Ravens set to adapt to how draft plays out

Options exist to move up, down, or use No. 10 pick

Ravens

April 16, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

This year's NFL draft has turned a Ravens comfort zone into strenuous one.

The Ravens, who are picking 10th overall for the fourth time in six years, are left with an outside shot at selecting one of the top-tier prospects and may be forced to trade up to grab such a player.

Ten days away from perhaps the most intriguing first round in NFL history, many within league circles have projected the draft's main course to be limited to seven players, meaning the Ravens will probably be left to choose among some leftovers.

The one top-tier player who could fall to the Ravens is highly rated Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich, but the better bet is that the Ravens will come away with either Penn State defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy, Utah offensive tackle Jordan Gross or Washington State cornerback Marcus Trufant if they stay at No. 10.

"Personally I don't think this draft is as strong at the top as the other ones have been," Ravens player personnel director Phil Savage said after yesterday's pre-draft media luncheon. "For example, whoever we get at 10, are they gonna be Chris McAlister? Probably not. He fell into our laps at 10. Most likely we're gonna get the 10th-best guy. That year [1999] we felt we got one of the best players in the draft."

For Leftwich to drop to the Ravens, the Minnesota Vikings (seventh pick), Jacksonville Jaguars (eighth) and Carolina Panthers (ninth) all need to address immediate needs over drafting a franchise quarterback.

Leftwich should be on the board at that point because the consensus top six players -- Southern California quarterback Carson Palmer, Michigan State receiver Charles Rogers, Miami receiver Andre Johnson, Kentucky defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson, Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman and Arizona State defensive end Terrell Suggs -- are expected to be the top six picks.

If the Vikings take Kennedy and the Jaguars and Panthers select Trufant and Gross, the Ravens would presumably pounce on Leftwich. The Jaguars, however, have been heavily linked to Leftwich despite his skills not fitting Jacksonville's West Coast offense. One of Leftwich's strengths is picking apart defenses by scanning the field, which would be neutralized in a system predicated on three-step timing throws.

The Ravens have to determine whether the Jaguars' interest in Leftwich is a smokescreen or a reason to trade up ahead of them. The two most likely trade partners are the Dallas Cowboys (fifth pick) and the Vikings.

The Cowboys, who are eyeing Newman, may be open to moving down to take Trufant and gain an extra pick. Likewise, the Vikings could slide down a few slots and still have a chance for Kennedy or Trufant.

"We are in the business of trading this year," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Starting on Monday, I think the phones will be buzzing."

Newsome said there is an equal chance of the Ravens trading down as trading up.

If Leftwich and the other top prospects are off the board before the 10th pick, the Ravens would probably express interest in trading down. In doing so, an increased chance exists of the Ravens taking California quarterback Kyle Boller.

But the Ravens' history in the first round has been to stay put. Under that scenario, the Ravens likely would land Kennedy (a massive defensive lineman who has a questionable motor), Gross (a solid-yet-unspectacular offensive lineman) or Trufant (a fast cornerback with suspect strength).

"One of the strengths of our group is that we will have 10 players that we like," Newsome said. "If we don't move up or back, we feel like ... we will come away with a player that will impact our football team.

"[But] I think you have to look at it over a three-year period on the impact of the player. We could draft a player that may not play until 2004 or 2005."

NOTES: The Ravens had pre-draft workouts yesterday with three local players: Penn State receiver Bryant Johnson (City), Morgan State tight end Vishante Shiancoe and Princeton receiver Chisom Opara (Gilman). Johnson is projected to be drafted in the second round and Shiancoe could be taken as early as the third. Opara likely will go undrafted. ... When asked about his feelings on his last draft as an NFL owner, Art Modell said, "It's a sense of relief, not sadness." Modell had earlier called the draft "a crapshoot."

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