Choice day for Ravens

Team gets its man in Ariz. St.'s Heap, top tight end in draft

`We nailed another one'

Superb pass catcher provides Ravens a successor to Sharpe

Nfl Draft

April 22, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Defense again saved the day for the Ravens.

A run on defensive linemen and cornerbacks ensued early and often in yesterday's NFL draft, providing an unexpected luxury for a team picking last in the first round.

Looking for a tight end, the Super Bowl champions had their choice of the top two at that position before selecting Arizona State's Todd Heap with the 31st pick.

Heap, the consensus top tight end in the draft, has a tremendous feel for the passing game and became known for his circus-style catches. At 20 years old, Heap will be groomed as the tight end of the future behind Shannon Sharpe.

"Getting a tight end with that pick was a priority," said Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "That was the mantra of the day. We planned it out yesterday and set our course. The comment at the end of it was if we could get that tight end with that first pick, it just sets up the rest of the day."

Most prognosticators had Heap going as high as No. 18 to the Detroit Lions, and none had him dropping as far down as the Ravens. But yesterday's surprise developed with few scares.

The Ravens had pinpointed the New Orleans Saints (23rd) and the St. Louis Rams (29th) as the biggest roadblocks to landing either Heap or North Carolina's Alge Crumpler, the second-rated tight end. At one point, the Ravens talked with Miami about trading up to the Dolphins' 26th spot and ahead of the Rams, but they couldn't complete a deal.

Then, after the Saints created a stir by picking Mississippi running back Deuce McAllister, the Ravens knew they would have a shot at one of the tight ends. When the St. Louis Rams passed on both, the Ravens had the benefit of choosing between the last two remaining players in their top 20.

While on the clock, the Ravens rebuffed an offer from the New England Patriots to move down and picked Heap. Ozzie Newsome, the vice president of player personnel, then celebrated by reaching over the table to give Savage an emphatic high-five.

"We just feel like we nailed another one," Savage said.

The Ravens later selected versatile Baylor defensive back Gary Baxter in the second round and Wisconsin center Casey Rabach in the third round. The NFL draft resumes at 11 a.m. today, with the Ravens holding a pick in the remaining four rounds.

But yesterday's focus centered on Heap, a bargain that the Ravens didn't mind waiting 4 1/2 hours before taking.

"Ozzie Newsome and Phil Savage have scored again," Ravens owner Art Modell said. "We have yet to have even close to a first-round failure in five years."

Heap didn't dwell on the disappointment of dropping so low in the first round and actually didn't even watch the draft until the last 10 picks of the first round. He distanced himself by playing golf -- albeit poorly -- before going back to his parents' home in Mesa, Ariz.

Shortly after returning there, he received a phone call from Newsome. It was then that Heap was given the news, tight end from Hall of Fame tight end.

Heap became the second tight end drafted in the Ravens' history. The first was Cam Quayle, the final pick of the 1998 draft, who didn't make the team.

"It's real exciting. I'm thrilled," said Heap, one of 28 underclassmen to enter the draft. "You can't ask for anything better than to come in with one of the best tight ends ever in Shannon Sharpe, learn from him and come up that way."

His ability to adjust to passes and solid route-running separated the 6-foot-4, 248-pound Heap from the rest of the tight ends. A perfect fit in coach Brian Billick's system, he has the quickness to stretch defenses.

In only two years as a starter, Heap finished as Arizona State's career leader for receptions by a tight end, catching 115 passes for 1,685 yards and 10 touchdowns.

"We think Todd has tremendous upside," Newsome said. "Coaches can do a lot of things, but players make plays. And Todd has shown the ability to make plays."

Heap's playmaking ability showed the past two seasons, when 66 percent of his receptions resulted in a first down or a touchdown. He also displayed consistency, ending his college career with a streak of 27 straight games with at least one reception.

The one knock against Heap is his blocking. Despite his size, he was never considered an asset in the running game.

"I think he can be a better blocker," Savage said. "He's an adequate to a little above-average blocker right now. He's not going to be a tight end that's going to drive a guy 6 or 7 yards down the field. A lot of times with tight ends, it's difficult to find a guy who can both block and catch."

But Heap wasn't taken to make an immediate impact. This time, a Ravens' first-round pick arrives with the opportunity to grow.

"Long term, this is a good pick," Billick said. "But even in this year, 250 to 300 snaps would be a pretty good contribution. He's a tremendous athlete."

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