Any way Ravens slice it, they shouldn't lose today

Nfl Draft

April 17, 1999|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Draft day. Once again, it should be one of the Ravens' best days of the year.

In the best-case scenario, the Ravens will select one of three players at No. 10 -- cornerback Chris McAlister, running back Edgerrin James or wide receiver Torry Holt.

In the worst-case scenario, the Ravens will draft wide receiver David Boston -- another perfect fit who is coveted by none other than the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Quarterback Daunte Culpepper?

The Ravens apparently like him, but not at No. 10.

They'll look foolish if Culpepper revolutionizes the position. But McAlister, James and Holt are considered immediate impact players, and Boston would be an immediate starter. Culpepper is a project, and new coach Brian Billick -- a quarterback guru -- apparently isn't sold.

Heck, the Ravens might not even draft a quarterback in the second round. They'll be tempted if Brock Huard is available at No. 42, but even then, they might prefer to trade down and recoup the third-round pick they traded for Scott Mitchell, whom they should have signed as a free agent after June 1.

What about the young quarterback Billick wants to develop? It could very well be Tony Banks, who just turned 26 and whom the Ravens might acquire in a trade. As with Mitchell, most NFL teams want no part of him. But Banks has made 43 career NFL starts, and maybe Billick could salvage him -- St. Louis went through four offensive coordinators in Banks' first three years.

Culpepper is intriguing, no question. But first-round salaries are so high -- and draft picks so important in the age of free agency -- that teams in the top 10 can't afford to wait for production, much less make mistakes.

The Ravens, of course, live in the top 10. And when it comes to free agency, they seem to have signed a nonaggression pact with the rest of the NFL -- or maybe Fleet Bank.

Why is it that Indianapolis demanded the Ravens' No. 1 and another draft pick for running back Marshall Faulk, then settled for a No. 2 and a No. 5 from St. Louis?

The Ravens would have made that trade faster than they said goodbye to Michael Jackson. But the Colts apparently thought they could force Ravens owner Art Modell to make an impulsive decision. And when he didn't bite, they evidently figured the St. Louis deal was the best they could get.

The danger with acquiring Faulk is that he wants to renegotiate his contract, and might be a training camp holdout. Could the Ravens even have afforded to pay him? Other than re-signing Ray Lewis and Jermaine Lewis, they've shown little desire to make bold, costly moves. And Michael McCrary is the next test.

The Ravens' conservative approach isn't all wrong at a time when teams often regret big-ticket, free-agent signings. But it only reinforces the importance of the draft, the Ravens' best chance to acquire premium talent. They've yet to blow a first-round choice, and they're in a virtual can't-miss position today.

(This just in: Orlando "I Hate Purple" Brown surfaced yesterday at the Ravens' complex in Owings Mills, apparently unaware that he had burned every bridge from the Chesapeake to Lake Erie. "If my butt was that big, I wouldn't like wearing purple, either," team president David Modell said, laughing.)

McAlister would enable the Ravens to move Rod Woodson to safety and make their secondary perhaps the fastest in the AFC. James could anchor the team's running game for the next decade. Holt is simply the most polished receiver in the draft.

The problem is, Holt could go to St. Louis at No. 6, and McAlister to Minnesota if the Vikings trade up for Chicago's pick at No. 7 (Da Bears, trading within their own division -- hello?). James might then go to Arizona at No. 8, and linebacker Craig Claiborne to Detroit at No. 9.

That's the worst-case scenario.

The Ravens would be left with a choice of Boston or Culpepper, and their pick almost certainly would be Boston. Then again, all it would take for them to land one of their top three would be a different player cracking the above list. Offensive tackle John Tait and linebacker Jevon Kearse could do it.

The truth is, the Ravens would be delighted even if their pick was Boston, a junior from Ohio State. Boston is bigger, faster and stronger than Holt. And Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of college scouting, believes his upside might be greater.

"He does not have four years of consistent production in terms of short and intermediate routes. He's more of a vertical guy, down the field," Savage said. "He's a little bit of a body catcher -- you know you're going to get drops. But in two years, Boston could be better than Torry Holt. Physically, he's got more talent."

The best-case scenario is for the Ravens to land one of their top three, regain a third-round pick by trading down in the second round, then grab Huard and a cornerback or receiver, not necessarily in that order.

Will all that happen? Probably not, but the possibilities are endless.

It's draft day.

The Ravens are going to win.

Pub Date: 4/17/99

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