How they stack up

Draft bolsters depth, but top of tough AFC North likely out of reach for 2008

Roster Analysis

April 29, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

The Ravens grabbed their quarterback of the future with an aggressive move, upgraded their depth at cornerback with a favorable trade and bolstered their special teams throughout the NFL draft.

But did the Ravens upgrade their roster enough this weekend to go from the bottom of the AFC North to the top of it?

Unless Joe Flacco shows that he can start immediately -- and it seems like the best plan is to have him sit -- the Ravens won't see immediate dividends from this draft beyond special teams.

That's why the team appears to have more ground to make up on the likes of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns in the division.

"We tried to get big, fast, smart and tough," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "I think we accomplished that. Hopefully, next year at this time, we can look back on this draft and feel really good about it. I think we will."

This draft will ultimately be judged on Flacco because selecting him was a move that goes against the Ravens' golden history.

Flacco, who played at Delaware, is just the second small-school player taken in the first three rounds by the Ravens and the only one selected by the team in the first round. And the Ravens, who rarely jump to get a player in the opening round, traded up to draft Flacco at No. 18, a spot where many consider it a reach.

But no one should compare Flacco to Boston College's Matt Ryan over the years. The Ravens had Ryan as the top-rated quarterback and tried to move up to get him.

The more legitimate argument will be Flacco versus Louisville's Brian Brohm (56th overall) and Michigan's Chad Henne (57th), who were available when the Ravens drafted late in the second round.

If Flacco isn't clearly better than Brohm and Henne, there will be criticism that the Ravens paid too much to get him, trading the No. 26 overall pick they had moved down to, a third-round pick and a sixth-round pick to the Houston Texans.

This move was similar to the one in 2003, when the Ravens jumped back up in the first round to get Kyle Boller. But the Ravens had the benefit of having already drafted linebacker Terrell Suggs that year.

Beyond Flacco, there was no such flash in the Ravens' draft.

This was a workmanlike weekend for the Ravens, who traded four times and came away with some of the most hard-nosed and aggressive players in the draft.

After assessing the draft, this is how the Ravens' roster grades out against the rest of the league:

Quarterback: Boller should start the season, but Flacco might be the one who finishes it. The Ravens have learned their lesson from rushing Boller in 2003. But it would have helped to have a veteran quarterback mentoring these young players. Grade: C-

Running back: The Ravens desperately needed a backup to Willis McGahee because they would have been sunk if McGahee got hurt. Ray Rice (second round from Rutgers) was a valuable pick who plays tougher than his size (5 feet 8). He also averaged 151 yards against top 10 teams last season. Grade: B+

Wide receiver: Derrick Mason is the only guaranteed starter. Demetrius Williams and Mark Clayton have to prove they can bounce back from disappointing seasons. Marcus Smith (fourth round from New Mexico) could find a niche if he lives up to expectations as a receiver who can make tough catches over the middle. Grade: C+

Tight end: This is a major area of concern. Todd Heap is among the premier players at this position when healthy. Daniel Wilcox was also hurt last season, and Quinn Sypniewski went down with a knee injury in minicamp. The Ravens failed to address this position in the draft. They wanted California's Craig Stevens in the third round, but he was taken one spot ahead of them by the Tennessee Titans. Grade: C

Offensive line: The Ravens are in trouble at left tackle if Jonathan Ogden retires as expected. Adam Terry needs to show more toughness, and Jared Gaither needs to improve his work ethic. Chris Chester has to prove he can be a starting center in the league. Grade: C+

Defensive line: Trevor Pryce, Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg form one of the best front lines in the league. But the Ravens know from last season there's a major drop-off when injuries hit this group. Grade: A

Linebacker: The Ravens have three Pro Bowl talents in Suggs, Ray Lewis and Bart Scott. They improved their depth in free agency with Brendon Ayanbadejo and in the draft with Tavares Gooden (third round from the University of Miami), who might eventually be the best of this draft class. Grade: A

Cornerback: The best move by the Ravens was trading for the Oakland Raiders' Fabian Washington. The former first-round pick is better than any of the corners in this year's weak class and is a substantial upgrade at nickel back. Grade: B

Safety: The Ravens have two of the best in Ed Reed and Dawan Landry when they play within the system. Tom Zbikowski (third round from Notre Dame) could develop into a starter in a couple of seasons. Grade: A-

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