Ravens out to score first-round knockout

Picking 31st, champs recall R. Lewis in '96

2001 Nfl Draft

April 20, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

For most of tomorrow's first round of the NFL draft, the Ravens will be handcuffed, holding the last pick along with some first-rate confidence.

The only other time the Ravens have ventured this late in the first round was 1996, a few months removed from their tumultuous move from Cleveland. The franchise didn't have a logo or team colors at the time, but it clenched two first-round picks and a sound belief in its draft board.

After selecting tackle Jonathan Ogden with the fourth pick, the Ravens then watched their lowest first-round choice turn into their easiest. At No. 26, they took their highest-rated player available, an undersized linebacker named Ray Lewis who would become the foundation of one of the greatest defenses ever.

So whenever thinking about the daunting task of picking 31st tomorrow, the Ravens can always lean on that reassuring experience from five years ago.

"In all honesty, picking Ray was so clear cut," said Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "He was one of the last defensive players that we had a feeling for in that range. It was almost an obvious pick. Like I have said before, if we were that smart, maybe we would have taken Ray at No. 4. It kind of makes you wonder what we were watching to think that we could get him in the 20s."

The Ravens are better set to tackle a late first-round pick this time. Fresh off a Super Bowl championship, they probably would like to upgrade at right guard but have no glaring needs elsewhere.

There's a freedom to consider highly rated players like tight ends Todd Heap from Arizona State and Alge Crumpler of North Carolina as well as Arizona State safety Adam Archuleta, with no pressure of immediate returns.

But picking No. 31 has a history marked by busts and tragedy.

Of the past five players taken at that spot, Broncos linebacker Al Wilson is the only one who has produced. Defensive tackle Rick Terry is out of the league, receiver Alex Van Dyke is barely hanging on with the Raiders, and defensive tackle Leon Bender died from a seizure shortly after being drafted in 1998.

"I have a good feeling about 31," Savage said. "I really think we're going to be surprised at how many players are going to be there at 31 that you really didn't anticipate or that you have rated pretty high. I think we'll come away with someone really good at 31.

"And honestly, I think 62 will be OK. This draft is kind of a funny draft. From two to 52, there ultimately may not be too much difference."

In hindsight, Savage can't say the same about that 1996 draft, which taught him the best lesson about sticking with your board.

When the Ravens were on the clock at No. 26, Savage brought up the possibility of Texas A&M's Leeland McElroy to fill their running back void instead of taking Lewis, last year's NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

McElroy, who was eventually picked 30th by the Arizona Cardinals, played three seasons during which his gains were more measurable in inches than yards. He has been out of the league for two years.

"You don't think there's been some times that I was like: `What was I thinking?' " Savage said.

Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, had the final vote and never swayed from Lewis, who was rated in the team's top 20. The Ravens have since heard that the Green Bay Packers were ready to pick Lewis at No. 27 if they had passed.

"We still didn't have a running back, but we also didn't have linebackers, either," Newsome said. "We stayed with the board and took Ray."

That 1996 draft started the Ravens' perfect run in the first round. All seven first-round picks over that time, with the exception of injured wide receiver Travis Taylor, started in the Super Bowl.

To emphasize their success, Newsome began Wednesday's draft meeting with his scouts by confidently placing the Super Bowl trophy on the table.

Said Newsome: "Our hard work in here puts us in position to win this."

NOTES: The Ravens are discussing a possible scrimmage with the Washington Redskins, who have moved their training camp to Carlisle, Pa. Last July, the Ravens briefly scrimmaged the Redskins in a rain-soaked event abruptly stopped after 30 minutes. ... The Ravens are entertaining the idea of bringing in Randall Cunningham as their third quarterback but are unsure whether he'll be willing to accept that role. If that happens, coach Brian Billick could still promote Chris Redman to No. 2 so he will get more repetitions in practice, but make Cunningham the top replacement if starter Elvis Grbac gets injured. ... Six members of the Ravens' coaching staff, including Billick, will hold their third annual high school coaching clinic on May 19 at PSINet Stadium. The cost is $10 by registering early or $20 by signing up the day of the clinic, with all proceeds benefiting the Living Classrooms Foundation. Call 410-654-6262 for early registration.

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