Ravens may wait to draft a wide receiver

BALTIMORE – Barring the existence of an elaborate smoke screen, the Baltimore Ravens don't appear inclined toward reaching upward in the NFL draft to address their wide receiver deficiency. <br><br>

The Ravens have acknowledged the obvious absence of an elite receiver on their roster following a nullified trade for All-Pro Terrell Owens, and noted that this is a talent-rich class of downfield targets. The AFC North champions had the lowest-ranked passing game in the NFL last season.

However, the Ravens indicated Monday that the combined factors of an anticipated early run on receivers and their policy of ranking value ahead of need could preclude them from selecting a receiver with their first pick of the draft (a second-round selection, 51st overall) on April 24.

"If we don't think there is a receiver that is a quality enough player to come in and impact our football team, we're not going to draft just to fill a need," said Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome, who traded this year's first-round pick last spring to New England to acquire starting quarterback Kyle Boller. "Our track record has shown that we can bring in quality people."

Plus, Baltimore's personnel department is hopeful that other teams will overrate receivers and ignore other higher-rated prospects that could then fall to the 51st overall pick. 

The Ravens had a franchise-high eight Pro Bowl selections last season. All were players they had drafted.

Newsome and director of college scouting Eric DeCosta projected that as many as eight wide receivers could be drafted by the end of the first round, or be unavailable by the top half of the second round.

"I do think it is a deep year at the receiver position," DeCosta said. "We have a couple other prospects who may fit in at 51 if those guys do go. It is an unusually deep year at receiver."

By most accounts, that upper tier of receivers includes Texas' Roy Williams, Pitt's Larry Fitzgerald, USC sophomore Mike Williams (if he's eligible along with Ohio State runner Maurice Clarett), Washington's Reggie Williams, LSU's Michael Clayton, Oklahoma State's Rashaun Woods, Ohio State's Michael Jenkins and Wisconsin's Lee Evans.

"I don't see Jenkins still being there when we pick," Ravens director of player personnel Phil Savage said. "It's a good group of wide receivers, yes, but that's not the only position that has good players."

Other viable receiver possibilities that could be off the draft board before the Ravens pick include LSU's Devery Henderson and Washington State's Devard Darling, who has been linked to Baltimore in one mock draft.

A massive shopping spree on receivers would likely push some highly-regarded offensive linemen, defensive backs and defensive linemen down to the Ravens' first choice.

DeCosta noted the Ravens' potential interest in versatile defensive tackles such as University of Maryland standout Randy Starks as a 3-4 defensive end candidate along with Washington defensive tackle Terry Johnson.

One mock draft had the Ravens drafting Boston College offensive guard Chris Snee.

Newsome said cornerback or safety are other possibilities.

"If the 51st player is an offensive guard, then we'll take an offensive guard," Newsome said. "Where we've made mistakes in the past and where teams make mistakes every year is that you go in drafting for need. We realize that we need to improve at the receiver position, but we're not doing it at the expense of taking a lesser player.

"We will continue to use the ‘best player available' as the way that we conduct the draft. We will investigate every option to get a better receiver, but we're not going to go willy-nilly to get one."

Newsome expressed optimism that other NFL receivers could become available through trade or on the waiver wire after June 1. The current free agent market of veterans Curtis Conway, Oronde Gadsen, James McKnight, Bill Schroeder and Antonio Freeman isn't enticing to Baltimore.

"I have great faith that we'll be able to augment this team whether we get a receiver in the second round, the third, the second day, a guy in June, or make a trade, based on our ability to evaluate that talent," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We're not going to pigeonhole ourselves, saying we have to take a receiver with the 51st pick, nor do we have to have a receiver that's this or that."

Besides missing out on Owens, Baltimore has been unable to trade for Cleveland Browns wide receiver Dennis Northcutt. His agent has filed a grievance against the Browns, and now Northcutt has reportedly been linked in trade talks with the Denver Broncos.

Baltimore has offered a fourth and seventh-round pick to Cleveland, according to published reports, but Browns president Carmen Policy said he simply doesn't want to trade Northcutt within the division.

Newsome declined to elaborate on the Ravens' interest in Northcutt , saying, "He's a Cleveland Brown."

The Ravens obtained the Philadelphia Eagles' fifth-round pick in a settlement that ended the Owens debacle that prevented Baltimore from retaining Marcus Robinson or pursuing David Boston, Darrell Jackson and Justin McCareins.

"Us going after T.O. was the right decision," Newsome said. "The outcome did not work out the way that we would have wanted it to, but it was the best decision.

"What we were trying to do was the right thing, but now he's a Philadelphia Eagle and that's history and that's the last time I can talk about it without getting myself in trouble with the league."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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