For Ravens, passing on receiver is smart move

Pro Football

April 25, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

THE TOP SEVEN wide receivers in the NFL draft had gone in the first round, but there was one more good one left for the second round, one that some scouts thought might have significant potential. And then the New Orleans Saints snatched up LSU's Devery Henderson with the 50th overall pick, just one spot ahead of the Ravens.

Poof, all hope was gone, and the giant black hole in the Ravens' offense was still there for all to see.

There was a buzz around the Ravens' training complex yesterday as to why the team didn't make a move up to get Henderson, a deep threat whose stock had risen lately. He is tough, competitive and can return kicks, another area of concern for the team.

Instead, the Ravens drafted Dwan Edwards, a 315-pound defensive end out of Oregon State. The Ravens never made any serious overtures to trade up for Henderson. They expect Edwards to be in the defensive line rotation and do some heavy lifting in their rush defense, another area that needs improvement. But this was a good move for another reason: The Ravens' track record of developing young receivers is poor.

When the Ravens draft a receiver (they took Washington State's Devard Darling in the third round yesterday), he had better come already assembled out of the box because this coaching staff hasn't been able to piece one together.

Who knows if that was a factor in general manager Ozzie Newsome's second-round decision yesterday, but it has to be lodged somewhere in his brain.

The Ravens have drafted receivers Patrick Johnson (second round), Brandon Stokley (fourth), Travis Taylor (first) and Ron Johnson (fourth), but none of them has panned out. Taylor, selected in 2000, has been the biggest disappointment because of his inconsistency in catching the ball.

But all the blame can't be put on the receivers. It has to do with coaching as well. It's all part of a weak offensive staff (apologies to offensive line coach Jim Colletto and running backs coach Matt Simon) that has failed to develop quarterbacks and receivers.

Oh, some of the Ravens' front-office staff will say it wasn't a factor in the club's decision to not trade up for Henderson. Maybe it wasn't. But the Ravens are only going to win with defensive players because they have better coaches on that side of the ball.

Look at the former Ravens defensive assistants who have moved up and been promoted like Marvin Lewis, Jack Del Rio and Donnie Henderson. Defensive line coach Rex Ryan will be on a short list of possible defensive coordinators in 2005.

And look at the list of Ravens offensive assistants who have been promoted and moved up. There's uh, uh, uh ...

Dwan Edwards, welcome to Baltimore.

"One of the things we wanted to do this offseason was to upgrade the defensive line," Newsome said. "We basically have an undersized defensive line. The one thing, on bringing in guys on our defense, is that they have to have a certain mentality and personality."

This is one time we're glad the Ravens remained true to the draft board. Coach Brian Billick said there were phone calls to and from other teams about trading both up and down. But the Ravens said Edwards was the only player left on their list of the highest-rated 35 players.

"We were true to the board," Billick said. "The biggest mistake you make is to overpay a player out of desperation in free agency, or you stray too far from the board because of the desperation at that position.

"If you're drafting at 51, staying at 51, then you have to take the highest guy on your board, which is how you end up with a Todd Heap, a Jamal Lewis or a Jonathan Ogden. It would have been great if the moon had aligned, and our No. 51-rated player was a receiver.

"Is it frustrating? Sure. It takes two to dance. Phone calls were flying, but nothing presented itself with enough equity."

At least Edwards has the makings of a solid player and will get to work with Ryan. The scouting report calls him one of the best run stoppers in college football who has an adequate burst off the snap, reacts quickly and reads blocks, and shows strength and a power hand punch at the point of attack.

He'll add needed bulk to a defensive line that has a rotation at tackle of Tony Weaver (290 pounds), Marques Douglas (280) and Jarret Johnson (285). They got exposed as lightweights last season in the playoffs when the Tennessee Titans pounded the Ravens for 165 rushing yards in the first round.

The scouting report on Henderson was impressive, too. He is 5 feet 11, 198 pounds and runs 4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash. A former track star at LSU, he led the Southeastern Conference in touchdown catches with 11 last year, finishing with 53 receptions for 861 yards. He has periods of inconsistency, but that's because Henderson, a former running back, is still learning the position.

That's not good for the Ravens. They have a hard time teaching receivers. Newsome still believes he can get a receiver via free agency, an accomplished one at the right price to complement Taylor.

That's the way receivers have to come to the Ravens. They have to be already assembled.

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