A good draft, even minus RB Ravens fill needs at a few positions

April 22, 1996|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

OK, folks, the Baltimore Ravens didn't get a big-name running back in the NFL draft, but it is not panic time.

Maybe they should have taken Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips in the first round and Maryland quarterback Scott Milanovich in the last, but the Ravens filled three of their five most pressing needs and walked away with the best offensive lineman in college football.

That's not bad.

But here was the team's first mistake: It should have taken Phillips. Forget the nonsense about the Ravens' not being able to sell permanent seat licenses because Phillips was a public relations risk.

Has Albert Belle hurt Indians ticket sales in Cleveland?

Phillips was the best player and athlete in the draft. He would have given the team instant offense and a running game it so desperately lacked a year ago.

But you can't fault the Ravens for taking UCLA offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden as their No. 1 pick. Look at the Dallas Cowboys. They have been robbed of several key defensive players over the years, but they keep winning not only because of Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, but also because of offensive linemen such as Nate Newton, Larry Allen and Erik Williams.

The Ravens now may have one of the biggest and best offensive lines in the NFL with Ogden at left guard, Tony Jones at left tackle, Steve Everitt at center, Jeff Blackshear at right guard and Orlando Brown at right tackle.

"Our running game got better when we took Jon Ogden," said Ozzie Newsome, director of football operations.

Newsome will be second-guessed for taking Miami linebacker Ray Lewis over Texas A&M running back Leeland McElroy with the team's second choice in the first round, No. 26 overall.

But the decision was logical.

The Ravens entered the draft with only one proven linebacker in Pepper Johnson. Linebacker Craig Powell was the team's No. 1 pick a year ago, but he's coming off a knee injury.

In Lewis, the Ravens get a speedy and physical inside linebacker who was generally rated No. 1 in the draft. Johnson, Powell, and Lewis could be a solid trio.

McElroy would have been great, but he is more of a third-down back. Lewis is an every-down player. Plus, the Ravens' running back picture is not as gloomy as it looks.

Head coach Ted Marchibroda probably will have a smorgasbord offense. A little one-back. Some two-back. A little no-huddle and some four- and five-receiver sets.

The Ravens may not need a great Leroy Hoard, and Earnest Byner could split time in the one-back set. There also will be some runners on the free-agent market. And watch Ravens second-year running back Earnest Hunter. He's the sleeper on this team.

Plus, after Phillips, Ohio State's Eddie George and Michigan's Tim Biakabutuka, a lot of teams backed off the halfbacks.

"We were impressed with Phillips, Biakabutuka and George, but after that we weren't, and we just had the one opportunity," said Marchibroda. "Why take a back just to take a back? That doesn't make any sense."

The Ravens secondary was horrendous last season, and they wanted to improve at cornerback badly enough to sacrifice three draft picks to the Denver Broncos for Tennessee's DeRon Jenkins late in the second round. Baltimore traded up 10 slots to land Jenkins, who cost the Ravens their third- and fourth-round picks, along with a seventh-round choice. Jenkins probably will replace starter Don Griffin.

"Jenkins was the best guy [cornerback] left on the board. Why take the gamble [by waiting]?" Marchibroda said.

The other Lewis, Maryland wide receiver Jermaine, was taken in the fifth round. He could become the fifth receiver and big return specialist, because Keenan McCardell signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Ravens' picks

The players selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the two days of the NFL draft:

Rd Name .. .. .. Pos .. .. College

1 J. Ogden .. .. OT ... .. UCLA

1 Ray Lewis . .. LB ... .. Miami

2 D. Jenkins ... CB ... .. Tenn.

5 J. Lewis .. .. WR ... .. Md.

6 D. Daniels ... LB ... .. Fla.

6 James Roe . .. WR ... .. Norfolk

7 Jon Stark . .. QB ... .. Trinity

Pub Date: 4/22/96

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