Luck could go Ravens' way

31st pick might land 1 of 2 top tight ends

2001 NFL Draft

April 17, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

When dealing with their passing game in this weekend's NFL draft, the Ravens may be able to swipe a coveted tight end and capitalize on the draft's surplus of receivers.

There's one scenario in which the Ravens could use the last pick (the 31st) in the first round on one of the draft's top two tight ends -- Arizona State's Todd Heap or North Carolina's Alge Crumpler -- and pick a highly rated receiver who has fallen into the second or third round.

The tight end position is thin at the moment for the Ravens, and the team has had visits from Heap and Crumpler. It's the right time to add a tight end, as the Ravens return 32-year-old Shannon Sharpe and former undrafted free-agent John Jones, a special-teams player in eight games.

"Drafting a tight end would be a good thing," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "And there are a couple of good ones out there. It would be nice to have with regards to a young, top-rated player coming in and getting a chance to work with someone like Shannon. It's a huge asset to learn under Shannon."

Sitting atop the tight end board is Heap, a receiving specialist. The projections have Heap going as early as No. 18 to the Detroit Lions and as late as No. 30 to the New York Giants, which is just shy of the Ravens' 31st pick.

The Ravens haven't ruled out Heap slipping down to them.

"I think there is an outside possibility of that happening," said Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of college scouting.

Heap, who declared for the draft as a junior, caught 103 passes in his final two seasons, averaging 14.3 yards a reception. He has impressed scouts with his acrobatic catches, but there are questions about his blocking ability.

"Todd is very similar to the Washington Redskins' Stephen Alexander," said Ravens vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end for the Cleveland Browns. "He would probably be able to contribute right away in the passing game. As he gets stronger, I think he's going to develop himself at the point of attack."

The consensus No. 2 behind Heap is Crumpler, the best all-around talent among the tight ends available.

Crumpler, whose brother, Carlester, is a former NFL tight end, is a different type of player than Heap. Generally underused as a receiver in college, Crumpler has used his bulk to become an accomplished blocker.

If the Ravens pass on Crumpler in the first round, they probably won't see him around with the last pick in the second round.

"Alge is probably more consistent than Heap in most areas," Newsome said. "He has shown that he can play at the point and has shown he is a very good athlete with the ability of getting open in the passing game. Based on numbers, he's better than his brother, Carlester."

At receiver, the Ravens don't necessarily have a need, but they may not be able to resist taking a player from the draft's deepest position. The Ravens have quantity in this area already, bringing back Qadry Ismail, Travis Taylor, Brandon Stokley, Patrick Johnson, Marcus Nash and Jermaine Lewis.

But the possible restructuring of Lewis' contract could factor into the team's draft. Last week, Lewis confirmed that the team has asked him to take a 50 percent pay cut from his $2.2 million salary and become a full-time return specialist.

Lewis' agent, Ray Anderson, refused to comment on the situation yesterday. Newsome indicated that there have been no new developments concerning Lewis and said, "It has no impact" on the draft.

If Lewis doesn't agree to a pay cut, the Ravens may be forced to cut him and draft a replacement. The University of Miami's Santana Moss would be the most viable answer, a receiver-punt returner whose stock is not as high as it might be because he stands only 5 feet 9

"I think Santana is kind of a wild card in this draft," Savage said. "I could see him go as high as eight to Chicago and as low as somewhere in the second round. I think people are a little afraid of his size, but he's a big-time playmaker and he brings return ability."

Other receivers who are slated to go in the 20s, but could fall to the Ravens at the bottom of the first round are Wisconsin's Chris Chambers, Oregon State's Chad Johnson and UCLA's Freddie Mitchell.

"What Freddie brings to the table is the run after the catch and a good returner," Newsome said.

It's expected that the load of solid receivers will spill over into the second round.

Another University of Miami receiver, Reggie Wayne, would receive a serious look from the Ravens if he lasted until the end of the second round.

"He's one of my favorite guys in the draft," Savage said. "He's not a speed-merchant receiver, but I think he's going to be a good, solid No. 2, complementary-type receiver. He has outstanding hands and is very polished.

"Of all the receivers, I think there could be 10 wide-outs taken in the first two rounds. It wouldn't surprise me to see him be the 10th one taken. But I wouldn't be surprised to see him end up being one of the better ones."

At a glance

When: Saturday (rounds 1-3) and Sunday (rounds 4-7)

TV: ESPN (Saturday, noon-7 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.), ESPN2 (Saturday, 7 p.m. to conclusion; Sunday, 1 p.m. to conclusion)

Ravens picks: First round, 31st overall; second round, 62nd; third round, 92nd; fourth round, 126th; fifth round, 161st; sixth round, 194th; seventh round, 231st

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