Clayton is leaping catch

Ravens jump for joy as Oklahoma wide-out falls to them at No. 22

`He plays like a big receiver'

Defensive end, blocker also added in Round 2

April 24, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Phil Savage may have left for the Cleveland Browns, but the Ravens' run of draft luck apparently did not.

In their first draft without their head scout, the Ravens yesterday still were able to grab one of their top-10 rated prospects, drafting Oklahoma receiver Mark Clayton with the 22nd overall pick.

The reaction in the Ravens' draft room - director of college scouting Eric DeCosta immediately leaped from his chair and started pumping his fists - was part jubilation and part relief.

In having to anxiously wait a half-hour to see if Clayton would slip past the Dallas Cowboys (No. 20) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 21), the Ravens were faced with two extreme scenarios: they would either land their last coveted player or they would trade down to Oakland's No. 26 slot.

But everything fell into place - Dallas chose defensive end Marcus Spears and Jacksonville surprisingly took receiver Matt Jones - and Clayton fell to the Ravens.

"We sweated the pick," general manager Ozzie Newsome said.

The Ravens originally had targeted Jammal Brown but their focus quickly shifted to Clayton when New Orleans traded up to No. 13 to take the Oklahoma offensive tackle.

The nerves that stretched from the Ravens' complex to the NFL draft in New York peaked just before Jacksonville made its pick official, when Ravens scout Joe Hortiz peeked at the Jaguars writing their selection on the draft card.

Hortiz told team officials that he saw Matt Jones' name, causing Newsome to call Clayton to double check.

"Have you heard from Jacksonville?" Newsome asked Clayton. "Well, I'm just going to keep you on the line just in case."

It was only two years ago that the Jaguars stymied the Ravens' attempt to draft quarterback Byron Leftwich by tying up the phone lines with Minnesota. But this time, Jacksonville helped them out by taking Jones, a converted quarterback who wasn't graded as a first-round talent by the Ravens.

"There's always a bit of luck involved," DeCosta said. "Mark Clayton is my favorite player at that position. I wouldn't say we had him graded the highest. But if he's 6-foot-2, in my mind, he's the best player at that position in the draft."

At 5-10, Clayton's lack of size was likely the reason why he was the fourth receiver drafted, getting selected after Braylon Edwards (third overall to Cleveland), Troy Williamson (seventh to Minnesota) and Mike Williams (10th to Detroit).

But what impressed scouts was his natural pass-catching ability and toughness. The combination of great vision, sure hands and smooth route-running led to a reputation of being the most polished receiver in the draft.

The addition of Clayton continues an offseason devoted to improving a passing attack that ranked second-to-last in the NFL, from the hiring of offensive coordinator Jim Fassel to the free-agent signing of Derrick Mason.

Clayton and Mason should significantly upgrade an underachieving receiving corps as well as give it a different look. With both wide-outs just 5-10, the Ravens will have one of the shorter tandems in the NFL.

Asked if he has taken a liking to smaller receivers, coach Brian Billick said, "I like productive receivers. He plays like a big receiver in that this guy blocks. I don't mean he's willing to block; I mean he likes to block."

Another factor in Clayton sliding down in the first round is a rumor about him having an arthritic knee condition.

"I have a lot of trust in [Ravens trainer] Bill Tessendorf," Newsome said. "The grade that Mark Clayton had from our medical staff was the same grade of some guys we took in the top five of the draft. And they have been right a lot more times than they've been wrong."

Clayton caught the eye of Newsome at the Senior Bowl practices at the end of January. That confirmed what the scouts had seen at Oklahoma, where Clayton holds nearly every school receiving record, from career receptions (221) to yards (3,241) to touchdowns (31).

Not known as a blazer, Clayton was able to break big plays with his elusiveness.

"The yards after a catch is something we really haven't been able to produce in the passing game," Billick said. "Anybody that has seen Mark play, there can be no doubt in your mind that he adds that dimension."

Like the Ravens, Clayton was elated over his latest connection.

"There's no better feeling," Clayton said. "Baltimore couldn't be a better place for me."

The Ravens wrapped up the first day of the draft by selecting another Oklahoma standout, defensive end/outside linebacker Dan Cody, in the second round and trading back into the end of that round to pick Syracuse offensive tackle Adam Terry.

Cody should play right away as an end on passing situations, and Terry might have a chance to compete with Orlando Brown for the starting right tackle job.

But the tone of the draft was inevitably set with the landing of Clayton.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm in the room right now," DeCosta said. "There are very few guys in any draft that you feel so strongly about from a consensus standpoint. And Mark was that guy."

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