Ravens hoping a top player falls to them

By Aaron Wilson OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome was assured of two outcomes Friday afternoon at the barber shop: a short wait and a familiar haircut. Today's first stanza of the NFL draft, though, shapes up as an altogether different experience. It will be a trying exercise of patience with unpredictable results. Without a first-round draft pick, the Ravens will have about seven hours to work the telephones before their first pick in the second round at No. 51.

Depending upon their exploration of trades 10 spots above and below their current spot and other teams' draft boards, the Ravens are hoping for another case of fortune. One where one of their top-rated players falls to them, a la Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap with the 31st overall selection in 2001 months after winning the Super Bowl.

"I hate to use the word, lucky, but we've been lucky," said Newsome, who drafted Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed with the 24th pick in 2002. "I think it's where opportunity meets preparation, and we're prepared."

Newsome said the Ravens alerted teams Friday to keep them in mind for potential trade discussions today.

If the Ravens trade up, it could be to address their sluggish passing game with promising receivers such as Oklahoma State's Rashaun Woods, or LSU's Michael Clayton and Devery Henderson, or sliding defensive linemen such as Western Michigan's Jason Babin, Texas' Marcus Tubbs and Maryland's Randy Starks.

Babin covers 40 yards in 4.6 seconds and sacked Miami (Ohio) quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times in one game last year.

Hard-hitting, stocky Iowa safety Bob Sanders, in particular, has intrigued Baltimore with his athleticism and tough mentality.

"We have talked about certain players that could fall that we could move up to get," Newsome said. "If our board gets wiped out at a certain level, we would move back away from it."

Baltimore could stand pat and draft cornerbacks such as Tusculum's Ricardo Colclough or Arkansas' Ahmad Carroll, solid receivers like USC's Keary Colbert or Virginia Tech's Ernest Wilford or interior offensive linemen such as Boston College's Chris Snee or Alabama's Justin Smiley.

Newsome said he received a note Friday from director of player personnel Phil Savage reminding him to be prepared if a player the Ravens like drops to No. 51.

"He said, ‘Let's not get surprised when somebody is there and all of a sudden because a player slid, we get afraid of him,'" Newsome said. "If someone slides to us, just turn the card in. Don't, because somebody has made it down to 51, talk ourselves out of it."

The recent history at No. 51 is sobering, though.

Pro Bowl running back Clinton Portis in 2002 is the major bright spot. The 51st pick over the last five years includes broken-down Denver Broncos defensive end Paul Toviessi in 2001, and Arizona Cardinals linebacker Johnny Rutledge, a 1999 bust.

Baltimore has acquired current starters in the second round in cornerback Gary Baxter, defensive end Tony Weaver and former standouts in linebacker Jamie Sharper and safety Kim Herring. Receiver Patrick Johnson and cornerback DeRon Jenkins represent the team's worst second-round decisions.

"There are guys that four years from now I'll be ashamed that I thought would be a player," Savage said. "That's amazing to me, that you can feel that confidence and, years later, you're shaking your head, saying, ‘I don't know what I saw in the guy.'"

Baltimore had a team-high eight Pro Bowl selections last year. All of them were first-round choices except for special-teams ace Adalius Thomas, a sixth-round choice from Southern Mississippi.

"This thing is really a crapshoot," Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. "We've been fortunate enough in the first round to pick guys who have turned out really well, but we've had a lot of good players low on our boards and a lot of bad players highly-rated. It's an opinion business. "It comes down to speed, toughness and instincts. If a guy has all three of those qualities, he's going to be pretty good."

DeCosta recalled past mistakes made by betting on proven character without the accompanying athleticism, including safety Ryan Sutter. He was cut by Baltimore and has since moved on to reality television fame as "The Bachelor."

"Ryan Sutter was a great guy, but he couldn't make our team," DeCosta said.

Ravens coach Brian Billick echoed a theme recited by Newsome, Savage and DeCosta, that the team covets a combination of toughness, athletic ability and character.

"You'll always gravitate toward those players," Billick said. "Because of the temperament players like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have set, if you bring in someone who isn't ready to exhibit those qualities, he's going to struggle. It has to be a good fit."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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