Ravens eye playmakers that can finish games

OWINGS MILLS - Studying video of players until his eyes are bloodshot as he prepares for tonight's NFL draft, a recurring thought consumes Baltimore Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta: finishing games. Last season, the Ravens squandered leads in the fourth quarter nine times.

They lost four of those games as they gave up 119 points in the fourth quarter, the most since the inaugural year of the franchise.

So, finding players that can help the Ravens finish off games is of pivotal importance as the hours tick down until they're on the clock with the 26th pick of the first round.

"Playmakers, to me, are guys that can finish off games," DeCosta said. "It's a guy that makes a critical play when that play needs to be made. They come in all different shapes and sizes." DeCosta referenced kickers who connect on the game-winning kick, receivers who deliver the crucial catch over the middle to extend drives and offensive tackles who knock down defensive lineman three consecutive times on the final series.

"When you think of a playmaker in football, you're thinking maybe running back, receiver or maybe a corner," DeCosta said. "In my mind, it's a guy who makes a critical clutch play to help you win the game."

For the Ravens, that could mean taking several different approaches to the draft. The ideal scenario for them would be keeping the 26th pick and having a coveted prospect such as Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, Florida offensive lineman Mike Pouncey, Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith, Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder or Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith fall to them.

That has happened many times before for the Ravens, including landing safety Ed Reed, middle linebacker Ray Lewis and tight end Todd Heap in the second half of the first round. Solder is a 6-foot-9, 315-pound mobile tackle who still needs to fill out.

"I could see Solder fitting in well with the Ravens," said Russ Lande, a draft analyst for The Sporting News and a former scout for the Cleveland Browns and the St. Louis Rams. "He's a tremendous athlete, but very raw. They could put Michael Oher back on the right side." Smith is regarded as a wild card because of his character red flags.

A large shutdown cornerback at 6-foot-2, 211 pounds who has sparked comparisons to former Baltimore cornerback Chris McAlister, Smith has visited the Ravens. He has also been compared by NFL scouts to troubled Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Smith flunked three drug tests at Colorado, had two arrests for underage drinking offenses, had two abortions paid for by parents of women he impregnated and was arrested for third-degree assault.

"Smith would let them upgrade at cornerback, but he's a gamble," Lande said. "I could see Ozzie Newsome being willing to gamble on a kid with character questions. If the best cover corner in the draft is sitting there at No. 26, I see them gambling."

The Ravens are wary of taking players who have problems off the field, but have shown a willingness to give a player a second chance. In Smith's case it's a question of whether his mistakes are a case of a young man whose freshman and sophomore problems are truly behind him or if he'll repeat that behavior in the NFL. "There's always a fine line, a delicate line," DeCosta said. "Football character in my mind really encompasses a lot of things: durability, being accountable, being on time in the meetings, being a leader, being a captain, how hard do you play, are you making big plays in critical situations late in the game. Off-the-field character is related to football character. "How reliable are you? Have you ever been arrested? Do you come from a stable family structure? Do you have role models? Are you honest? Have you done things in college that would hurt your ability to be a productive member of your team. Our scouts do a great job of matching football character to personal character. Some guys have one and not the other. That happens very often."

If the Ravens' most coveted prospects have already been taken, they could stand pat for someone like Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward or Temple defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson. Heyward is an All-Big Ten pick who's regarded as a safe draft prospect. "There's a good chance he'll be there," Lande said. "He can be that down guy. He can be a stud for them."

Wilkerson's raw potential is considered impressive. He's 6-5, 315 with 4.8 to 4.9 speed in the 40-yard dash.

"He has greater upside than Heyward and has real long arms, but he's more of a developmental player that may take some time," Lande said. "He's a good football player."

A third option would be to trade back and still obtain UCLA outside linebacker Akeem Ayers, Pitt defensive end Jabaal Sheard, Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed, Mississippi State offensive tackle Derek Sherrod, Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith, Miami cornerback Brandon Harris or Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling. Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn is another option. He had a subpar senior year and teams are concerned about his condition of Erb's Palsy, which hurts the strength of his right arm. The likelihood of a trade seems strong considering Newsome has maneuvered in the first round with trades up or back in each of the past three years, landing quarterback Joe Flacco and tackle Michael Oher in the process. Last year, they retreated out of the first round altogether. by sending their pick to the Denver Broncos, who selected Tim Tebow. Baltimore wound up with outside linebacker Sergio Kindle, among other players. However, Kindle missed his entire rookie season with a fractured skull.

The Ravens utilize owner Steve Bisciotti and chief negotiator Pat Moriarty on trade scenarios because of their knowledge of the NFL value chart.

"I can ask: ‘OK, New England is on the clock at 17. What will it take for us to move to 17?' Somebody can give me an answer to that quickly because they've prepared themselves for that," Newsome said. "We will have our board graded to where if a player [like] Michael Oher starts to come down the board, then we will start to say, ‘OK, he's the guy that we should go and get.'"

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