Ravens Hold Breath, And Sharper Falls Into 2nd-round Lap

They Decline Chargers Bid To Trade Up, Are Rewarded

April 20, 1997|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The Ravens never thought they would have the chance to get Virginia linebacker Jamie Sharper in yesterday's NFL draft, figuring he would be gone by the middle of the first round.

But when the time came to select the fourth player in Round 2, Sharper was still available, and the Ravens grabbed a major piece of their defensive puzzle.

Several hours after the Ravens had selected, as expected, college football's top-rated pass rusher, Peter Boulware, the team watched a coveted bookend linebacker in Sharper -- Virginia's career tackling leader -- fall into their laps. It was a surprising development that left the team's brain trust practically pinching themselves.

"I didn't think, with the fourth pick [of the second round], that we would have an opportunity to draft Jamie Sharper. Not at all," Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said.

Added coach Ted Marchibroda: "He's an extremely productive player, and we're fortunate to get probably the best defensive player left at a position where we had a great need. This fills a tremendous void for us."

The Ravens filled two more needs by taking Penn State safety Kim Herring late in the second round with the 58th overall choice, then by drafting Tennessee running back Jay Graham with the 64th choice early in the third round. But the draft-day buzz late in the day revolved around Sharper.

How surprised were the Ravens to land Sharper? Earlier this month, they were thinking about trading down from their No. 4 slot with Houston, which held the 13th pick. By dealing to that slot, the Ravens figured they could still get Sharper, 6 feet 2, 240 pounds, who was the third-rated outside linebacker in the draft.

In the end, they decided to cling to that fourth overall pick and select Boulware. Then, the Ravens watched the first round roll by as team after team passed on Sharper.

And as Sharper continued to drop, the San Diego Chargers called them with a tempting offer. The Chargers, sitting with the 45th overall pick, wanted to trade up to No. 34 and give the Ravens their first-round pick in next year's draft. The Ravens were prepared to make that deal, but Sharper's availability kept them from pulling the trigger.

"We started sweating on [Sharper] at about [pick] No. 29," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "We thought Green Bay might take him [at No. 30], since they might not re-sign Wayne Simmons. When the Jets were getting ready to pick [at No. 31], that was a big-time sweat. I started talking to Jamie before New Orleans picked [at No. 33]. I just kept talking to Jamie until we turned our card in."

Sharper was equally surprised about his draft position.

"I thought I'd go in the first round. That's what I was looking forward to," said Sharper, a two-time first-team All-America performer who started for the Cavaliers since the middle of his freshman year and never had fewer than 95 tackles in a season.

"I'm looking forward to playing close to home for a team that's up and coming. The main thing I can bring to their defense is to be a tough run-stopper with an aggressive attitude."

Said Lewis: "[Sharper] can fight through blocks to stuff the run, he can rush the quarterback in a blitz and he can drop back in pass coverage. He's already demonstrated the skills he needs to progress to this level."

According to a team source, the drafting of Sharper means the team will not try to re-sign free-agent linebacker Mike Caldwell.

The Ravens expect Sharper to form the starting outside linebacker tandem with Boulware around promising second-year middle linebacker Ray Lewis -- who fell unexpectedly to the Ravens late in the first round last year.

That gives the Ravens potentially the youngest linebacking trio in the league, which did not seem to bother their coach.

"I'm as comfortable as I can be with it. I have no other choice," Lewis said. "We're getting two great young players. When you add Ray to it, we've got three great young players."

Herring (5-11, 199), who made a comeback after having reconstructive knee surgery three years ago, became Penn State's first defensive back in six years to earn All-America honors last season. He led the Big Ten with seven interceptions and finished third on the team with 79 tackles.

Graham (5-11, 215) ranks third on Tennessee's all-time rushing list with 2,609 yards. Two years ago, he ranked second in the Southeast Conference by breaking the school record with 1,438 rushing yards.

Pub Date: 4/20/97

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