Picking 24th, Ravens have history in favor

Teams have hit at spot, mostly in secondary

April 19, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

If NFL draft history repeats itself, the Ravens will be selecting a defensive back who will either boom or bust.

Over the past five drafts, four defensive backs have been chosen with the 24th pick of the first round. The last two have produced extreme results.

The good scenario is San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahmed Plummer, who was taken in 2000 and should emerge as a Pro Bowl performer this year. He started immediately and had seven interceptions last season.

The bad one is Denver Broncos cornerback Willie Middlebrooks, an overrated prospect in 2001 who was limited to one game last year because of injuries. He didn't play a down of defense in his rookie season and could be moved to safety this year.

"I don't think trends necessarily matter as much as they give you a little bit of history," said Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of college scouting.

Overall, the 24th pick has produced above-average players. In the past eight years, there have been five quality selections and three busts, a solid 62 percent success rate.

Outside of Middlebrooks, choosing a defensive back has been a safe bet at No. 24.

In 1998, the New York Giants drafted safety Shaun Williams, one of the league's hardest hitters, who finished second on the team in tackles last season. In 1997, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Maryland's Chad Scott and landed a four-year starter.

The trend of drafting defensive backs at the tail end of the first round doesn't surprise Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' senior vice president of football operations.

"When a run on corners starts early and a team is sitting in the 20s, you feel like if you want one, you'd better get one," Newsome said. "And safeties do have more of a tendency to go between [picks] 20 and 32 because they end up being the best players on the board at that point."

The Ravens could follow suit and fill a need in their secondary by taking Florida cornerback Lito Sheppard or Miami safety Ed Reed in the first round. But their roster holes are so widespread that they could wind up drafting a running back, a wide receiver or an offensive tackle.

Using the 24th pick on those positions has unearthed some quality players.

The last running back taken at No. 24 was Rodney Hampton in 1990. A two-time Pro Bowl back, he ended his career as the all-time leading rusher in Giants' history.

The last wide receiver drafted at that slot was Eric Moulds in 1996. He has caught at least 65 passes the past four years for the Buffalo Bills, solidifying himself as one of the NFL's best at his position.

And the last offensive tackle picked there was Korey Stringer in 1995. Before his death last August, he started six straight seasons and was a Pro Bowl performer in 2000.

But the 24th pick has had its share of horror stories, too.

The Los Angeles Raiders drafted quarterback Todd Marinovich at that spot when Brett Favre was still on the board. Marinovich, who has been arrested for possession of marijuana twice, was not only a bust but a guy who got busted to boot while Favre has been a three-time league Most Valuable Player.

In 1988, the New Orleans Saints chose running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward over Thurman Thomas with their 24th pick. It took Heyward seven years to make his first Pro Bowl while Thomas became a driving force in the Buffalo Bills' four Super Bowl appearances.

The Ravens, though, prefer to focus on their own history. The only time they have picked in the 20s was 1996, when they drafted linebacker Ray Lewis at No. 26.

NOTES: The Ravens still expect Jamal Lewis to participate in next week's minicamp, but the running back will likely be held out of team drills. Lewis is coming off his second major knee surgery in four years. ... Receiver Brandon Stokley, a restricted free agent, signed his one-year, $563,000 tender offer. ... Chad Steele, the San Francisco 49ers' media relations coordinator for the past three years, has joined the Ravens as their media relations manager.

Going at No. 24

A look at the five-year history of the 24th pick of the first round:

Year Player Team Pos. Grade

2001 Willie Middlebrooks Broncos CB F

2000 Ahmed Plummer 49ers CB B+

1999 Reggie McGrew 49ers DT D

1998 Shaun Williams Giants DB B

1997 Chad Scott Steelers CB B

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