Ravens' '02 draft: some easy pickings

Needs are many since 13 starters left, reducing debate, angst over choices

Pro Football

April 09, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

While this month's NFL draft may be the most critical in their brief history, the Ravens consider it their most simplistic.

In previous years, the team had to wrestle with picking the best available player even if he didn't fill a specific need. But in the wake of losing 13 starters, the rebuilding Ravens are in no position to be picky. They need everything across the board in this draft, which will be April 20-21.

So, when the Ravens are on the clock with the 24th pick, there will be little debate whether their top-rated player can fill a void since the Ravens are open to using their first-round choice on any position except tight end. Team officials even foresee three of their top four picks starting immediately.

"This draft is going to have to provide us with a lot of young talent that's going to have to come in and contribute right away - and hopefully in a mighty way," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' senior vice president of football operations. "When you've got as many holes as we have, I think any player that we select in any of the rounds will have a unique opportunity to come in and play."

The list of prospects being linked to the Ravens include: offensive tackle Levi Jones (Arizona State), cornerback Lito Sheppard (Florida), defensive end/outside linebacker Dwight Freeney (Syracuse) and running back DeShaun Foster (UCLA).

Jones is the top athlete at tackle in this draft but could be taken in the top 20. Sheppard is generally rated third best at his position and can return kicks.

Freeney was a dominant pass rusher in college and could fit as an outside linebacker in the Ravens' new 3-4 defense. And Foster is possibly the most talented back but has a history of injuries and suspensions.

Ideally, the Ravens would like to come out with a starting right tackle, cornerback and defensive lineman, as well as adding depth at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. At this point, the Ravens seem to be leaning toward a defensive player with their first pick.

"I think any position on defense could be a benefit to us," said Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "Safeties and linebackers traditionally taken in the 20s and early 30s have been more of a safer pick than an offensive lineman. A lot of times offensive linemen get bumped in the tail end of the first round and really are not qualified to be rated that high."

Drafting a running back has become a possibility because Jamal Lewis is coming off knee surgery. The Ravens' ground game struggled throughout last season because there wasn't a viable replacement for Lewis.

Although Lewis is expected to return this season, the Ravens want a better backup plan.

"From [team trainer] Bill Tessendorf's perspective, Jamal is doing very well and should be full go when we get to training camp," Newsome said.

With their three compensatory picks, the Ravens have 10 selections in the draft, their most choices since 1997.

Newsome said there is little chance that the team will trade up in the first round. It's more likely that the Ravens could trade down for extra picks.

"I think the depth of the draft is strong," Newsome said. "But, if one of the players that we ranked in our top 15 is still there, we will turn that card in."

NOTES: The Ravens had pre-draft visits from running back Clinton Portis (Miami), offensive tackle Terrence Metcalf (Mississippi) and cornerbacks Keyuo Craver (Nebraska) and Brian Williams (North Carolina State). All are expected to be drafted in the second or third round. The team is scheduled to meet with as many as 16 more players this week. ... With the visits from college players this week, the Ravens have rescheduled free-agent linebacker Kevin Hardy to come in next week. ... Newsome indicated that the team has had increased talks with Michael McCrary's agent, Tony Agnone, to restructure the defensive end's contract. He added that the Ravens are in "a holding pattern" over reworking the deals of linebackers Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware but expected discussions to heat up once minicamp begins at the end of the month.

Ravens draft

The Ravens have 10 picks for the NFL draft, which will be held April 20-21:

First round (24th overall), second round (56th), third round (87th), fourth round (123rd), fifth round (159th), sixth round (195th, 206th*, 207th*, 209th*), seventh round (236th)

*-Compensatory picks for losing safety Kim Herring, center Jeff Mitchell and running back Priest Holmes as unrestricted free agents. These picks cannot be traded.

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