By Chris Schisler
The Baltimore Ravens have won 19 preseason games in a row. The streak dates back to 2015, The question is does winning meaningless games matter? From a player-personnel perspective, I’d say this is a mark of an outstanding front office.
The preseason doesn’t show the merit of your starters. The Ravens have played this preseason even more conservatively with some of their key starters than they usually do. We still haven’t seen the 2021 edition of Lamar Jackson football. The preseason measures the quality of your overall roster during training camp.
The idea that the games are meaningless is fair. The Baltimore Ravens get no advantage from winning these games, they don’t even get a cookie. Do they like winning them? Sure. Is winning preseason games why they operate the way they do? Absolutely not.
What have the Ravens always been known for other than dominant defense, The Ray Lewis Squirell Dance, and running the football? The answer is finding gems late in the draft process including during undrafted free agents. It’s no surprise that the Ravens had a streak of undrafted free agents making the week one roster that went on throughout this preseason winning streak.
A Baltimore Ravens tradition
Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta are great team-building general managers. People severely underestimated how helpful it was to have the two of them acting as a pair of decision-makers near the end of Newsome’s tenure. Newsome always cared about depth.
He was great at finding underappreciated players. Adalius Thomas was a sixth-round pick. Players like Jameel McClain and Gus Edwards were undrafted free agents. This thing has been going on for quite some time.
DeCosta seems obsessive about stacking the roster. This doesn’t just mean finding depth, this means finding the players of the future early. This means the secondary doesn’t just have backups they have the next in line helping now. Brandon Stephens is a perfect example of that.
The Ravens have more defensive back talent than any team ever does. DeCosta built that. The only high draft pick he used was on Marlon Humphrey. Heck, he got Marcus Peters with a fifth-round pick and then signed him to a team-friendly extension.
The winning streak in the preseason coincides with the time the Ravens got back to drafting well. Take out the 2015 and the 2017 NFL Draft (other than their first pick- Marlon Humphrey) and the Ravens have been knocking it out of the park. 2018 may have been the Ravens’ best draft since the 1996 masterpiece that gave them Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis.
The stars of this preseason have come through some of that great drafting. Jaylon Ferguson is starting to look the part, Stephens and Shaun Wade are impressive rookies and all the competition on the offensive line comes from drafted players. Ty’Son Williams and Nate McCrary have been impressive running backs as undrafted free agents. Speaking of undrafted players, Ar’Darius Washington has made a name for himself in camp.
The bottom line:
Another example is the Ravens pro-personnel department. It’s not all about plucking guys out of college. Chris Westry is an example of a player who is making his second career NFL stop that has performed well in preseason play. The Dallas Cowboys had a chance to make Westry their undrafted free agent success story, now he has a real chance to stick around with the Baltimore Ravens.
The Baltimore Ravens made the playoffs in 2014, 2018, 2019, and 2020. The streak started in a 2015 season that was dreadful because of injuries more than anything else. Even in 2016 and 2017, the Ravens were in the hunt for a playoff spot. The Ravens’ principles of team building have been consistent and the back end of their depth chart is better than most organizations can compete with.
When you have a head coach who thinks of winning like a good habit and has a Harbaugh family enthusiasm most can’t reach in exhibition games, it’s also going to chip into winning in the preseason. The Ravens have tied Vince Lombardi’s record.
On Saturday against the Washington Football Team, the Baltimore Ravens have a chance to break that record. Lombardi was the coach to come up with the idea that winning is a habit. It seems fitting that the Ravens, an organization that obviously agrees with that idea can break the record.