the 24th pick?

"We were forced to take Ed Reed," Byrne said. "And I remember Phil Savage, who was our director of personnel at the time, telling me, 'When you meet him, he's not going to impress you, Kevin. He's not that big, he's more quick than he is fast, but he's a team leader, he's going to grow on us. I think he'll play eight-10 years in the league.' And of course, he turns out to be, maybe, the greatest safety of all time."

Much is made of the Ravens' draft board. But as it turns out, the board alone is not what the team uses to make final decisions. Newsome has another trick up his sleeve.

"Look at a wall and have columns in it by position," Byrne said. "So you have quarterbacks, running backs, fullbacks, tight ends, centers, guards, tackles, and then defense and specialists. And at the top of that wall are the highest-graded players. So what you have is a number of players that are graded the same, but they're at the top of the board. 

"So last year, [offensive tackle] Ronnie Stanley was at the top of the board and [Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy] Tunsil, the Miami draft choice who slipped a little last year, was at the top, and they both had the same grade. But there is also a magic sheet that Ozzie and a few have that go one-through-how many draftable players that we think there are. So I've seen a sheet where we only have like 112 or 124 players graded as draftable. You look at it, there are some guys with the same grade."

The Ravens fall back on the board and that sheet in potential trade scenarios. 

"You could have [a scenario where], I know San Diego loves Glenn Clark," Byrne said. "And we have four guys with the same grade, and we'd be happy with any of the four, and they're three picks behind us. So let's see if San Diego wants to come up. Or, San Diego is calling and saying, 'If our player's there, would you be interested in moving down?' Well, we have four guys that we love, so we could move down three picks and still get one of the four that we love."

Not every person who has entered the Ravens' draft room has immediately understood how and why the group goes about their business. 

"[Former head coach] Brian Billick's first year -- Brian came in, he was brassy in there," Byrne said. "'Look, I'm here guys because you're not really good at this.' And he was bold. He wanted [offensive lineman] Edwin Mulitalo and [wide receiver] Brandon Stokley, who each had like second-round grades on our board. And Ozzie, remember, traded that pick to Atlanta -- that second-round pick -- who turned out to be [running back] Jamal Lewis the next year.

"But Brian's in the room saying, [and late former owner] Art Modell's in there, 'Ozzie, and I'm telling you, too, Art, we need players now. We don't need players a year from now. That receiver's going to help us. That guard's going to help us.' 

"And Ozzie looked over at Brian and said, 'I guarantee one of those will be there in the fourth round.' And I remember Brian saying, 'You're that much of a genius, huh? Then how come we have second-round grades on them?' And Ozzie goes, 'Well, our board is different.' And as you know, we got both in the fourth round, Brandon Stokley and Edwin Mulitalo, and they both became good players for us." 

Most importantly, for many fans, draft weekend is a celebration of gluttony. Fans pig out on junk food and stress eat as they wait to find out what the team might do. Does the Ravens' leadership do the same?

"There used to be like candy bars, M&M's, things like that in the War Room," Byrne said. "Now the only things in the War Room are water and Gatorade-type drinks. 

"Now, you step outside in the hallway? That's where the good stuff is. But you have to step outside the draft room because Ozzie and Eric, they don't want people eating inside the draft room. Unless, of course, the owner brings food in. He's allowed. But if you step outside the War Room, I know [April 27], when I come outside or before I go in and look, that there's going to be nachos with melted cheese right there, there's going to be some candies. There will be some healthy things, too -- fruit and all that. By the end of the first night, there will be a case filled up with some ice cream in it and maybe a case with some beer in it as they recollect at the end of the night on what happened that night and get ready for the next day. But the food is now outside the room."

For more from Byrne, listen to the full interview here: