Although the Ravens waited until the third round of the NFL draft to address their need at receiver, team officials say they came away with a catch of a different sort with their first pick.
The Ravens selected Oregon State defensive end Dwan Edwards - a no-name prospect in this area but the 30th-ranked player on the team's draft board - with the 51st overall pick yesterday. The 6-foot-3, 315-pound lineman is expected to be part of the rotation this season and compete for the starting job at right end the following year.
"I'll be the first to say that this is a really solid pick," said Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of player personnel. "It's not a flashy, glamour pick at all. But this guy is a clean defensive lineman. When you have a chance to get one, you can't pass him up."
After staying put in the second round for Edwards, the Ravens showed more urgency in the third round, when they traded the fifth-round pick acquired in the Terrell Owens settlement to move up six spots to make their much-anticipated pick of a receiver, Washington State's Devard Darling.
The 82nd player selected overall, Darling is known as a big-play, finesse wide-out with impressive leaping ability. Entering the draft after his junior season, he is seen as more of a developmental-type player, but he could be asked to learn on the run.
"Whether it's the first round or the seventh round - given our numbers and lack of experience at the position right now - anybody that shows up at the receiver position is going to have a good chance ... to impact what we do," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "The transition to the NFL for a receiver is a process, and some guys can do it quicker than others. This young man has all the athletic ability to do it. So, yeah, he's definitely going to be in the mix."
Before the receivers went off the board at a record rate (seven going in the first round), the Ravens contemplated a drastic move up for a receiver in the first round if either Wisconsin's Lee Evans, Louisiana State's Michael Clayton or Washington's Reggie Williams surprisingly slipped. That notion was quickly scratched because all were taken in the first 15 picks.
Then, there was some thought about jumping six spots to presumably take Iowa safety Bob Sanders. But the Ravens decided to sit tight and sweated out their pick until the end.
After watching 50 players chosen over a 7 1/2 -hour period, the Ravens had only one player - Edwards - left among their top 35.
Team officials said there was no second-guessing about staying at their spot when LSU's Devery Henderson (the eighth-rated receiver on most boards) was selected by the New Orleans Saints at No. 50, just before the Ravens went on the clock.
According to a source, Edwards was rated higher than Henderson on the Ravens' board.
"Guys started coming off the board that we really liked, [but] we got to a point where we felt good with the two to three players that would fall to us," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "So we stopped calling. There was nobody that stood out on our board for us to go up."
Edwards should make an impact on run defense, where the Ravens ranked sixth in the NFL despite lacking bulk on their front three. Of the five ends on the roster, Edwards is the only one who weighs 300 pounds.
In addition to his size, the second-team All Pacific-10 performer has an impressive combination of strength and quickness. He has a wide frame to control gaps and strong hands to shed blocks.
The biggest knock is he's steady and not overpowering. He also needs to develop his skills as a pass rusher.
"I think at the defensive line position in the second round, there are a lot of guys who have an inconsistent level of play," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "The thing about Dwan is he's been so consistently good every game. He's very tough, he's tenacious and he plays hard. He's our kind of guy that we've been able to build a defense around."
Unlike Edwards, Darling was more inconsistent in his college career. A Florida State transfer, he caught 104 passes in two seasons but was held to three receptions or fewer in half of his games last season.
Still, the Ravens didn't want to risk losing out on him and traded a fifth-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings to draft the 6-1, 213-pound Darling, the 13th receiver drafted yesterday.
"We think there is a big upside," Savage said. "He fits our profile: He's got size, got suddenness and he can make plays."
Team officials said they are impressed by Darling's passion for the game, which stems from a tragedy in his family. Three years ago, his twin brother Devaughn died during an arduous offseason workout at Florida State.
Devaughn lost consciousness after staggering through a drill. The medical examiner would find no definitive cause of death. Both twins had tested positive for the sickle-cell trait.
Ravens officials said his health background is not a concern.