After signing spree, Ravens can afford to be picky at 22

Offseason additions give club ability to draft best player left

Pro Football

April 14, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

It was mostly food for thought yesterday at the Ravens' pre-draft luncheon, where team officials talked about how all their hard work in free agency has given them enough flexibility to take the best player available with the 22nd overall pick.

But there was one morsel of news: The Ravens acknowledged for the first time that they would be willing to trade up to the middle of the first round for a coveted prospect.

One possible target is receiver Mike Williams, who was blocked from entering last year's draft as an underclassman, along with Maurice Clarett. The former Southern California standout is considered one of the top available playmakers and is projected to be picked anywhere from No. 7 to No. 12.

There is also a chance that the Ravens could go make a move for West Virginia cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones if the presumed top-10 pick makes a surprising drop.

The Ravens, who likely would also have to give up their second-round pick (53rd overall) to make the jump, might find a trading partner in Dallas. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said earlier this month that his team wants to fall back from the 11th pick.

"There are a couple of players that I think the room is going to like," said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who did not name any player specifically. "If we think one of those players that could be one of the top-notch players in this league starts to slide down the board, I will give up a pick to move up."

Unlike some other teams, Newsome said the Ravens aren't concerned with Williams sitting out last season. In two years at USC, he made 176 catches and scored 30 touchdowns.

"We've done a lot of work on Mike Williams," Newsome said. "He has less wear and tear on his body. You're still talking about a two-year starter, and there are a lot of players in this draft who are just two-year starters."

Newsome said there's a stronger likelihood that the Ravens would trade down in the first round because this draft is the deepest in three years.

If the Ravens stay at No. 22, they are open to taking anyone except a quarterback or a running back.

Before the draft on April 23, the team is expected to have visits from Oklahoma offensive tackle Jammal Brown, Georgia defensive end David Pollack and Georgia inside linebacker Odell Thurman.

The Ravens also are believed to have interest in Oklahoma receiver Mark Clayton, Virginia outside linebacker Darryl Blackstock, Oklahoma free safety Brodney Pool, Iowa defensive end Matt Roth and Oklahoma defensive end Dan Cody.

"There will definitely be a number of guys that we feel could come in, make a significant contribution to our football team and maybe even push for a starting job," Newsome said.

The position where a rookie could make an immediate impact is receiver.

Besides Derrick Mason being their top wide receiver, the Ravens currently have Clarence Moore, Randy Hymes and Devard Darling competing for the No. 2 and No. 3 jobs.

The best fit in this year's deep receiver class could be Clayton, who lacks elite size (5 feet 10) but has great hands and route-running ability.

"He's a Raven-type player," said Eric DeCosta, the team's director of college scouting. "He's physical, tough and a good blocker. If he was 6-2, he would be a top-five pick."

Likewise, the Ravens are impressed with the tenacity of Pollack, whom DeCosta said has the same mentality of former Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary.

"If we're lucky enough to get him, we need to sit him down beforehand and see if our plan matches what he would like to do in this league," Newsome said. "One thing we know about him, whenever we get into our passing situations, we know he could be one of our rushers."

This enviable draft position of not having a pressing need is the product of one of the best offseasons in team history.

The Ravens filled every void in their starting lineup after the free-agent signings of receiver Mason, cornerback Samari Rolle, right guard Keydrick Vincent and linebacker Tommy Polley.

"The encouraging thing is that we're not sitting here going, `This guy has got to get to 22,'" coach Brian Billick said. "There is someone very palatable at virtually every position."

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