Ravens still searching for wide receivers

OWINGS MILLS - Regardless of draft board scenarios preoccupied with quarterback, the Baltimore Ravens remain in need of a skill directly connected with passing. Catching the football. Despite the recent addition of veteran Frank Sanders, the Ravens are still searching for wide receivers. Although he has a legion of critics, Travis Taylor is the closest thing Baltimore has to a proven commodity besides Sanders. There's also the danger of Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap becoming a marked man.

All of which increases the probability that Baltimore will use one of its selections following Saturday's first round on a wide receiver.

"We certainly could be much more explosive, and it would be very helpful to us," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Whether that's going to yield itself out of this draft or not, I don't know. There are some explosive players certainly that are very attractive."

The Ravens hold the 10th overall selection and know they won't be fortunate enough to acquire either of the two top receivers: Michigan State's Charles Rogers and Miami's Andre Johnson who are projected to the Detroit Lions (No. 2) and the Houston Texans (No. 3), respectively.

Where Baltimore currently stands in the first round, general manager Ozzie Newsome wouldn't reach for the third-best receiver. However, Baltimore would likely explore wideouts such as Tennessee's Kelley Washington, Florida's Taylor Jacobs or Penn State's Bryant Johnson at some point in the first day of the draft.

If Baltimore was to trade down toward the latter half of the first round or stand pat with its second-round pick at 41st overall, it would find viable receiver possibilities.

 "It's just like quarterback, where if you put these guys in the right situation, they're going to blow up the charts very quickly," Baltimore quarterbacks and receivers coach David Shaw said. "Even as you look down the list, there are a bunch of guys in those first three to four rounds who will do very well in the league. It's such a good group, that we don't have to reach."

Although the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Washington carries the injury concern of missing the majority of last season due to spinal fusion surgery, he's healthy now. He has outstanding speed for his size and the athletic arrogance of a Michael Irvin.

The failed former Florida Marlins minor-league shortstop emerged in 2001 with 64 receptions for 1,010 yards and five touchdowns to earn freshman All-American and Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year honors.

"Kelley Washington is simply a great athlete," Shaw said.

Jacobs runs pristine routes and caught 10 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns in the 2001 Orange Bowl against the Maryland Terrapins. Last season, he had 64 receptions for 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns despite missing three games with a knee injury.

"Taylor is really quick with great hands and great feet," Shaw said.

As for Johnson, the Ravens know him well. He's a Baltimore native (City College) with a blend of size (6-2, 214), speed (4.37 speed) and unselfishness.

Like Washington, he has already visited the Ravens' training complex. Johnson caught 48 passes for 917 yards and four touchdowns last season in a Nittany Lions offense centered around Larry Johnson's running. He doubled as a punt returner with 41 returns for 528 yards and a score.

"I can remember four years ago when Bryant came to one of our practices," Newsome said. "I had a chance to speak to him then and he said maybe he'd have a chance to be involved in our draft, and he is. He's done a very good job at Penn State."

Baltimore covets size, speed, hands and the intelligence to assimilate an offense rapidly. Below the upper echelon, the Ravens could find value in prospects like Middle Tennessee State's Tyrone Calico, USC's Kareem Kelly, Illinois' Brandon Lloyd and Florida State's Anquan Boldin.

In Johnson, the Ravens may have targeted someone they can't wait on until the second round. Mock drafts have linked him to the Green Bay Packers (No. 29) and Philadelphia Eagles (No. 30) at the end of the first round.

"He has outstanding size, probably decent speed, for the position," Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. "He runs very good routes. He's a tough kid. He blocks well. He's another guy we think can come in and upgrade our receiving corps."

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