Wizards of draft, Ravens hope for more magic in '05 1st round

Nfl Draft

April 17, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

It's where fast-rising prospects often turn into flops and NFL playoff teams quickly turn into foolish ones.

Once referred to as "No Man's Land" by former Ravens executive Phil Savage, drafting at the bottom of the first round has become one of the most hazardous areas of the draft.

That is, hazardous for everyone except the Ravens. While scouting staffs routinely get reckless when picking 20th or lower, the Ravens always get Pro Bowl players.

In the past five drafts, the Ravens have been among the last dozen picks of the first round on two occasions and have come away with safety Ed Reed (24th) and tight end Todd Heap (31st). Compare that success to the fact that nine teams have failed to draft a Pro Bowl player anywhere in the first round during that same period.

The Ravens' philosophy will be put to the test again Saturday, when they open the draft with the 22nd overall pick. The unwavering mantra, team officials say, is to take substance over style.

"We don't draft the pretty girls at the combine that run 4.3s and don't play," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "We want the guys that, when we put the tape in October and spend eight hours in a dark room, they are the ones who make every play."

The temptations will be there again this year from the likes of Arkansas receiver Matt Jones and Clemson cornerback Justin Miller, two players who exploded into several teams' first rounds because of outstanding workouts at the combine.

The Ravens likely will stick with the prospects who solidified themselves on the field such as Oklahoma offensive tackle Jammal Brown, Oklahoma receiver Mark Clayton, Georgia linebacker-safety Thomas Davis or Oklahoma safety Brodney Pool.

"We have a saying in Baltimore: If you inflate, you must debate," DeCosta said. "If you want to move a guy up the board, you've got to rehash and talk about why you are trying to do that."

The Ravens slant their grades more toward how a player fares in the fall because that's where they put in most of their work.

Throughout the college season, Ravens scouts go to 45 to 60 schools, where they spend eight hours a day watching film and another hour at practice. At night, they work three hours typing reports.

A series of four weeklong meetings in the winter put the finishing touches on whittling an original list of 1,000 players down to their top 150 prospects.

"To me, [what a player did in the fall is] a lot more important than how a guy does in Mobile, [Ala.,] at the Senior Bowl or what he runs at a wooden track in Michigan," DeCosta said.

Going against the grain is a common theme for the Ravens, who have traditionally grabbed one of the top two players at a position rather than joining in on a first-round run.

That method was established in the franchise's first draft in 1996. In the midst of five offensive tackles going in the last 10 picks of the first round, the Ravens took an undersized Ray Lewis, the first inside linebacker selected in that draft.

Likewise in 2001, six defensive tackles rapidly went off the board in the opening round, dropping the top-rated tight end in Heap all the way to the bottom. A year later, the Ravens chose the No. 2 safety in Reed after seven defensive linemen were snapped up in the first 22 picks.

The Ravens rarely reach in the first round because a mistake hinders a team beyond one season.

"It kills you in two areas," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "First, you spend two or three years waiting to see if that player is going be productive for you. And second, they eat up cap space for you and you don't ever get that back."

It's a tough lesson that some teams have had to learn more than once.

Over the past five drafts, the Oakland Raiders (cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and linebacker Tyler Brayton), Kansas City Chiefs (receiver Sylvester Morris and running back Larry Johnson), San Francisco 49ers (cornerback Mike Rumph and offensive tackle Kwame Harris) and Seattle Seahawks (offensive tackle Chris McIntosh and tight end Jerramy Stevens) have all dealt with multiple disappointments late in the first round.

But letdowns are generally the reality and prosperity like the Ravens are the exceptions.

Consider this: After the 20th pick in the past five first rounds, the Ravens have snared the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Reed and one of the game's top tight ends in Heap while the rest of the league has produced just six Pro Bowl performers (a total of 156 players drafted).

"I think our system has been battle tested," DeCosta said. "It's worked in the first round and the sixth, seventh rounds. And I hope and pray it works this year."

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