Many observers wondered why the Ravens were willing to part with so many free agents after winning the Super Bowl in February 2013.
Stalwarts like Paul Kruger, Ed Reed and Cary Williams bolted Baltimore in search of opportunities elsewhere.
Now, thanks to some reporting by MMQB's Jenny Vrentas, the team's strategy is becoming clear. The Ravens were awarded four compensatory picks for the free agents they lost in 2013. That gives them a league-high 41 compensatory picks since these were instituted in 1994. The NFL has a complex formula for awarding compensatory picks, but Baltimore's front office seems to have figured it out. Assistant GM Eric DeCosta told Vrentas that the Ravens "base our offseason on acquiring as many draft picks as we can."
Baltimore's stockpiling strategy dovetails nicely with some research done on the NFL draft. A 2013 study done by Penn professor Cade Massey showed that there are no persistent differences in teams' abilities to draft. Massey concluded that somewhere between 95 and 100 percent of differences in draft outcomes is driven by chance.
"Across all rounds, all positions, all years, the chance that a player proves to be better than the next best alternative is only slightly better than a coin-flip," Massey wrote in the study, via Business Insider.
But what we do know, according to Tony Manfred of Business Insider, is that teams with more picks have tended to have higher winning percentages. Since 2000, teams that have had more picks than average accumulated a collective winning percentage of .530. Teams with fewer picks than average sat at .472. The Ravens, perhaps not coincidentally, have won two Super Bowls since 2000.
One of the reasons that Baltimore was able to win a Super Bowl so early into its existence was that the team selected incredibly well in its first 13 drafts (the franchise was founded in 1996). The Ravens selected 19 players who would become Pro Bowlers in their first 13 drafts, second in that span only to the New England Patriots.
Yet, in a telling sign of the unpredictable nature of the draft, the Ravens have struggled mightily in recent years, and they are one of just four teams to not have selected a Pro Bowler since 2009.
“We look at the draft as, in some respects, a luck-driven process. The more picks you have, the more chances you have to get a good player,” DeCosta told Vrentas. "When we look at teams that draft well, it’s not necessarily that they’re drafting better than anybody else, it seems to be that they have more picks. There’s definitely a correlation between the amount of picks and drafting good players."