Falcons lay golden egg on draft


Deal for first-round pick is gem due to Atlanta's fall

Pro Football

January 04, 2000|By Gary Lambrecht and Mike Preston | Gary Lambrecht and Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

When the Ravens swung a draft-day deal last year with Atlanta, in which they gave up their second-round pick in 1999 for the Falcons' first-round pick in 2000, the Ravens did not figure on getting one of the top five choices in this year's draft.

The Ravens have the No. 5 pick, since the Falcons surprisingly spent most of the 1999 season as one of the league's worst teams.

The Ravens could have made out even better. If San Francisco would have beaten Atlanta to end the regular season last night, the Ravens would have received the No. 3 overall pick.

"I might not have tuned in [to the game] otherwise, but I will now," Ravens coach Brian Billick said yesterday. "I'm not going to pop the champagne if Atlanta loses, but we have a vested interest in it. So, I might be whooping and hollering for the Niners a little bit."

The Falcons were defending NFC champions and did not expect to be near the bottom of the league rankings in 1999. But an early, season-ending injury to running back Jamal Anderson sent Atlanta (5-11) into an early tailspin, from which it never recovered.

The Ravens also own their original first-round pick. By finishing with an 8-8 record, they will select 14th. After that, the Ravens are not set to select another player until the fifth round.

Starks sees bigger '00 role

Second-year cornerback Duane Starks thought he had learned plenty as a rookie. After getting benched during the fourth game of this season, then playing as the nickel back the rest of the way, Starks learned even more about life in the NFL.

Despite the mistakes he made in coverage, Starks still had enough presence to tie for second on the team with five interceptions. Rookie Chris McAlister, who replaced Starks, also had five. Fourth-year cornerback DeRon Jenkins, who started every game, had no interceptions.

"It's disappointing and rewarding at the same time, for [the Ravens] to hold me down and at the same time, still have a great year," Starks said.

"They sat me down but I still made great plays. There's no way in the world I feel I'm a third-down player. It's hard, being in that spot and knowing you're a corner who can still make plays. This is a game, but it's also a business."

With Starks' help, the Ravens set a team record with 21 interceptions, fourth in the AFC.

Banks-Billick connection

Quarterback Tony Banks, who started the final 10 games and led the Ravens to a 6-4 mark over that stretch, said he came a long way in understanding the nuances of Billick's offensive scheme.

He said he and Billick also came a long way in terms of understanding each other.

"I think [Billick] has a better feel for my personality [laid back] and I have a better feel for his personality [not laid back]. We're going to continue to build on it," Banks said.

Banks is an unrestricted free agent whom Billick said is his highest priority to get re-signed.

"Hopefully, I'm here next year and we'll be working together in the off-season," Banks added.

McAlister reflects

Rookie cornerback Chris McAlister, the team's top draft pick in April, had an outstanding season. He was tied for second on the team in interceptions with five and knocked down 27 passes, tops on the team.

"It went all right," McAlister said. "Things could have been different. I could have held onto more balls, had better technique and made better reads. I'm my toughest critic."

McAlister said he would stay in Baltimore for another week before heading back to his home in Pasadena, Calif.

"I'm going to relax for a little while then start some light training," McAlister said. "I thought I lost some speed at the end of the season and I've got to get it back. I also need to bulk up for next year."

Rejoining Belichick?

Two players who could benefit from the New York Jets making Bill Belichick head coach are special teams player Bennie Thompson and defensive end Rob Burnett. Both are free agents.

Both played for Belichick in Cleveland and had solid relationships with the coach.

"Bill and I had a great relationship," said Burnett. "We got along well and we have a lot of respect for each other. My first choice is to stay in Baltimore and there have already been some talks. We'll see how it goes."

When asked if he expected Belichick to call when free agency opens Feb. 11, Burnett just smiled and said: "I guess he will. He'll probably wish me happy new year and ask me how my mom is doing."

Et cetera

The Ravens wound up with the league's No. 2-ranked defense, including the second-best against the run. They did not allow a 100-yard rusher all year and did not allow a rushing touchdown in the season's final 47 quarters. The defense allowed only 38 plays of 20 or more yards, which ranked second, just behind Buffalo (37). Priest Holmes made the most of his limited opportunities, averaging 5.7 yards on 89 carries. The Ravens outscored their opponents in every quarter but the fourth, when they were outscored, 108-85. John Wooten, 63, the team's assistant director of pro personnel, plans to retire in May.

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