Mixed reviews of Ravens' draft class

OWINGS MILLS -- The grades are in regarding the Baltimore Ravens' draft maneuvers, and the national consensus declares them to only be C students. Of course, it usually takes years to truly gauge the quality of a draft.

Even though quarterback Joe Flacco has yet to heave a spiral, running back Ray Rice hasn't spun off a tackle and linebacker Tavares Gooden hasn't crashed into a ball carrier, this is the age of instant analysis.

Between C grades from USA Today, CBS Sports, Yahoo Sports, the Dallas Morning News and the Washington Post along with a D-plus from the Orlando Sentinel, the primary criticism centered on Baltimore trading up eight spots to pick Flacco with the 18th overall selection of the first round.

Several reports described the move as a reach. There were also digs for not taking a left offensive tackle earlier in the draft.

Conversely, the Ravens are thrilled with the outcome of their 10 picks as well as trading a fourth-round pick for former Oakland Raiders first-round cornerback Fabian Washington.

"We tried to get big, fast, smart and tough," Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. "I think we accomplished that. Hopefully, next year at this time, we can look back on this draft and feel really good about it. I think we will."

After the Ravens traded back to No. 26 once they were unable to meet the extremely high expense of moving up for quarterback Matt Ryan, they became concerned that another team might pick Flacco. That prompted their trade with the Houston Texans.

The possible evidence of other teams not being too eager for a quarterback was how Brian Brohm and Chad Henne plummeted deep into the second round.

ESPN draft analyst and Jarrettsville resident Mel Kiper didn't share those skeptical opinions, giving the Ravens a B. The Kansas City Star doled out a B-minus.

"The Ravens didn't want to settle for just any quarterback, they wanted Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco," Kiper said during a Monday conference call. "I don't think Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsome or Eric DeCosta would be satisfied just waiting it out and they knew they had the ability to move up or down. Who knew Chad Henne and Brian Brohm wouldn't be first-round picks?

"People will say they could have got him at 18 or 26, but Joe Flacco is going to be their quarterback. They wanted to make sure they got a guy that they targeted. At the end of the day, they are very happy. They maneuvered the draft very well. They feel very strongly he can be a heck of a quarterback in this league. They're hoping he can win Super Bowls for them."

At 6-foot-6, 235 pounds with an arm strong enough to hurl a football 60 yards without even stepping into his throw, Flacco was downgraded in several reports due to his small-school background at Delaware and his footwork.

Ultimately, time will tell whether the Ravens were right about tabbing Flacco as their quarterback of the future and immediately inserting him into a competition with Kyle Boller and Troy Smith.

"If he can be a quarterback like Eli Manning, they'll be very happy in Baltimore," Kiper said. "If he had played at Pitt or Michigan, I think he would have been right up there with Matt Ryan."

Kiper gushed about shifty Rutgers running back Ray Rice, the Ravens' second-round pick. And he was particularly effusive in his praise of third-round linebacker Tavares Gooden, a speedy 6-1, 235-pounder who ran a high 4.4 at his campus workout with a 39 1/2 inch vertical leap.

Gooden could emerge as a central figure on the Baltimore defense within the next year, particularly as starters Ray Lewis and Bart Scott head into contract years. Moving to middle linebacker as a senior, Gooden recorded 100 tackles.

"Actually, I thought they would draft a couple off linebackers because they could lose a few after this year," Kiper said. "No question about the fact that the organization was thinking about the future and the changes that will take place. Gooden showed up very big last year unlike a couple of his teammates like Calais Campbell."

During the second day of the draft, new coach John Harbaugh's imprint on the roster became obvious with his emphasis on the kicking game.

Baltimore obtained several potential special-teams standouts, including Gooden, hard-hitting Notre Dame safety and punt returner Tom Zbikowski, big New Mexico wide receiver Marcus Smith, undersized Cincinnati safety Haruki Nakamura and Oklahoma running back and former safety Allen Patrick.

"They did take on a Harbaugh mold for what he wants in a player," Kiper said. "Zbikowski is a punt returner and very good in kick coverage. Marcus Smith is great in kick coverage.

"Nakamura will help you on special teams, too. Patrick is a tough kid and a really good special-teams player. He got several guys that are going to help them in that area of the game."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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