Picking 31st, Ravens to play waiting game

2 tight ends, safety top team's wish list

April 21, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens have a long list and a long wait.

As the NFL kicks off its draft at noon today, the Super Bowl champions will engage in an afternoon-long television stakeout, eagerly hoping one of their top 20 rated players falls to them with the 31st and last pick of the first round.

If the draft unfolds as many predict, the Ravens could land one of the two top tight ends - Arizona State's Todd Heap and North Carolina's Alge Crumpler - or the top safety in Adam Archuleta from Arizona State. If there are some wrinkles early in the draft, the Ravens may end up with a top-notch offensive lineman or receiver who has surprisingly slipped.

In other words, there are plenty of rumors and speculation for the Ravens to sort through before the war room takes its first action at around 5:30 p.m.

"My only gut feeling is to stay the course," Ravens owner Art Modell said. "But I'm very confident that we'll be able to sustain our great, great record of picking only winners in the first round."

Said Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel: "We can't control those first 30 picks. So, you have to grade your board and get it stacked in a manner that you get a consensus. I'm not going to concern myself with who goes first and who goes 30th."

Ultimately, their pick will be dictated by the moves ahead of them, with specific attention devoted to the Detroit Lions (18th), New Orleans Saints (23rd) and Oakland Raiders (28th).

The Lions and Saints represent the biggest roadblocks to the Ravens drafting a tight end, as one of them is expected to select Heap. In that scenario, the Raiders then may address their need at safety with Archuleta, leaving the Ravens with Crumpler. But the Raiders are known for their sometimes off-the-wall picks, which means anything is possible.

The headline pick would be Heap, a big target known for making acrobatic catches. The safe bet seems to be Crumpler, the most complete tight end who lacks Heap's flash.

And the most intriguing choice appears to be Archuleta, a linebacker in college looking to make the switch to safety in the NFL. On the basis of Archuleta's impressive physical tools, he has a strong following among some of the Ravens' scouts.

In addition to those players, Nebraska center Dominic Raiola has been one of the most linked prospects to the Ravens in several mock drafts. But the team has him as a low priority, especially considering the negative reputation of Cornhuskers linemen in the NFL.

Whatever the options at the end of the first round, the Ravens are committed to taking the highest-rated prospect remaining in their top 20.

"Once we're on the clock, we could make the pick in two seconds," coach Brian Billick said.

While the pick may be easy, the week-long discussions were not. It's been one of the most challenging Aprils for the Ravens, who have had a top-10 pick in their previous five drafts.

"We've had to work harder to find 31 players that we would pick," Newsome said. "It's been tougher because our standards have been set so high. Like myself, the scouts are more intent because they don't want to miss."

The Ravens appear to have answered one draft-day question, making some progress in the restructuring of return specialist Jermaine Lewis' contract. Although there has been no agreement in his pay reduction, the team has backed off of looking for a receiver/returner to replace him.

"We're heading in the right direction," Billick said. "I'm fairly comfortable that Jermaine will remain a member of our football team. That might affect our priorities."

The Ravens have made their usual contingency plans as well, talking with several teams about moving up or down.

If too many players are falling off their top 20, the Ravens may decide to trade to jump into the top 25. If too many players remain on their top 20, they may see the freedom to trade down no further than the 40s and obtain an extra draft pick.

Since the Ravens have at least a three-hour wait until any possible movement, the scouting staff won't convene until the 20th pick.

"At that point, it becomes the war room," Newsome said.

After the first round, the Ravens will look for depth on the offensive line and linebacker while still needing to find a backup running back. They could also take advantage of the draft's surplus at receiver and defensive tackle in the middle or later rounds.

"It's a real asset that we can sit here and go in a lot of different directions," said Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "We could go play a game tomorrow if we needed to. But for us, we can most likely add three players [today] to help our team some in 2001 and hopefully much more in 2002 and 2003. As long as we stay true to our board, we'll be fine."

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