It's early, but Ravens look to have step on Jags

April 24, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

THERE'S NOTHING more futile than grading the first round of a draft - the NFL's or anyone else's - on the day after. Futile, but fun.

And it'll be especially fun around here to watch what Mark Clayton does in a Ravens uniform in the next few years, and what Matt Jones does in Jacksonville's.

They were drafted back-to-back. They play, more or less, the same position (at least they could some day). The Jaguars picked one over the other. The Ravens were waiting breathlessly to see which one Jacksonville would take and which it would leave behind. On a draft day that went very much by the numbers compared to last year, this passes for high drama. Not as much drama as there is in New York now that the Jets have drafted a kicker in the second round, but the standards are different there.

Here, all the elements are there for anyone to judge, now or later, which team made the right move. Now, it seems easy: the Ravens made it. Or, they had it made for them.

If the Ravens someday win the Super Bowl with Mark Clayton in their lineup, the tale of Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta seeing Jacksonville take Jones one spot ahead of them and practically levitating out of his seat in the war room will become part of franchise lore.

And if that happens, the odds are good that draftniks will look back at '05, see the player the Jags picked, and say, "What were they thinking?"

The Jags were thinking future. If not that, then they were thinking about obtaining the last pieces of their puzzle through other means besides the first round of the draft. The Ravens were thinking, "Our final piece might be there at our spot if someone doesn't beat us to it."

The Jaguars had the last chance to beat the Ravens to it. They picked a receiver - but they picked one who has never played the position before, a college quarterback with good rushing numbers who became this year's workout wonder, the player who wowed them more in shorts and against a stopwatch than he did in pads and against 11 defenders.

It's not that those types of players never translate into what awestruck scouts believe they will. Obviously, the Jags and their branch of the Ozzie Newsome scouting tree, James Harris, see Jones making that leap. But not many people remember Jerry Rice's 40 time at the combine these days, either.

The Ravens, meanwhile, were left with a receiver who had thrilled them as ... well, a receiver, the position that might have separated the Ravens from the playoffs last season.

The teams with the first 12 picks yesterday sat tight, but once a deal to move up was made - the Saints swapping with the Texans to jump from 16th to 13th - the tension grew. The phones were ringing off the hook in Owings Mills the closer the 22nd pick came.

If some team wanted the best receiver left on the board, the opportunities were there to jump ahead of the Ravens to get him. If someone beat the Ravens to him, they were prepared to trade back.

Yet as it turns out, the team one slot ahead of them took a receiver, anyway, and it was a guy who no one - probably not even the Jaguars - believes can have an immediate impact on a team that sweated out the final weekend before being eliminated from playoff contention.

Clayton can. As Newsome said, he brings "suddenness" to the offense, and the same can be said about their big free-agent addition, Derrick Mason. Last season's offense was about as sudden as a melting ice cube.

The Jaguars might one day say they wisely snatched up a player who, if he achieves the upside projected for him (whoa, sorry, channeled Mel Jr. there for a second), embarrassed 20 teams the way Rice haunts the 15 teams that passed him over in 1985.

But along with his blistering 40 time, Jones has issues that could leave him haunting the team that took him. An anonymous scout told, "He doesn't run sharp routes and he doesn't read defenses well ... and he isn't a great practice player."

Which may explain why the Ravens' "process" had Clayton on their list ahead of Jones. The position wasn't a certifiable need for the Jaguars. If it were, Clayton would have been the logical pick and the Ravens would be poorer today for it.

Instead, they're deeper, they're more "sudden," they're happy and they're a little lucky.

At least it looks that way now. In five years, everyone may look back at this and laugh. It's just a matter of which team laughs last.

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