Ravens fill holes with 'tough, physical' draftees
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) - While posing for pictures Saturday with the top three draft picks of the Baltimore Ravens, coach John Harbaugh wore a sly smile as he stood on his tip-toes next to the imposing figures of Courtney Upshaw, Kelechi Osemele and Bernard Pierce.
Harbaugh was doing his best to fit in with the group. It would not be a stretch, however, to believe Baltimore's draft Class of 2012 will blend in nicely with the reigning AFC North champions.
Not only do the newcomers cement some of the gaps created during the previous three months, but they're accustomed to playing the brand of football that has enabled the Ravens to make the playoffs in each of the last four years.
"We think they're a great fit for our team. They fit our personality,'' Harbaugh said Saturday. "They're tough, physical, hard-nosed, rough, tough kind of guys.''
Yes, Harbaugh said "tough'' twice. For good reason.
The 6-foot-2, 272-pound Upshaw terrorized the Southeastern Conference as an outside linebacker for national champion Alabama. Osemele is a 6-5, 333-pounder who could become an instant fit in Baltimore's offensive line, and the 6-foot, 218-pound Pierce ran 1,481 yards and scored 21 touchdowns in his final season at Temple.
Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome concluded the draft by picking five players Saturday, beginning with 300-pound center/guard Gino Gradkowski of Delaware and free safety Christian Thompson of South Carolina State in the fourth round.
Cornerback Asa Jackson of Cal Poly was taken in the fifth round, although his immediate value to Baltimore might come as a punt returner. In the sixth round, Newsome picked wide receiver Tommy Streeter of Miami, who scored eight TDs for the Hurricanes as a junior before leaving for the NFL draft. The Ravens are looking for a long threat to go with Torrey Smith, and they're hoping Streeter does a better job of it than did Lee Evans.
Newsome finished by taking Georgia defensive tackle DeAngelo Tyson in the seventh round.
"If you look back over the three days ... all the areas we wanted to address we've been able to do with the young men we drafted,'' Newsome said. "They all come with different skills and they all will vie to make the 53 (man roster).''
The selection of Thompson - a hard-hitting former linebacker - extended a trend that began with Upshaw, who was nabbed in the second round after Newsome traded away his first-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings for their second-round pick and a fourth-rounder.
"Big, physical. He fits the mold of these three guys right up there,'' Harbaugh said of Thompson. "There is a theme to our draft right now.''
Mostly, though, this draft was about filling holes.
Upshaw was chosen to replace outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, who signed as a free agent with San Diego. Osemele and Gradkowski will compete to fill the void left by the departure of free agent guard Ben Grubbs. Pierce will attempt to become the backup to Ray Rice, a job held last year by the recently retired Ricky Williams.
"You always try to draft the best player out there and try to make your team as strong as you can,'' Harbaugh said. "There's also the element of need. All three of these guys (Upshaw, Osemele and Pierce) are probably at positions where they can help us right away. We have some opportunity in there for these guys to play.''
And Thompson? Well, the free safety job is still held by Ed Reed, but Thompson is an ample replacement for last year's second-stringer, Haruki Nakamura, who played 15 games in 2011 before leaving for the Carolina Panthers.
This was a difficult draft for the Ravens, who ended up with four offensive players and four on defense.
"Our board was very similar to the other 31 clubs,'' Newsome said.
Using a baseball analogy, director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said, "We probably had to manufacture some runs this year. We had some players that we liked and they got picked. We had to get creative quickly on the fly.''
The trade with the Vikings was a perfect example. Getting Upshaw in the second round along with a fourth-round pick worked well for the Ravens, even if it meant coming up empty-handed on Thursday night. Upshaw expected to be picked in the first round, but being taken by Baltimore proved to be a decent consolation prize.
"I just want to come in and produce,'' he said. "I'm very happy and honored to be part of this defense, to play for this organization I wouldn't want it any other way than to be here.''
Osemele can play tackle and guard, and Gradkowski, who can play guard and center, is the first player out of Delaware taken by the Ravens since quarterback Joe Flacco.
"Who would have thought? We were going to bring Joe some more weapons, and we got him a Delaware center,'' Harbaugh said. "Joe is excited about that.''
So was offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
"Obviously we addressed the offensive line,'' Cameron said. "Kelechi is a phenomenal kid, loves to play physical. That's what we want.''
The fourth-round pick used to take Gradkowski was the one obtained Thursday from the Vikings. Gradkowski could ultimately replace veteran Matt Birk in the middle of the line.
"It's a perfect spot for me,'' Gradkowski said. "Come in and maybe play guard my first year and eventually take over at center. It's a perfect scenario, and I couldn't be happier.''