Davis' talents difficult to ignore

Ravens set at position, but Georgia star could be best available at No. 22

Focus : Linebackers

Nfl Draft

April 21, 2005|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

After interviewing Thomas Davis at the NFL scouting combine, watching countless hours of his game tape, and tapping coaches and trainers at his school for information, Ravens officials hit up one last source for news on the Georgia defensive playmaker.

"The good thing about it is we've got Musa [Smith] here," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "It's good to talk to the players you have on this team about their teammates. And they know what type of players we're looking for, and they could give us a very good feel."

Smith, the Ravens' third-string running back, played with Davis in 2002 with the Bulldogs, watching as Davis propelled his way into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman and split time between safety and linebacker.

Athletically, Davis may be the best available player when the Ravens draft with the 22nd overall pick Saturday. Potentially, he could challenge the recently signed Tommy Polley at weak-side linebacker or give safety Will Demps a training camp battle.

Realistically, teams usually don't use first-round picks on safeties, and linebacker is no longer a need position for the Ravens after the signing of Polley.

However, that won't scare off the Ravens. Davis is a football player in the truest sense, with the instincts of a linebacker, the range of a safety and the hitting prowess of both.

Davis saved one of his best games for his last, making eight tackles, forcing a fumble, recording two sacks and breaking up a pass in Georgia's Outback Bowl win over Wisconsin.

"Thomas Davis is probably one of the most explosive players in this draft," Newsome said.

Davis, whom the Ravens have pegged as a linebacker, also led the Bulldogs in tackles last season with 81 as a safety, 16 better than teammate and fellow probable first-round pick Odell Thurman.

Thurman, at 6 feet 1, 237 pounds, is the type of vintage middle linebacker the Ravens could turn to if Davis is off the board, one who could provide a dominant player and a possible replacement for Ray Lewis in the future.

As for the present, the Ravens could move Thurman, who has exceptional quickness, to the weak-side linebacker position to back up Polley for a season.

"The addition of Tommy Polley was big for us in the current configuration we're in, and we feel good about ourselves," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "But Tommy Polley's on a one-year contract, so to bring in an inside guy to develop in that role can be attractive. Every position you could look at and make some case to say, `Gee, this would be a good thing to fill in at this position.' "

Chances are, the Ravens will not look to fill the need at linebacker until later in the draft. Eric DeCosta, the team's director of college scouting, was confident a capable linebacker could be found as late as the fifth round.

It is a familiar strategy for the Ravens. Adalius Thomas (sixth round) and Ed Hartwell (fourth round) were starting linebackers last year. Backups Cornell Brown (sixth round) and Roderick Green (fifth round) also were second-day picks.

Value, at linebacker, can be found late and at small schools.

"You have the [Alfred] Fincher kid at Connecticut," DeCosta said. "He's a solid kid that has come up the board as of late. And then the [Kirk] Morrison kid from San Diego State - both of those guys are mid-level guys, but they're good value kids at the right place.

"You might not have the numbers in the first round that you've had in some other rounds, but in the second, third, fourth rounds, you'll probably see some good football players come off the board."

Linebacker outlook

A look at the linebackers who may be available for the Ravens' first- and second-round picks:

First round (pick No. 22)

Name School Ht. Wt. Skinny

Odell Thurman Georgia 6-1 237 Built in same mold as R. Lewis, could be drafted to be heir.

Darryl Blackstock Virginia 6-2 245 Starred as a freshman but has leveled off since.

Thomas Davis Georgia 6-1 230 Can play both linebacker and safety at a high level.

Second round (pick No. 53)

Channing Crowder Florida 6-2 251 Character issues and injuries make him a risk.

Kevin Burnett Tennessee 6-2 236 Dependable hard worker, lacks flash of counterparts.

Matt McCoy S.D. State 6-0 230 A big hitter despite being undersized.

Later-round picks

ILB Marcus Lawrence, South Carolina; OLB Cornelius Wortham, Alabama; OLB Jared Newberry, Stanford; ILB Adam Seward, UNLV; ILB Lionel Turner, LSU.

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