Ravens finally address receiver in third round

OWINGS MILLS – Months after All-Pro wide receiver Terrell Owens' noisy departure in a nullified trade, hours after a horde of receivers soared off draft boards, the Baltimore Ravens addressed their most pressing need.<br><br> The Ravens drafted Washington State junior wide receiver Devard Darling in the third round Saturday night with the 82nd overall selection after trading the 88th pick and a fifth-round choice (155th) to the Minnesota Vikings.<br>

Darling, whose identical twin brother, Devaughn, collapsed and died during a conditioning drill at Florida State three years ago, is known for his big-play capabilities. He transferred after his brother's death, and has been given a clean bill of health by the Ravens' medical staff.

Regarded as something of a developmental prospect who may require some assembly, Darling is unlikely to qualify as an immediate savior for the lowest-ranked passing game in the league from last season.

However, he's certain to be viewed as an immediate starting candidate for a team that averaged 140.9 passing yards last season. Darling has solid size at 6-foot-1, 213 pounds with 4.52 speed over 40 yards and sports a 37 ½ vertical leap.

"Whether it's the first round or the seventh round, given our numbers, our lack of experience at the position right now, anybody that shows up at the receiver position is going to have as good a chance as any place I can think of in the NFL to impact what we do," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Transition to the NFL, it's a process and some guys can do it quicker than others. This man has all the athletic ability to do it. He is still very driven. He's definitely going to be in the mix."

Even Ravens starting quarterback Kyle Boller acknowledged during an ESPN interview Saturday afternoon that modestly-producing former first-round pick Travis Taylor is the Ravens' only viable downfield target.

Including Taylor and excluding Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap, the Ravens' returning wide receivers combined for 54 receptions and three touchdowns last season.

The fifth-round pick Baltimore used in the trade with the Vikings was obtained in the Owens settlement.

"We're not finished from any standpoint," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "This is a piece of the puzzle. We'll continue to try to improve at the receiver position. Just because we've got Devard, we're not going to pack up our bags and move on to another position."

Darling caught 104 passes at Washington State for 1,630 yards, a 15.7 average and 18 touchdowns.

Last season, Darling was an all-Pac10 Conference honorable-mention choice. He caught 50 passes for 830 yards and seven touchdowns.

"From an ability standpoint, he is big, he has speed and will provide us with a vertical presence," Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. "I think he is an important piece of the puzzle. I think he will come here and fit in with our guys and hopefully develop. I think he is a good pick."

Darling's pass-catching techniques and blocking ability could stand some improvement. He's an accomplished receiver in traffic who outleaps defenders.

Ravens director of player personnel Phil Savage said the team was cautious in evaluating Darling's medical situation.

"Everyone did their due diligence," Savage said. "Obviously, when you have a twin that falls dead in a conditioning program people are going to do their homework on his medical background. We felt good about it."

Darling is viewed as a determined player. One who has dedicated his career to honoring his late twin brother.

"As you saw, he tapped his heart and pointed to the sky," Savage said. "This is a dream come true. He is coming to us as a junior and we think there is a big upside. He fits our profile. He has size, speed and he can make plays."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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