As they head into their fourth NFL draft, the Ravens do not know which prize will fall into their laps in today's first round, but the team feels certain it will be comfortable with whoever is available when it selects the 10th player.
The Ravens have not tried to hide their interest in Arizona cornerback Chris McAlister and North Carolina State wide receiver Torry Holt, each of whom would fill a major need. Trouble is, both players are expected to be gone by the time the Ravens are on the clock.
The team also has serious reservations about taking quarterback Daunte Culpepper in the first round, but would feel good about replacing the coveted Holt with Ohio State wide receiver David Boston. Another possible, albeit unlikely, first-round choice is Louisiana State defensive tackle Anthony "Booger" McFarland, who would help the Ravens regroup after losing James Jones to free agency. Currently, the Ravens are looking to second-year man Lional Dalton to team up with veterans Tony Siragusa and Larry Webster in the trenches.
All of which leaves the Ravens with this tantalizing question: Will Miami running back Edgerrin James be available when it's Baltimore's turn to pick?
Until recently, the Ravens laughed at the notion that James would last that long. But once the Indianapolis Colts dealt running back Marshall Faulk to the St. Louis Rams -- who had been expected to select James with the sixth pick, two slots after the Colts are expected to grab Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams -- speculation about James dropping into Ravens' territory began to mount.
The Ravens need two things to happen in order to acquire James, who would fill a dire need here after rushing for 34 career touchdowns with the Hurricanes -- including 17 as a junior last year, when he averaged 5.9 yards a carry and showed tremendous ability as a receiver.
First, they need the New England Patriots to fail in their attempt to trade up to a position ahead of the Ravens. The Patriots have talked to Washington (at No. 5), Chicago (No. 7), Arizona (No. 8) and Detroit (No. 9) about trading up to grab James. The Patriots are desperate to replace the injured Robert Edwards, who will miss the 1999 season with a knee injury.
League sources said yesterday that New England, which has first-round selections at Nos. 20 and 28, probably will not pull off the trade.
If New England fades out of the James picture, Arizona could jump on him. The Cardinals reportedly are trying to trade running back Adrian Murrell, and would like to replace him with James.
Let's just say the Ravens, who covet James, McAlister and Holt in that order, will be watching the first-round activity in front of them with much interest.
It remains to be seen McAlister's draft status will be affected by yesterday's ESPN report that he will have to serve 10 days in jail for violating probation on a petty theft charge.
"There are probably 12 guys who are significant players, and seven blue-chip players out of that. Some very good player is going to fall to us one way or the other," said Phil Savage, the Ravensdirector of college scouting.
"Our options, because of some things that have already happened in front of us, are intriguing. If New England doesn't swing a deal, James could fall to No. 10. I was told by a reliable source [yesterday] that we could get a shot at James."
The Ravens, who have pretty much ruled out moving out of the 10th position, may have to settle for Boston, who has been projected as the 13th choice to Pittsburgh. The Ravens rate Holt the better receiver, but he is expected to go to St. Louis. Baltimore would gladly settle for Boston, a bigger, faster receiver who lacks Holt's polish.
At 6 feet 2, 215 pounds, Boston would provide the Ravens with an imposing physical presence to complement Jermaine Lewis, 5-7. Like Lewis, Boston can stretch defenses.
In addition to getting a receiver, a defensive back and a running back, the Ravens are hoping to fill needs this weekend at quarterback and offensive line.
They have addressed their quarterback problems by acquiring Scott Mitchell this off-season, and were trying to complete a trade for St. Louis quarterback Tony Banks last night, according to Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel.
The Rams would like to pick up an additional draft pick for Banks in the 1999 draft instead of waiting until next year. Newsome said the negotiations might drag into early next week. He said the team still has not heard from Warren Moon, the team's top option as a backup to Mitchell.
The Ravens don't have an urgent need for a quarterback but would love to grab a franchise type this weekend. That chance may come in the second round in the form of Washington's Brock Huard.
The Ravens own the 11th pick of the second round, but will probably try to swap spots with a team lower in the second round to pick up that team's third-round selection. The Ravens gave up their third-round pick in the deal for Mitchell last month.