Ravens' draft shows club has Y2K bug

Team may be set up for 2000, but '99?

NFL draft

April 19, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Either Ravens coach Brian Billick is the next genius in this league, or the Ravens are writing off the 1999 season.

The team entered the NFL draft this past weekend with major needs at wide receiver, running back, quarterback and cornerback, and left with little improvement at those positions, except at cornerback, where the football gods dropped Arizona's Chris McAlister into their laps at No. 10 overall.

You know where this is headed. Teams in the NFL aren't considered serious contenders until they have at least a fairly good defense, a winning quarterback, a proven running back and a big, clutch receiver. The Ravens have only a defense, which, incidentally, was still ranked only No. 22 in the league last season.

The free-agent market was considered a major bust this off-season, so there is little hope that the team will add a quality player when the market virtually reopens on June 1. So with the voids still there and the Ravens trading their No. 2 pick Saturday for Atlanta's No. 1 selection in 2000, there is speculation the Ravens are gearing for the new millennium and questions about the team's money situation.

Again.

Ozzie Newsome, Ravens vice president of player personnel, added to the speculation by denying the club was "shelving" the 1999 season, saying so at the post-draft news conference before questions were even asked.

A little touchy, Oz?

"When you look at the year 2000, there is the potential for three potential starters from this year's draft in Anthony Poindexter [Virginia safety, seventh-round pick], Edwin Mulitalo [Arizona offensive lineman, fourth-round pick] and McAlister," said Newsome. "We also got our starting quarterback [Scott Mitchell for a third-round pick] and a veteran offensive lineman [the Minnesota Vikings' Everett Lindsay for a sixth-round pick]. And we're not done yet.

"We are not shelving this season," said Newsome. "I'm too competitive, Brian is too competitive, Phil [Savage, director of scouting] is too competitive, and I know the owner is too competitive to shelve a season while looking ahead to the future."

Now, the money question?

"No, there is no money problem, none," team president David Modell said sternly. "I don't view all the questions springing out of our decision to trade the No. 2 pick are legitimate. We had talked about this situation Friday, and we executed our plan.

"First-round picks are like gold for next year, the year after, three years down the road, whenever. I'm not familiar with the history, but any team that had multiple picks in the first round usually made out pretty well. If someone can prove me wrong, please call me."

But what about now? Mitchell played in only two games last season, and backup quarterback Tony Banks won only four. They both played for poorly run organizations, but the bottom line is they have been labeled losers. The Ravens' best running back is Priest Holmes, who has hands of stone on third down, and the top choices to become the Ravens' go-to receiver are Floyd Turner or Patrick Johnson, not exactly players who scare Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh.

Forget about receivers Carl Pickens of Cincinnati or Jake Reed of Minnesota coming here. The Ravens need to tie up defensive end Michael McCrary and guard Jeff Blackshear to new contracts before they start throwing money at players who haven't played a down in a Baltimore uniform.

"We don't have that dominant receiver. He wasn't available when we drafted, and he may not be out there in free agency. But what do you want me to do? I can't crawl up in the fetal position or howl at the moon," said Billick.

"That was a great call by Ozzie to get that first-round pick for next year," said Billick. "He took a chance and gambled that the players we took today would still be available, and they were.

"After David Boston and Torry Holt, we didn't have any of the receivers valued as a second-round pick. The receiver we took today [Southwest Louisiana's Brandon Stokley] was rated higher on our board than Tennessee's Peerless Price [a second-round pick by Buffalo]."

Stokley, though, was the 105th player chosen and will be lucky if he can challenge for the third receiver spot on the Ravens. Mulitalo was the Ravens' second pick in the fourth round, and he might become the team's sixth linemen after Lindsay once he develops. Poindexter, a potential first-rounder until he had major knee surgery last season, could become a steal as the seventh-round pick, but rehabilitation probably won't allow him to have an impact, if any, until 2000.

There's that year again.

Even McAlister won't be a hit overnight. His agent is Eugene Parker, who would have Santa Claus hold out on Christmas night. After quarterback, cornerback is the toughest position to play in the NFL. The learning curve will start working in his favor around midseason. Until then, he'll get toasted several times, and so will second-year cornerback Duane Starks, who started only eight games last season.

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