Ga. Tech's Thomas generating buzz for Ravens

Selection of Thomas might mean trying to trade Clayton

April 22, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

Like many Ravens fans, quarterback Joe Flacco will be watching the NFL draft tonight.

He wants to know whether the latest buzz is right — that the Ravens are going to pick Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas with the 25th overall pick. Everywhere you look this past week — ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Pro Football Weekly — it's a virtual mock draft lock that the 6-foot-3, 224-pound playmaker will become the upgrade to a revamped wide receiver group.

"I think it might still add something we don't have — that taller guy," said Flacco, who was at a Reebok photo shoot for ads that will run in November. "But I'm definitely going to be all for adding any offensive weapon."

Flacco would be the first to acknowledge that he sounds greedy after the Ravens loaded up at wide receiver this offseason by trading for Anquan Boldin, re-signing Derrick Mason and signing Donte' Stallworth.

But all three of them will turn 30 by the end of this season. The next step for the Ravens is finding a wide receiver who can grow with Flacco.

Thomas, the consensus No. 2 wide receiver in the draft (behind Dez Bryant), is considered an explosive deep threat. Some teams are concerned about his pedigree (he comes from a run-oriented offense in college) and health (he broke his foot in February and couldn't run drills at the NFL combine).

The selection of Thomas would likely prompt the Ravens to try to trade Mark Clayton, a 2005 first-round pick who failed to reach expectations.

"If the best player available for us at 25 is a wide receiver, then we will take that best player," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "What you have to look at is not only this year, but you have to look at next year and two years from now. That's what we're trying to do. That's what John [Harbaugh] and I spend a lot of time doing when we're talking about building a team."

In reality, few know who will be available when the Ravens are on the clock. No one predicted offensive tackle Michael Oher would fall into the second half of the first round last year.

The Ravens have made a habit of targeting their top 15 players in the draft and watching one fall to them in the bottom of the first round.

Here are four top players who have the potential to make the biggest free fall in the first round:

Brandon Graham, Michigan pass rusher: He would significantly boost the Ravens' sagging pass rush and take some attention away from Terrell Suggs. Graham's lack of size could allow him to slide past San Francisco (No. 17), Atlanta (No.19) and New England (No. 22).

Dan Williams, Tennessee nose tackle: He's a top-15 prospect on most draft boards and is the only legitimate first-round nose tackle. Williams has to get past Cleveland (No. 7), Denver (No. 11), Miami (No. 12), Seattle (No. 14) and Houston (No. 20).

Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State wide receiver: He's the consensus No. 1 wide receiver in the draft and perhaps the No. 1 risk. Character concerns (Bryant lied to the NCAA about his relationship with mentor Deion Sanders and was suspended for the final 10 games last season) could cause him to plummet past Cleveland (No.7), Denver (No. 11), Seattle (No. 14) and Cincinnati (No. 21).

Kyle Wilson, Boise State cornerback: His impressive performances at the Senior Bowl and his Pro Day made him jump from a top-50 prospect to a top-20 one. Wilson would have to drop past Tennessee (No. 16), Pittsburgh (No. 18), Houston (No.20) and New England (No. 22).

"I think we'll get a good player," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said of the 25th overall pick. "I can't tell you who it's going to be. History, as an indicator, will tell you that a pretty good player is going to drop."

If the Ravens don't have one of their elite targets fall to them, team officials will look to trade down. Acquiring more picks has become a priority for the Ravens because the team has only five (including just two in the first four rounds).

The Ravens would likely be thrilled to slide down, add another pick and draft from a pool that might include Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski, Alabama cornerback Kareem Jackson, Virginia defensive back Chris Cook and Florida State cornerback Patrick Robinson.

The chances of trading back would increase for the Ravens if Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen or Maryland offensive tackle Bruce Campbell somehow fell to No. 25. There would probably be a few teams looking to trade back into the first round to draft one of them.

"The only way you're able to trade back is you have to have a trading partner," Newsome said.

If the Ravens can't trade back, there still should be quality picks, such as Penn State defensive lineman Jared Odrick, Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham and Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty hovering around No. 25.

The dark-horse candidate is Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody.

"Since I've been here, the one thing I've learned is when you're picking in the 20s, the draft really does not unfold for you until you get past 15 picks," Newsome said. "The first 15 picks, we're just sitting there and we're taking a guess as to who's going to pick who and who's going where. But after those first 15 picks, then the draft starts to crystallize itself for us and we can start to go into targeting players that we think will have the opportunity to make it."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

http://twitter.com/@jamisonhensley

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