At 24, Ravens still hoping to get their man

Team is predicting one of elite prospects will fall to 24th pick

`Always a player that will slide'

BC's Green, ASU's Jones, Syracuse's Freeney are on team's wish list

Nfl Draft

April 20, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The first round of today's NFL draft could become the Ravens' slide show.

The Ravens are predicting that one of their elite prospects will fall to the 24th pick or else they'll be looking to trade down.

The short list of highly rated players that could slip between the cracks include: Boston College running back William Green, Arizona State offensive tackle Levi Jones and Syracuse defensive end-outside linebacker Dwight Freeney. Florida cornerback Lito Sheppard has been hinted to be a lesser option, but he would fill a need.

The Ravens strongly believe one of those players will be available when they pick because of past history. Last year, the team had the 31st and last pick of the first round and yet was able to draft tight end Todd Heap, who was the 15th-rated player on the Ravens' board.

"There is always a player that will slide," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' senior vice president of football operations. "You can be patient and still be able to select a good player at that position. We were patient last year, and Todd Heap fell into our lap.

"We feel good right now that one of those select group of players will be at 24."

The two players that the Ravens apparently covet are Green and Jones. However, both could be drafted within a couple of picks of the Ravens going on the clock.

Green, who is generally rated as the top running back in this draft, has slipped in the draft because of a slow time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine as well as some character issues. But few question his ability after watching film of Green.

The chances of the Ravens landing Green at No. 24 hinge on the decisions of the Cleveland Browns (the 16th pick) and the Oakland Raiders (the 21st and 23rd picks).

The Browns, who want to draft a featured back, appear to favor Michigan State's T.J. Duckett over Green. The Raiders have an interest in Green as their back of the future, but they could easily take a defensive lineman and wide receiver or end up packaging those two first-round picks to move up for an marquee player.

If Green were available, the Ravens would be hard-pressed to pass on him. After witnessing last year, the team needs better insurance at running back with Jamal Lewis coming off major knee surgery.

Although there are concerns about Green's two suspensions at Boston College for what have been termed "violations of team rules," Ravens officials don't consider Green to be a character risk and met with him last week.

"The guys that I'm led to believe who are under consideration [in the first round], none of those had characteristics that we would be concerned about," team president David Modell said.

The Ravens, who are entering the draft without a right tackle, also have been impressed with Jones, the third-best offensive tackle in the draft. To fall to the Ravens, he would have to slip past three potential suitors.

The New York Giants (15th pick), the Atlanta Falcons (17th) and the Denver Broncos (19th) all need help at tackle, but all could go in another direction. The Giants have been linked to tight end Jeremy Shockey, and the Falcons and Broncos may join in on the run on wide receivers.

Although it's against the odds that all these scenarios would play out today, it wouldn't shock the Ravens if Green or Jones were available.

"We've been fortunate over the years to get a player who has been in the top two or three at his position," said Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of college scouting.

The Ravens have also discussed the possibilities moving up and down in the draft. They have agreed that they couldn't afford to jump any higher than No. 20, which would allow them to draft Green ahead of the Raiders.

The possibility of trading down from No. 24 would increase as players in their top 20 decrease. If a number of those impact prospects are dwindling by the 20th pick, the Ravens will start making calls about trading down to gain extra picks.

"It's more of a likelihood to go down," Newsome said. "But there is an instance that we would trade up if we think the player has that much value to the football team and would set our draft up for the remaining picks."

NOTES: Ravens owner Art Modell, who suffered a mild heart attack last week, will remain hospitalized today. He had not missed his team's draft in his previous 41 years as an NFL owner. ... Free-agent quarterback Jeff Blake broke off talks with the Buffalo Bills, which leaves open the possibility of him signing with the Ravens. "We've talked to him," Ravens coach Brian Billick said, "and we're still interested."

At a glance

What:NFL draft

When:Today (rounds 1-3) and tomorrow (rounds 4-7)

Where:New York

TV:Today, ESPN (noon-7 p.m.); ESPN2 (7 p.m.-conclusion). Tomorrow, ESPN (11 a.m.-1 p.m.); ESPN2 (1 p.m.-conclusion)

Ravens' picks:

Rd. 1: 24th Rd. 6: 195th Rd. 2: 56th Rd. 6: 206th Rd. 3: 87th Rd. 6: 207th Rd. 4: 123rd Rd. 6: 209th Rd. 5: 159th Rd. 7: 236thMore inside

Strategy: Loaded with picks in rounds 1 and 2, the Raiders are in position to deal for a higher spot. [Page 7c]

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