Ravens address needs in draft

OWINGS MILLS -- Striding through the hallways in his pinstriped suit, massive Oregon junior defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was the exclamation point of the Baltimore Ravens' draft.

The Ravens ranked Ngata as the fourth-best defensive player behind Mario Williams, A.J. Hawk and Michael Huff. Select company, but the Ravens are confident that Ngata will revitalize a run defense that hasn't ranked in the top five of the league in five years.

"What Haloti will do is gain a level of experience to match his sheer power," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He is such an anchor inside. That's going to make a big, big difference for us."

At 6-foot-4, 340 pounds, the consensus All-American will become an immediate starter on the defensive line. He'll likely play defensive tackle ahead of newly-signed veteran Justin Bannan with Kelly Gregg staying at his natural nose guard position.

"We're fortunate that we can plug him right in as the starter and let him go," said defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who plans to use Ngata primarily on first and second downs.

It's what the Ravens did after selecting Ngata, though, that will truly reflect whether they addressed their needs and chose wisely or not.

"I would say this was one of the years where things seemed to fall into place, especially on the second day," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "I think two, three years from now when we look back at this draft, I think we'll be real happy about the production we got from it."

Baltimore may have identified a third wide receiver in the fourth round in Oregon's Demetrius Williams, who caught 50 passes last season for 950 yards and nine touchdowns. He would compete with disappointing returnees Clarence Moore and Devard Darling.

"We had him down as one of the to receivers in the draft," Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. "I would never have guessed that he would have been there in the fourth round."

In need of a third-down back to pair with bruising runners Jamal Lewis and Mike Anderson, Baltimore tabbed Georgia Tech's P. J. Daniels to fill Chester Taylor's old role.

The former Georgia Tech walk-on isn't big at 5-9, 214 pounds or particularly fast (4.56), but is known for his hands, heart and blocking skills.

"P.J. Daniels is a guy that reminds me a lot of Chester Taylor," DeCosta said. "He's not the fastest guy in the world, but he's very instinctive."

Georgia Tech safety Dawan Landry is the Ravens' new starting safety by default as much as his promise. The 6-foot, 220-pounder is regarded as an aggressive hitter that lacks ideal speed (4.61).

"He's a big hitter," DeCosta said. "He's probably not going to be the most athletic in terms of playing man-to-man, but we think he's really smart."

When asked if Landry is truly ready to start, Newsome replied: "He might have to. I don't put limitations on players. Will Demps came in and started as an undrafted free agent. Dawan is going to be given every opportunity to be our starting safety."

After Landry, the Ravens mainly went for depth.

Colorado tight end Quinn Sypniewski was regarded as the top blocking tight end in the draft at 6-foot-6, 268 pounds.

"This was one of Ozzie's favorite players in the draft," DeCosta said of the fifth-rounder. "He's a very physical point-of-attack blocker."

Special teams coach Frank Gansz recommended that the Ravens draft Nebraska punter Sam Koch to compete with veteran Leo Araguz. Koch, who wasn't invited to the scouting combine, is more of a directional punter. The sixth-rounder will also challenge Aaron Elling for the kickoff specialist job.

Wyoming cornerback Derrick Martin was drafted in the sixth round after impressing the Ravens with his 4.34 speed and 38-inch vertical leap.

"He's got unbelievable feet and he's very fast," DeCosta said. "He can jump out of the building. He's a very good gunner who has blocked kicks with his size and speed."

With its final pick, Baltimore drafted Syracuse outside linebacker Ryan LaCasse in the seventh round. He recorded 16 ½ career sacks, including nine last season.

At 6-2, 257 pounds, LaCasse ran a 4.54, did 34 repetitions of 225 pounds and had a 34-inch vertical leap. He scored a 31 on the Wonderlic logic and intelligence exam, the highest among the picks except for Sypniewski's 34.

The Ravens didn't make flashy selections, but graded their prospects with high marks for character, athleticism and intelligence.

"I don't think this necessarily means these guys are going to be good players, but if you look at the test scores of these 10 players, I think it might be the highest in the league," DeCosta said. "A lot of the guys we took got 30 or more on the test and they're good guys. When you get a great kid who plays well, for me it's a slam dunk.

NOTE: The Ravens didn't draft a quarterback, but are trying to obtain Tennessee Titans veteran Steve McNair and are likely to sign an undrafted college prospect in the next day or two.
 

Aaron Wilson writes Ravens Insider and the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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