Ravens scoring quickly, but briefly, on draft day

Team finding success with top choices only

November 17, 1999

In the words of college scouting director Phil Savage, the Ravens have drafted an impressive number of generals since moving here from Cleveland in 1996, but they need to find more soldiers.

In other words, they have yet to get burned by a top draft pick. As for the choices they have made beyond the first round -- particularly in the lower rounds -- the Ravens have not enjoyed much return on their investment.

"People say it's easy to pick first-rounders, but there are first-round busts every year in this league, and we're 5-for-5 so far in the first round," said Savage, who has had a key hand in the team's four drafts. "But we need more hits from rounds 3 through 6. We haven't done a whole lot in rounds 6 and 7. It's right here on paper."

From the third round down, the Ravens can't point to much production, with the exception of a pair of fifth-round steals. Center Jeff Mitchell is starting for the second season in a row. Wide-out Jermaine Lewis already has played in a Pro Bowl as a return specialist.

Their middle-round futility is best symbolized by third-year running back Jay Graham, the only third-round pick in team history. Graham has been virtually no factor since injuring an ankle during his one great day, a 154-yard rushing performance against the Philadelphia Eagles in his first start as a rookie. Graham has yet to carry the ball in 1999.

The vast majority of the Ravens' late-round draft picks (rounds 5 through 7) are on the street, although Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel, pointed out that the team replaced some of those losses by signing rookie free agents who have rewarded the team.

Running back Priest Holmes (1,008 yards last year), backup offensive tackle Spencer Folau, backup defensive tackle Lional Dalton and backup tight end A. J. Ofodile are still around.

In 1997, when the Ravens upgraded their defense in the draft, they chose eight of their 12 picks from the fourth round on. Only Mitchell and sixth-rounder Cornell Brown, a backup linebacker, remain.

"If you can come away with three or four players in a seven-round draft that are on your football team going into their fourth year, you've done a good job," said Newsome, who has run the past four drafts. "You've got to be good on the first day [rounds 1 through 3]. "Hopefully, you can get some guys on the second day [4 through 7] that can be solid enough to contribute before they get to free agency."

The "one out of three rule" is used in NFL circles to gauge drafting success. If one out of three players has an impact -- becomes a starter and/or makes the Pro Bowl -- a team feels pretty good about its draft-day decisions.

The Ravens hold up under that yardstick. Of the 30 players they have drafted since 1996, 10 players have started or are starting. On the other hand, 12 of those 30 are no longer here, and each of those players went in the fourth round or lower.

The Ravens have been good enough to earn a grade of C+ in their draft performance, thanks largely to first-round gems like offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, middle linebacker Ray Lewis and outside linebacker Peter Boulware. That trio already has played in a combined five Pro Bowls. Lewis and Boulware are the heart of a defense tied for the league's top ranking.

In addition, cornerbacks Duane Starks and Chris McAlister have had immediate impact as first-round picks in the past two drafts. Starks started eight games last year and began this season as a starter before getting benched in favor of McAlister.

Second-round cornerback DeRon Jenkins -- for whom the Ravens traded away three lower picks in the 1996 draft -- became a starter this year. Outside linebacker Jamie Sharper is enjoying a breakthrough year in his third season. Safety Kim Herring has started the first nine games of his third season.

Savage and Newsome agree the 1998 draft taught them a lesson about evaluating lower-round picks. Fifth-rounder Martin Chase is still on the team as a backup defensive tackle, as is offensive lineman Sammy Williams, a sixth-rounder who is back with the Ravens after getting released in September and joining the Kansas City Chiefs.

But Ryan Sutter (fifth), Ron Rogers (sixth) and Cam Quayle (seventh) never made the team and are out of the NFL.

"I'm embarrassed by those three picks," Savage said. "It was not a good feeling to look at them at our first minicamp and say, `Holy cow, these guys can't play.' It's not a stab in the dark if you approach it the right way."

"We missed on that [draft]," Newsome said. "We went after some intangibles, and we forgot about athleticism.

"You've also got to remember that for every Terrell Davis [a sixth-rounder] or Jamal Anderson [seventh] that comes along, there's a whole bunch of guys who aren't in the league for very long. We work the bottom of the [draft] board as hard as we work the top."

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