OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Eager to protect their investment in quarterback Joe Flacco, the Baltimore Ravensselected Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley with the sixth overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday night.
The 6-foot-6, 312-pound Stanley shined at left tackle for the Irish throughout his four-year career. He started all 13 games in each of his final three seasons and was an Associated Press second-team All-American as a senior.
Twenty years ago, in the Ravens' inaugural draft following their move from Cleveland, general manager Ozzie Newsome made left tackle Jonathan Ogden the first pick in franchise history. Ogden became a fixture on the offensive line while putting together a Hall of Fame career.
Baltimore hasn't had a standout at the position since Ogden retired in 2007. Although it would be foolish to compare Stanley to Ogden at this time, the Ravens clearly have huge expectations.
"We feel like Ronnie comes in with the opportunity to compete," Newsome said, "but at some point will be a starter and a starter for a long time for the Baltimore Ravens."
After 2009 first-round pick Michael Oher proved to be a disappointment at left tackle, the Ravens thought they found a fixture in Eugene Monroe. But Monroe has been slowed by injury since signing a five-year contract in March 2014; last season he suited up only six times before placed on injured reserve in December.
Monroe still hasn't been cleared by team doctors, leaving his status for 2016 up in the air.
The Ravens tried 330-pound guard Kelechi Osemele at left tackle last year, but he departed to Oakland as a free agent during the offseason.
That left a significant void for the Ravens, who have put a high priority on protecting Flacco, by far their most valuable asset. The quarterback never missed a game over eight seasons before tearing ligaments in his knee on Nov. 22 against St. Louis.
After signing a new contract in the offseason, Flacco hopes to return for training camp.
"We've invested a lot in Joe over the next six years," Newsome said. "I think it's important to have a good offensive line."
Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss was also among the best left tackles in the draft, but Newsome said he had Stanley rated higher on his draft board. Newsome said he was not influenced by a video posted to Tunsil's Twitter account Thursday night that showed someone apparently smoking marijuana out of a bong-gas mask contraption.
"Our scouts get a lot of information, and when things happen a lot of times we're not surprised," Newsome said. "We took the best player, the player who was rated highest on the board on that time. But I cannot neglect the importance of the work that our scouts do ... getting information for us."
The Ravens also needed a pass rusher, but opted for someone who could protect the quarterback rather than a player who pressured the QB.
"We know left tackles. We've been around Hall of Fame left tackles," assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said. "Ronnie is very smart, he's a great kid and an excellent athlete who is going to be a great player for us. Ronnie will make us a better offensive line and a better team."
Stanley was delighted to be picked by Baltimore.
"I knew I was definitely a target on their board, but the draft is crazy. You never know how things are going to turn out," he said. "I'm humbled to be part of such a good organization."
The Ravens went 5-11 in 2015, their worst season since 2007. This marks the first time since 2003 that they had a Top-10 pick, and Baltimore hadn't drafted as high as No. 6 since 2000.