Ravens study draft, believe they can make grade at No. 51

Solid prospects falling to team is nothing new

April 24, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The last team scheduled to make a pick is taking a first-rate mentality into today's NFL draft.

Ravens officials said there is a solid chance of landing a player they graded as first-round talent with the 51st overall selection. An analysis of the past five drafts showed, on average, that the Ravens' 29th-rated player would have been available at No. 51.

It's a finding that shouldn't raise too many eyebrows because highly regarded prospects falling to the Ravens have become as much a fixture on draft day as ESPN analyst Mel Kiper's towering coif. From Ray Lewis plummeting to the 26th pick in 1996 to Terrell Suggs sliding to No. 10 last year, the Ravens' patience has paid off annually.

This year represents the biggest test for a franchise that is without a first-round pick for the first time in its nine years of drafts.

Yet the unexpected fall of a prospect is almost expected by the Ravens. As they wrapped up their final draft meetings yesterday, director of player personnel Phil Savage left a note for general manager Ozzie Newsome that read: "Let's not get surprised."

Although the Ravens' 150-player draft board is a closely guarded secret (other than Iowa offensive tackle Robert Gallery sits atop it), their streak would remain intact if such touted prospects as Iowa safety Bob Sanders, Texas defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs, Maryland defensive tackle Randy Starks or Miami inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma would suddenly drop to the bottom half of the second round.

If coveted receivers like Oklahoma State receiver Rashaun Woods or Ohio State receiver Michael Jenkins fall to them - which would fill their biggest need - the Ravens' string would start to push the limits of fate and fortune.

"I hate to use the word lucky, but we've been lucky," Newsome said. "I think it's where opportunity meets preparation."

That preparation also includes getting ready to trade up or down in the draft.

Ravens officials, who admitted they likely were staying at their current spot, have contacted teams about moving up and down as far as 10 places.

"I don't anticipate us making some dramatic move 20 spots up," Savage said. "If we make a move at all, it would be to go up a few spots. There's always a chance that if you don't like what you're facing, you can always move back and get an extra pick for later in the draft."

For most of today, the draft will be a waiting game for the Ravens.

Consider a couple of facts: The Ravens will be in their draft room for nearly eight hours before selecting around 7:30 p.m., and every team in their division will draft twice before their first pick.

There are differing opinions on how the draft will shape up by that time.

Some in the organization see a cluster of defensive players ending up in the middle of the second round and believe the chances are greater of their selecting a defensive back, defensive lineman or offensive lineman than any other position. Players like Tusculum cornerback Ricardo Colclough, Boston College guard Chris Snee, Georgia Tech offensive tackle Nat Dorsey and Oklahoma outside linebacker Teddy Lehman may end up being the best value remaining.

Then, there are others who have sized up a handful of players who could fall from various positions and would only rule out taking a quarterback, running back and tight end.

"In sitting there at 51, the scenarios are so multiple," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "To even try to pretend who's going to be there at 51 right now would be a stretch. We have a range of guys that we think will be there, but to be able to say, `This is the guy we're going to get right now,' would be wrong."

There is less uncertainty on what the Ravens' fan base wants. After the trade for Terrell Owens was nullified, there has been a clamoring for the Ravens to fill the gaping void at receiver.

But if no one falls from that elite group of receivers (Larry Fitzgerald, Roy Williams, Reggie Williams, Lee Evans, Michael Clayton, along with Jenkins and Woods), the Ravens probably would get more value in the third or fourth round with Clemson's Derrick Hamilton, Virginia Tech's Ernest Wilford, Syracuse's Johnnie Morant or Washington State's Devard Darling.

"The first three players we take - in the second, third and fourth round - we hope will be good contributors to the team," Savage said. "If it's a receiver, people will be more excited about it. If it's not, then obviously we think there's options available in the second day of the draft or later on after June 1. We're still hopeful someone is going to shake free. They do every year, so why would this year be any different?"

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