Ravens still in need of receivers

OWINGS MILLS – Although the Baltimore Ravens finally struck oil at wide receiver after years of aimless digging by signing veteran Derrick Mason, their quest to upgrade their passing game isn't over.<br><br> The Ravens generated only 144.5 passing yards per contest last season to rank 31st in the league in passing offense.

And quarterback Kyle Boller could certainly use an influx of talent opposite Mason, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who led all NFL receivers last season with 96 receptions.

With Travis Taylor and Kevin Johnson no longer on the roster, the returning receivers – Clarence Moore, Randy Hymes and Devard Darling – combined for only 52 receptions, 621 yards and six touchdowns.

While Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome has made it no secret that he's enamored of the abilities of towering USC wideout Mike Williams, it would require trading up from the No. 22 pick of the first round to obtain him.

It's a transaction that would likely require Williams to slide out of the top 10 selections and for the Ravens to surrender their second-round draft pick. Baltimore is unwilling to part with next year's first-round draft pick even for Williams, a 6-foot-5, 229-pound prospect prevented from entering the draft last year as an underclassman by the NFL.

"We've done a lot of work on Mike Williams," Newsome said of the former Fred Biletnikoff Award winner who caught 95 passes for 1,314 yards and 16 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2003. "He has less wear and tear on his body. You're still talking about a two-year starter, and there are a lot of players in this draft who are just two-year starters."

Added director of college scouting Eric DeCosta on Williams: "He's an intriguing guy. He's big, he's tall and he's a playmaker. He catches a lot of touchdowns, and that's what we're looking for."

If the Williams scenario doesn't unfold, that could lead Baltimore in the direction of ultra-productive, polished Oklahoma senior Mark Clayton.

Clayton, who has been linked to Baltimore in several mock drafts, combines production (school-record 221 receptions, 3,241 receiving yards and 31 touchdowns); 4.45 speed over 40 yards and toughness. He's an aggressive enough blocker that he was credited with knocking down 12 Texas Longhorns in 2003.

He grades well for character, too. Clayton and teammate Lynn McGruder pulled out victims involved in a serious automobile accident outside of Norman, Okla., last summer.

The only major drawback about the consensus All-American is his lack of ideal size at 5-10, 193 pounds. Can Clayton's ability to separate from defensive backs override concerns about how he'll hold up physically in the oversized NFL?

"He's a Raven-type player," DeCosta said. "He's physical, tough and a good blocker. If he was 6-2, he would be a top-five pick."

Clayton arrived on the Oklahoma campus as a self-described 150-pound weakling and developed his body with grueling work in the weight room.

"I go out and every day I don't take a play off," Clayton said at the scouting combine. "I run my route. I block. I do whatever the team needs me to do to win."

Another potential target at No. 22 could be South Carolina junior Troy Williamson, one of the fastest players in the draft.

The 6-1, 203-pound Williamson ran a scorching 4.31 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine.

However, Williamson didn't register elite production in the Gamecocks' run-oriented offense. He caught 43 passes for 835 yards and seven touchdowns last season, averaging 19.4 yards per reception.

"Big speed," DeCosta said. "He went to a school that didn't pass much, so he'll have to learn how to run routes."

If the Ravens opt to trade back a few spots, Alabama-Birmingham's Roddy White could be worthy of consideration.
White has excellent size at 6-1, 207 pounds and 4.45 speed. He led the nation in receiving yards last season with 1,452 yards on 71 receptions for 14 touchdowns and 20.45 yards per catch.

"He's pretty polished," DeCosta said.

Other potential first-day possibilities for Baltimore after the first round include Georgia's Reggie Brown, Texas A&M's Terrence Murphy and Northern Colorado's Vincent Jackson.

The Ravens' history of drafting receivers isn't good, having missed on Taylor with the 10th overall pick in 2000 and with Patrick Johnson in the second round in 1998.

The Ravens don't sound like they're inclined to take on the project of developing the freakish athleticism of Arkansas quarterback Matt   Jones, who's projected as either a receiver or a tight end.

The long-haired former Razorback is 6-6, 250 pounds, runs a 4.35 and has a 43-inch vertical leap.

"Matt Jones gives you rare numbers, but I don't know where he's going to play," DeCosta said. "It's a true projection because the guy hasn't run really any pass routes and you haven't gotten a chance to see him catch the ball."

As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland. If you are reading this article via a news portal, you can find the original on RavensInsider.Com
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