This class hard to dismiss

Ravens analysis: In another strong draft, the team picked players who could make an immediate impact.

Nfl Draft

April 25, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

In a draft class headlined by a couple of Oklahoma standouts, it's only appropriate that the Ravens' latest investments could produce dividends sooner rather than later.

The Ravens landed a play-making receiver (Oklahoma's Mark Clayton), the draft's best speed rusher (Oklahoma's Dan Cody), a quality offensive tackle (Syracuse's Adam Terry), a pure power center (North Carolina's Jason Brown) and a top-rated fullback (Montana's Justin Green) in this weekend's draft.

Four ESPN analysts had the Ravens among their top three most-improved teams from the draft, primarily on the strength of Clayton and Cody, two impact talents who were among the team's top 25 prospects.

But this class potentially could have five players starting this season for a playoff-caliber team. The Ravens are an injury away from promoting top backups such as Terry, Brown and Green.

"Back in January, Ozzie [Newsome, general manager] came down to my office and gave me a list of team needs, and this was the final piece," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting.

Yet need never outweighed value, as the Ravens refused to reach just to add a nickel back (fifth defensive back) or another defensive tackle.

The Ravens envision Clayton as another late first-round gem in the same Pro Bowl vein as safety Ed Reed and tight end Todd Heap. They project Cody to become an eight- to 10-sack rusher and a possible replacement for Peter Boulware.

As for Terry and Brown, they add much-needed youth to an aging offensive line.

Terry provides insurance behind Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Brown, tackles who missed a combined seven starts. Jason Brown is the primary backup to center Mike Flynn, who was sidelined for nearly half of last season with a broken collarbone.

The Ravens likely found another backup fullback to Alan Ricard with Green. He is expected to push former fourth-rounder Ovie Mughelli, who has been a disappointment.

In total, the Ravens came away with five players generally graded fourth or higher at their positions. This could become their deepest draft since 2002, when they delivered five key contributors (Reed, defensive end Tony Weaver, punter Dave Zastudil, running back Chester Taylor and dime back Chad Williams).

"It seemed like last year, every player we were ready to pick got snatched up right before we had a chance to get on the clock," Newsome said. "It kind of worked in reverse this year. As we've been talking around the league, we took players when other teams were trying to move up to get them. It kind of fell in our favor."

The Ravens wrapped up their draft with Oregon State's Derek Anderson, a strong-armed project who will be the team's No. 3 quarterback, and Texas Tech's Mike Smith, an aggressive linebacker who has potential on special teams.

The only negative was the team's inability to find a nickel back. Behind starting cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, the Ravens have Dale Carter (who missed all of last season with a blood clot in his lung) penciled in as the nickel back and have remained optimistic about the return of Deion Sanders.

The team had targeted about five corners to take in the fifth round but all were selected in the third and fourth rounds, where a total of eight were drafted.

"It's not that we didn't try [to get a nickel back]," Newsome said. "That was one of the areas I did want to bring some youth in. This is also an area which will be enticing for undrafted college free agents who want to come in and feel like they can make our roster."

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