Ravens on Clayton: 'He's a true Raven'

OWINGS MILLS – Eric DeCosta shadowed Oklahoma wide receiver Mark Clayton for nearly a year before the Baltimore Ravens drafted him.<br><br>The Ravens' director of college scouting became a fixture at the Sooners' practices last fall. He studied countless game films of the consensus All-American.

DeCosta kept talking to the Oklahoma coaches, quizzing them for any holes in Clayton's game or personality, and he found the Texas native to be a straight shooter during interviews at the scouting combine.

Other than a lack of ideal size at 5-foot-10, 193 pounds, DeCosta didn't detect anything he didn't like, giving him high grades for speed, toughness, character and production.

Not coincidentally, by late Saturday afternoon after some high anxiety over whether the Dallas Cowboys or Jacksonville Jaguars would draft Clayton with the picks ahead of Baltimore, Clayton became a Raven with the 22nd pick of the first round. He'll pair with two-time Pro Bowl selection Derrick Mason to try to upgrade the Ravens' 31st-ranked passing game.

"He was the highest-rated player that we had available," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "And he also filled a need."

Drafting in the bottom half of the first round, the Ravens regard Clayton in a way akin to how they felt picking linebacker Ray Lewis 26th overall in 1996, safety Ed Reed 24th overall in 2002 and tight end Todd Heap 31st overall in 2001. DeCosta called him a true Raven.

Once NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue confirmed that Arkansas receiver project Matt   Jones was the Jaguars' pick, which Ravens personnel assistant Daniel Jeremiah had already told Newsome over the phone from New York, DeCosta went airborne and pumped his fists in celebration in the draft room. The Ravens had Clayton on the phone the entire time and were hoping that former Baltimore executive James "Shack" Harris wouldn't take him for Jacksonville, or they would have traded back.

"I was sweating a little bit," DeCosta said. "He's our kind of guy. He blocks extremely well, he's quick, he's fast, he's got great hands and he's a playmaker. Hopefully, he'll help us score some more points."

Although Ravens coach Brian Billick quipped that DeCosta hadn't demonstrated much of a vertical jump, the reaction did show how much the scouts thought of Clayton.

Newsome said the Ravens had Jones rated behind Clayton, and had an inkling that Harris would draft Jones when they spoke Saturday morning.

"He did have a change of voice when I mentioned Matt Jones' name," Newsome said. "I wasn't surprised when he took him."

Clayton covered 40 yards in 4.43 seconds at the scouting combine and set school records for career receptions (221) receiving yards (3,236) and touchdown catches (31).

Newsome said the Ravens had no medical concerns about Clayton reportedly having arthritis in his knees, or his lack of size.

"I go in and do my best," Clayton said. "I just make plays. Everyone talks about height, and it's about playing football. Either you're going to be a good player or you're not."

Clayton wasn't the Ravens' top-ranked wide receiver only because he wasn't as tall as Mike Braylon Edwards, Mike Williams or Troy Williamson.

"I won't say we had him graded the highest, but he's my favorite player at the position," DeCosta said. "If he's 6-2, he's the best player at his position in the draft.

"I went out to Oklahoma and Mark Clayton to me was the gem of the bunch. Despite a lack of real size, he was the most dynamic guy, the most electrifying prospect on the field."

The Ravens also had their eye on Oklahoma offensive tackle Jammal Brown, but so did several other teams. The New Orleans Saints traded up to the No. 13 pick and drafted the Outland Trophy winner that Baltimore targeted above tackles Alex Barron and Khalif Barnes. Newsome said that trading up for Barnes was a higher price than he was willing to pay.

"There was disappointment, but we were being realistic as well," DeCosta said. "For us, it was really a one-horse race. It was Jammal Brown, he was the one guy we would consider taking that we thought would make us better from Day 1."

Newsome acknowledged that the Ravens fielded trade offers for their pick from the Oakland Raiders, who ultimately traded up with the Seattle Seahawks to No. 23 to take Nebraska cornerback Fabian Washington.

Another consideration was Georgia defensive end David Pollack, whom Baltimore wanted to shift to inside linebacker, but he was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals with the 17th pick.

"The intriguing thing for us about David Pollack is we were going to project him to an inside linebacker," DeCosta said. "I think he's going to be a great pro."

Clayton is regarded highly for his blocking, a plus for an offense centered around running back Jamal Lewis. He was even credited with 13 knockdowns in a 2003 game against the Texas Longhorns.

"Blocking is attitude and will," Clayton said. "Either you're going to do it or you're not. I take pride in my blocking, and I'll continue to do as well as make plays in the passing game.

"I'm a hard worker, and I'm going to do whatever it takes to get this team to the Super Bowl."

NOTE: Commenting on reports that safety Ed Reed, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, might hold out of training camp if he's not given a contract extension, Billick said: "As soon as we get through the draft, we'll start working on it. Todd Heap is the same way. It's time. He deserves it. We've been a little preoccupied with the draft."

As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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