OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Trying to determine what the Baltimore Ravens will do with the 26th overall pick in the NFL draft is a futile exercise.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome could select a cornerback, perhaps Jimmy Smith of Colorado. Newsome might decide upon a pass rusher or an offensive lineman, two areas of concern for a team that had no opportunity to add depth through free agency because of the labor situation.
Or, Newsome could simply trade the pick.
More often than not, Newsome makes a mockery of mock drafts by pulling off the unexpected.
A year ago, the Ravens dealt the 25th overall choice for three selections in the latter rounds. Baltimore walked away with nothing on the first night of the draft, but the trade gave Newsome the opportunity to make some shrewd choices over the next two days.
The Ravens have nine potential selections this time around, which means Newsome will have some bargaining power after the draft gets under way on Thursday night.
Three years ago, through a series of trades, Newsome took quarterback Joe Flacco with the 18th overall pick. In 2009, he moved up to snag offensive tackle Michael Oher.
When the Ravens start talking trade, that's when owner Steve Bisciotti gets involved.
"I can ask: 'OK, New England is on the clock at 17. What will it take for us to move to 17?' Somebody can give me an answer to that quickly because they've prepared themselves for that," Newsome said. "We will have our board graded to where if a player (like) Michael Oher starts to come down the board, then we will start to say, 'OK, he's the guy that we should go and get.'"
The league has an informal chart that indicates the trade value of each first-round pick, and Newsome has that information readily available in the team's war room.
"We'll utilize that trade chart, that information, to start calling teams," he said. "All of that will be talked about, and that's one of the things that Steve is very big on. He's very much a part of us trading up and trading back, and that's where he'll start to interject himself."
Flacco and Oher have been valuable starters since the first game of their rookie season. Trading last year's No. 1 pick, however, has not panned out.
After dealing their first-round selection to Denver, the Ravens took Texas linebacker Sergio Kindle in the second round. Kindle fractured his skull while falling down a flight of stairs before training camp and has not yet played a down in the NFL.
"I couldn't predict that one," Newsome said. "We will wait and see how that outcome is going to be. But that story is not completely written yet."
Newsome's success in the draft is well documented, beginning with his first two picks in 1996, the year the Ravens came from Cleveland. After taking tackle Jonathan Ogden with the fourth selection, he snagged linebacker Ray Lewis at No. 26.
This might be the best chance this offseason for Baltimore to improve a team that has reached the playoffs for three straight years but still isn't quite good enough to play in the Super Bowl.
"Honestly, we treat the draft the same every year," said Eric DeCosta, director of player personnel. "We feel the pressure to get it right every single year regardless of all this other stuff that is kind of hanging out there right now. We have to nail the draft every single year. That's the lifeblood of this franchise."
Newsome has been successful in part because he often takes the best player available rather than drafting for need. Cornerbacks and linemen are the need this year, and the Ravens would consider themselves fortunate if one of their shortcomings can be addressed with the highest-ranked player on their board.
If Baltimore has the opportunity to get Smith or center Mike Pouncey of Florida, Newsome might pull the trigger. But the unknown status of Kindle might force him to look for a pass rusher.
"It's a really deep draft in terms of D-linemen," college scouting director Joe Hortiz said. "You have your nose tackles, your D-tackles and then your D-ends and pass rushers. I would not be surprised to see a lot of those names that are being projected right now in the top 32-35 picks to jump off the board."
There will probably be a heated conversation in the room when it comes time for Baltimore to make a move, but everyone has the same objective.
"We understand what we need as a team," coach John Harbaugh said. "We might put it in different rank or order, but there are going to be factors involved -- like free agency being a part of it, who comes back, who doesn't come back, who's healthy, who's not healthy.
"You can make an argument in a lot of different directions, but we all understand how we feel, and I know we know what we need to do to make our team better."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press