Ravens hope to get a big-play threat

With No. 5 pick, team could land receiver, see change in the air

March 31, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Disregard the phenomenon that has Florida State's Peter Warrick plummeting from first pick to fourth in the NFL draft. Dismiss it to the caprice of ever-probing scouts whose focus is not so much why, but why not.

Warrick, the most gifted receiver in a gifted class of receivers, is a great catch whenever he goes. And that probably will be with the fourth pick to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Sitting anxiously at No. 5 will be the Ravens. While they could get lucky in the first round, they aren't likely to get that lucky.

"[Warrick] is such an impact player," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "If he falls to us at 5, it'd be awful hard not to take him."

Impossible, even?

The Ravens want a running back and a receiver with their two picks -- the fifth and 15th -- in the first round. Even with Warrick off the board, the team will have the chance to take a big-play receiver who can invigorate Billick's passing game right away.

They can go big. Plaxico Burress of Michigan State is the biggest receiver in the draft at 6 feet 6 and 230 pounds.

They can go for pedigree. Travis Taylor is the latest in a progression of outstanding Florida receivers, a well-rounded player with what scouts call the complete package.

They can go for a raw, unlimited talent. Sylvester Morris is a 6-3, 206-pound, long strider who didn't have the benefit of a position coach or training table at Jackson State.

Or they could go in other directions. Georgia Tech's Dez White has speed but inconsistent hands. West Virginia's Jerry Porter has amazing athleticism -- he vertical jumped 44 inches this month -- but only a handful of game experience at wide receiver. Dennis Northcutt of Arizona and Todd Pinkston of Southern Mississippi are two more receivers who hold promise, but likely won't go until the second round or later.

Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of college scouting, expects Burress, Taylor and Porter to join Warrick in the first round. Morris and White are possible No. 1s. Savage divides the receivers into two groups -- an outside, split end type receiver, and a flanker-type who can "come underneath and do the dirty work."

Assuming the Ravens don't trade for Cincinnati malcontent Carl Pickens -- and Pickens will be available if the Bengals take Warrick -- what are the Ravens looking for?

"We're probably leaning more toward a split end type who can do some things down the field, as well as make the third-and-15, third-and-10 catch," Savage said. "With Pat Johnson on one side, we've got the Z-flanker type who can run the post [route] off play-action and do some of those little short patterns and maybe do something with the ball."

The most intriguing pick would be Burress, who doesn't have burner speed, but will have a height advantage on every play.

The problem with Burress is that he not only drops the ball more than he should, but he also disappears at times. He had great games against Florida (13 catches for 185 yards and three touchdowns in the Citrus Bowl) and Michigan (10 for 255 and one TD), but was not a factor against Eastern Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin.

"He had a few dominant games, but certainly was not a dominant player over the course of the season," Savage said. "He can become a dominant player. Because he's a junior, you have to project where he'll be a year from now."

The further knock on Burress is his maturity level. It probably didn't help when he opted to attend an Indiana Pacers game rather than meet with the Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles and Bengals at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. Burress also stiffed Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher at his private workout.

If the Ravens pass on Burress, Taylor looms as a likely choice. Also a junior, Taylor has moved past Burress on several draft boards because he's a polished receiver and he ran a 4.37 40-yard dash in his private workout.

"He has excellent run-after-catch ability," Savage said. "He catches the ball well and has the savvy to go inside or stay outside."

Taylor's production dropped off last year when he missed three games with a high-ankle sprain. His average catch fell from 18.3 with nine TDs as a sophomore to 13.6 with six TDs.

Taylor doesn't shy away from comparisons to Warrick.

"I've got more power than what Peter has," Taylor says. "We're about the same in jumping ability and running after the catch. I'm 6-1, he's 5-10. I'm 200, he's 190. I'm 4.4 [in the 40], he's 4.5.

"He's still a great athlete. [But] if you don't expect to be the best, you're cheating yourself. I always try to be No. 1."

Or, in this case, No. 5.

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