On `D,' Ravens likely out of line

Top defensive linemen should go before 24th pick

Pro Football

April 19, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

The Ravens are entering this weekend's NFL draft pessimistic.

At least that is the attitude on whether the team can acquire a top-notch defensive lineman in the first round with the 24th pick.

"Probably none of them will make it to us there," said Ravens senior vice president of football operations Ozzie Newsome, "because they go so fast."

They did last year when six defensive tackles were taken in the first round, and a similar run - which should include North Carolina's Julius Peppers and Ryan Sims, Tennessee's John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth and Wisconsin's Wendell Bryant - is expected tomorrow, when the first three rounds will be conducted.

"There was an article about the five or six defensive linemen that are going to go within the first 15 picks," said Phil Savage, Ravens director of college scouting. "I think that probably is going to happen. That has been the thinking since last August."

And if that happens?

"Unless one of those five or six fall into our laps, I don't really foresee a defensive lineman being there that we are going to be comfortable taking [at 24]," Savage said.

"It's just a premium on them because it is not that many players out there that fit the profile of an NFL defensive lineman."

One that could slip through and still be available when the Ravens are on the clock is Syracuse speed rusher Dwight Freeney.

Freeney is one of the fastest linemen in the draft, clocking a 4.42-second 40-yard dash while at school. Freeney's speed helped him earn 17 1/2 sacks last season, force eight fumbles and win co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year.

At 6 feet and 268 pounds, Freeney is not the prototype end in a 3-4 scheme, but the Ravens could move him to outside linebacker and have him rush in obvious passing situations. He worked out for the team in Owings Mills last week, and management expressed optimism that, if need be, Freeney could add weight and play anywhere on the line.

Freeney's height and lack of a true position may cause teams to pass on him.

"He is probably the best speed rusher that has come out in a while in terms of his pure get-off," Savage said. "He's a player that we've done a lot of work on in terms of him coming in for a visit, having a private workout with him. We've done a lot of work with him as a possible outside backer on first down, then he can go back to what he does best on second and third down. We've talked about him a couple of times.

"He's got the body build and thickness that he could even end up inside. So he can end up anywhere across the front of a defense, from linebacker to end to tackle even. But he's too productive not to be taken fairly high."

If the Ravens look for a naturally bulky end, Georgia's Charles Grant may also slip past the initial picks. Grant, at 6-3, 280 pounds, was suspended for the season opener last year but rebounded to record 63 tackles, six sacks and second-team All-Southeastern Conference honors.

"He's athletic," Savage said. "I think he's a player that has come up the draft boards because of his athleticism. He's a player that for us, we've talked about him as to whether he fits in this scheme better or what we were doing before."

On paper, Grant's size makes him a good fit for a 3-4.

"The main thing is you look for the same guys we've always looked for," defensive line coach Rex Ryan said. "Guys that are tough, play hard, have good balance, stay on their feet, run to the football and defeat blockers. The 3-4, if you had your druthers, you'd take a good big one over a good little one. Everything being equal, bigger is better."

Lineman picks

A look at the Ravens' history at drafting defensive linemen:

Year Player (round)

2001 Dwayne Missouri (7)

2000 Adalius Thomas (6)

2000 Cedric Woodard (6)

1998 Martin Chase (5)

1997 Chris Ward (7)

1997 Leland Taylor (7)

On the board?

The Ravens have the 24th pick in the first round and the 56th pick in the second round of tomorrow's NFL draft. Defensive linemen who are projected to land in those rounds:

Round 1, Player, School Ht./Wt. Skinny Dwight Freeney, Syracuse 6-1/268 Superior speed off edge

Kalimba Edwards, S. Carolina 6-5/265 Versatility a plus

Charles Grant, Georgia 6-3/280 Ideal size for 3-4 end

Round 2 Larry Tripplett, Washington 6-1/305 Short but great balance

Ryan Denney, BYU 6-7/279 Height and good hands

Later rounds

Will Overstreet, Tennessee; Kenyon Coleman, UCLA; Charles Hill, Maryland; Greg White, Minnesota.

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