Loss today may bring QB of tomorrow

December 27, 1998|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Good teams calculate playoff scenarios on the final Sunday of the NFL season. Bad teams calculate draft scenarios.

As usual, the Ravens fall into the latter category, playing for little more than draft position today in their season finale against the Detroit Lions.

A meaningless game between 5-10 teams?

Au contraire.

If the Ravens lose, they likely would select between sixth and eighth in the April draft. If they win, they likely would pick between ninth and 11th.

The difference could be enormous -- at least four quarterbacks are projected as high first-round picks, starting with Tim Couch if he decides to leave Kentucky.

The Ravens intend to draft one of them, assuming they don't make a play for an available veteran quarterback such as Minnesota's Brad Johnson.

At No. 6, they would stand a reasonable chance of getting Oregon's Akili Smith, Syracuse's Donovan McNabb or Central Florida's Daunte Culpepper.

But No. 6 is a long shot. And anywhere below that, the Ravens would be almost forced to trade up if they wanted a top-rated quarterback.

Not that Ravens fans should root against the home team or anything, but the optimum draft scenario calls for an "L" today, combined with victories by the two 4-11 teams, Chicago and St. Louis, and losses by all of the Ravens' other 1998 opponents.

Confused?

Of course, you're confused.

It's the NFL.

The way the Ravens can draft sixth is if they finish 5-11 along with Chicago and St. Louis. Don't count on it, with the Bears seeking their fifth win against Green Bay and the Rams seeking theirs against San Francisco.

But in the best-case scenario -- or is it worst-case? -- the Ravens likely would "win" a tiebreaker with the Bears and Rams, and also with another potential 5-11 team, San Diego.

According to NFL rules, if two or more teams finish with the same record, the team that does so against lesser opponents is judged to be weaker, and awarded higher draft position.

For once, softer schedule prevails.

The Ravens' opponents' winning percentage (.483) currently is the lowest of the eight teams that are 4-11, 5-10 and 6-9. That could change with today's results, but for now, the boys are sitting pretty.

Funny thing about the schedule, isn't it? The Ravens kept fretting about how tough it was, especially in the first half of the season. But based on opponents' winning percentage, it turned out to be far easier than expected.

That's another indictment of Ted Marchibroda, but there's no sense beating up the coach on the day of his final game, especially with more important matters at hand.

If the Ravens win, the players will say they wanted to send Marchibroda out a winner, enter the off-season on a high note, build momentum for 1999, etc.

Please.

If the players were so concerned about their coach, they should have won a few more games earlier. As for the point about carry-over, it's legitimate for Atlanta, which started 1-7 under Dan Reeves last season, then finished 6-2 to set the stage for this year's 13-2 juggernaut. It's not legitimate with this group.

The new coach is coming. The new coach needs a quarterback. And with all due respect to the players who will try their best today -- right, guys? -- the way to get the best quarterback is to McNabb secure the highest possible draft position.

What makes this draft so intriguing is that none of the quarterbacks is rated as highly as Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf were a year ago -- and Leaf, to this point, has been a bust.

Meanwhile, the quarterback class is so deep, some teams in the top 10 might pick standouts at other positions, reasoning that they could find the next Jake Plummer or Joe Montana in the second or third rounds.

The next group of quarterbacks includes Ohio State's Joe Germaine, Kansas State's Michael Bishop, Tulane's Shaun King, Washington's Brock Huard and perhaps the most intriguing player in the draft, UCLA's Cade McNown.

The Ravens would be tempted to grab a receiver like North Carolina State's Torry Holt or Florida State's Peter Warrick if they were available. But the new coach almost certainly would want a quarterback first. He needs the most polished product he can get, not a long-term project to sit behind -- gulp -- Jim Harbaugh and/or Eric Zeier.

The problem is, the Ravens are far from the only team in this position. Of the five teams certain to pick ahead of them -- Cleveland, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Washington (from Carolina) -- all but the Colts need a quarterback. Two other teams likely to be ahead of them, Chicago and St. Louis, need quarterbacks, too.

Thus, even if the Ravens picked sixth, they could be left without one of the Big Four -- that is, the Big Four as they presently stand, four months away from the draft.

Such an outcome would be unlikely. Texas running back Ricky Williams should go no lower than second, and USC linebacker Chris Claiborne and Georgia slash Champ Bailey are potential top-five picks if they declare themselves eligible.

But chances are, the Ravens won't draft sixth, anyway.

Chances are, they'll need to trade up for a top-rated quarterback, no matter what happens today.

Pub Date: 12/27/98

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