Depth perception provides focus for Ravens' draft

Long-term success of picks still on clock

for now, spots bolstered

April 23, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The results of the Ravens' draft this weekend remain: To Be Determined.

The Ravens addressed their needs at depth across the board with their seven picks, but they probably won't see the impact of this draft until the 2002 or 2003 season.

Most likely, this class' success will be remembered in the long run by the production of the first two picks, Arizona State tight end Todd Heap and Baylor safety Gary Baxter. There's a feeling around the Ravens that they could become steals for a team picking toward the bottom of each round.

"I think with this draft, you may have to wait a couple of years to actually judge us," said Ozzie Newsome, the vice president of player personnel.

Heap's unexpected fall to the Ravens has been widely publicized. But Baxter got lost in the shuffle on the draft's first day.

Last year, Baxter was rated the ninth-best NFL prospect in a poll by Sports Illustrated. His stock plummeted last season when Baylor went 2-9 and gave up 36 points a game.

However, the Ravens never lost track of Baxter, who will probably become the dime back and cover tight ends. In a year or two, he may develop into a starting free safety.

"He's big, he's fast, and he's classy," Newsome said. "With that combination, you don't miss."

On cue, director of college scouting Phil Savage knocked on the wooden table.

"Unless you're a Baylor fan, you're not going to know much about him," Savage said. "But if you put 10 other NFL-caliber players around him, he'll fit right in."

Wisconsin center/guard Casey Rabach, the third-round pick, doesn't project as rapidly as Baxter. Rabach shows more grit than strength and is currently the team's only backup interior lineman besides Harry Swayne.

In previous drafts, the Ravens have had selected success in the middle rounds, winning with receivers Brandon Stokley (fourth round) and Jermaine Lewis (fifth), and guard Edwin Mulitalo (fourth). They have also struck out on the likes of safety Ryan Sutter (fifth), linebacker Ron Rogers (fifth) and guard Richard Mercier (fifth).

The Ravens' remaining selections of this year's draft consisted of three backups and long snapper Joe Maese, a sixth-round pick. The team also tapped nontraditional sources, drafting Western Illinois middle linebacker Edgerton Hartwell, New Mexico State running back Chris Barnes, New Mexico's Maese and Northwestern defensive end Dwayne Missouri.

Rated in the middle of the pack by most publications, these players basically replenish the free-agent losses on special teams.

Maese, a walk-on whose sole duty was long-snapping, is the most critical of the final picks. Because the Ravens can save salary-cap room by carrying a rookie long snapper rather than a veteran one, they are banking that Maese won't cost them on the field.

Hartwell, another possible sleeper in this group, gives the Ravens a backup for middle linebacker Ray Lewis. They gambled last year, going without a true contingency plan at the position.

Barnes will be given the chance to back up running back Jamal Lewis. A raw talent, he could bulk up to 225 pounds and needs to develop as a receiving threat out of the backfield."[Running backs coach] Matt Simon has a real good feel for him," Newsome said. "So, we'll see how far he can take us."

Missouri, the 231st player taken overall, was rated among the Ravens' top 138 players available. He may end up as the team's eighth lineman.

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