Receiver needed, but not at No. 10

If Ravens opt for wide-out in first round, it's possible team will be trading down

Nfl Draft

April 22, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Rather than stretch, the Ravens may choose to bend.

Team officials usually shun swapping picks with another team in the first round, but they certainly would have to bend that rule and trade down in order to keep from stretching on a receiver not worth the 10th overall pick of this weekend's NFL draft.

Though nearly all mock drafts and draft experts have only two receivers regarded as top 20 picks (and both almost certainly will be gone by the time the Ravens select), general manager Ozzie Newsome would not talk about what stretching for a player meant.

"I don't get what it is to be a stretch," Newsome said. "If you like a player and you think he is going to come in and contribute to your football team, turn your card in [on draft day]. If you've done your work, turn your card in."

But the chances of the Ravens turning their card in with a receiver at the 10th pick are as likely as Michigan State's Charles Rogers or Miami's Andre Johnson sliding down that far in the draft. Both are expected to be gone within the top six picks, with Rogers likely headed to the Detroit Lions at No. 2 and Johnson to the Houston Texans at No. 3.

Behind those two, there is no clear-cut leader of the second tier, which is why if the Ravens choose to address one of their most troublesome areas in the first round, they likely would do so after trading down.

Making such a move, provided the Ravens stay above the New York Jets, a team could take a receiver at No. 22 with the second of its two first-round picks, could land them one of the draft's potential highest-risk, highest-reward players in Tennessee's Kelley Washington.

Washington, 6 feet 2, 223 pounds, has the combination of size and speed that, if not for a neck injury, would have placed him alongside Rogers and Johnson as a surefire top 10 pick.

But the neck injury, which required spinal fusion surgery Nov. 19, and his inexperience as a receiver have Washington being viewed as a project who could take a few years to pay off. Washington played only two seasons for Tennessee and reportedly remains an undisciplined route runner.

"I feel I can create mismatches," said Washington, who visited the Ravens' complex Thursday. "A player who is 6-2, 223 pounds can create some mismatches against smaller corners."

Washington, 23, spent four years playing minor league basketball before joining the Volunteers as a freshman before the 2001 season. Washington led Tennessee with 64 catches for 1,010 yards that season and was so dominant he often overshadowed fellow starting receiver Donte' Stallworth, the 13th overall pick of last year's draft who finished with eight touchdown catches as a rookie with the New Orleans Saints.

Washington, though, finished his injury-marred sophomore season with just 23 receptions for 443 yards and one touchdown in four games. He missed games because of a sprained knee, concussion and neck injury, the latter one ending his season early.

"Kelley Washington is a wild card," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "Physically, he has as much ability as those other two guys. The neck injury is a concern. For the league, it's a question mark. But if he checks out medically, as a talent, he instantly becomes a first-round pick."

Selecting Washington even with a pick in the early 20s could be a gamble, but it may be time for the Ravens to be bold. Despite the recent signing of veteran Frank Sanders, the receiving corps is young and unstable.

Starter Travis Taylor is in the final year of his contract, one that likely will determine his long-term fate with the Ravens. Sanders, 30, appears to be on the downside of his career, with declining numbers in each of the past four seasons. The other receivers, second-year players Ron Johnson, Randy Hymes and Javin Hunter, combined for 21 catches in nine starts in 2002.

The Ravens also could look at trading down in the first round and selecting Florida's Taylor Jacobs, but critics say he may be just another byproduct of the Gators' pass-oriented system. Jacobs caught 71 passes for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior despite missing nearly three games with a knee injury.

Both he and Washington likely will be available inside the first 22 picks.

"If we get to a certain spot and a receiver is the highest rated player, we will take him," Newsome said.

If the Ravens wait until the second round, they probably will not get a difference-maker for next season but could get a quality receiver in Penn State's Bryant Johnson or Middle Tennessee State's Tyrone Calico.

NOTES: The Ravens' Spring Football Festival will be held Saturday at the stadium. More than 20 players and cheerleaders are expected to attend. Call 410-261-7283. ... The Ravens have had talks with 12 teams about moving up or down in the draft.

Draft data

Rounds 1-3: Saturday, noon-10 p.m.

Rounds 4-7: Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Ravens' picks: 10, 41, 77, 109, 134, 146, 173, 182, 223, 250, 258

Wide receiver outlook

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