Ravens formulating master draft plan

OWINGS MILLS -- Striking a calm, relaxed stance about the impending NFL draft, the Baltimore Ravens expressed confidence Wednesday that their perennial penchant of having a coveted prospect fall to them late in the first round like a gravity effect will transpire again. Holding the 26th overall pick, the Ravens are banking on a similar piece of good fortune and adept scouting akin to past drafts.

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed, tight end Todd Heap and offensive guard Ben Grubbs all wound up in Baltimore after dropping to the bottom portion of the first round.

As the Ravens scrutinize the draft, they're hoping that at least one of their higher-graded players will still be available when they're on the clock.

"For us to think that our team is a great team, I don't think we can say that," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said during a press conference at team headquarters. "There's a lot of good players out here, and we probably have five or seven players that we think can come in that we think have a realistic chance to get at 26 who can come in and definitely contribute in year one."

The Ravens' short list may include Oklahoma State blue-chip tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who visited their training complex Wednesday. Pettigrew's relatively pedestrian sprint times and past off-field problems could cause his draft stock to drop.

Baltimore could also be in the market for a wide receiver such as the University of Maryland's speedy Darrius Heyward-Bey, who has 4.30 speed in the 40-yard dash, or other intriguing wideouts like Rutgers' Kenny Britt, North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks or Florida's Percy Harvin.

"I would say it's a deep class," newly-promoted director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. "They all bring different things to the table."

General manager Ozzie Newsome took exception to the suggestion that the Ravens are in dire need of an influx of talent at receiver.

"I would challenge you to go to those receivers that we have working right now in the offseason program and tell them we need a receiver and see their reaction," he said. "I like the attitude of those guys. We're looking forward to some of those young guys taking some big leaps in their second year.

"Is wide receiver a great need? Anybody that is special can come and make this football team better. If we had to play a game today, we could actually line up and play and I think we would have a good chance of winning."

Meanwhile, there are several highly-regarded pass rusher candidates that could play defensive end or outside linebacker, including: Northern Illinois' Larry English, Cincinnati's Connor Barwin, Tennessee's Robert Ayers, Georgia Tech's Michael Johnson, Florida State's Everette Brown and Virginia's Clint Sintim.

Among the cornerbacks that might be of interest to the Ravens: Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins, Utah's Sean Smith, Illinois' Vontae Davis, Connecticut's Darius Butler, Wake Forest's Alphonso Smith and Maryland's Kevin Barnes.

Of course, this is a month filled with deception and subterfuge where normally honest men tell tall tales to confuse other NFL teams and reporters about their true intentions.

"From my perspective, I'm just really glad that this is April Fool's Day," DeCosta said. "I can lie and not feel guilty about it."

The Ravens' best-player available philosophy could also match up with an offensive tackle like Ole Miss' Michael Oher, Arizona's Eben Britton or Alabama's Andre Smith along with Cal center Alex Mack or Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells.

"We like a lot of tackles in this year's draft," DeCosta said. "Tackle is one of those positions that gets picked quick."

With just six draft picks after not receiving any compensatory selections this year, the Ravens could also opt to trade back to stockpi le selections. The Ravens have a pick in every round except the seventh after trading last year for defensive end Marques Douglas.

"We will be prepared to draft at 26, there's no doubt in my mind," Newsome said. "If the opportunity presents itself, we can move back and acquire more picks, the way the board is stacking up right now, that would be something that we could really consider because the way our football team is to be able to add an influx of good, young talent is just going to make us stronger."

Unlike a year ago following a 5-11 disaster, the Ravens don't feel the time crunch of spending the majority of January concentrating on running a coaching search to hire John Harbaugh after dismissing Brian Billick.

After making it to the AFC championship last season, the Ravens don't have any internal distractions to contend with.

"I'm not as stressed this year as I was last year," DeCosta said. "Last year was probably the most critical draft we've had. .. I just felt really overburdened and behind. This year, I feel ahead of the game. ..This year, sanity rules. We're not going to do anything crazy.

"I'd probably rather hit a double, honestly, than aim for the fences. We're way ahead of the game in terms of watching players, w here as last year, we were kind of behind. This year, it's been pretty easy. We speak the same language, which is huge."

Plus, the Ravens aren't in the market for a quarterback for the first time in several years after landing starter Joe Flacco out of Delaware a year ago.

With Flacco coming off an impressive season, the Ravens appear set at quarterback for the long haul.

"Am I sleeping a lot better? Yes," said Newsome, adding that he was glad that he doesn't have to worry about concerning himself with the drama in Denver surrounding soon-to-be-traded quarterback Jay Cutler. "When I spoke at the combine, I spoke to the receivers and the quarterbacks and I didn't know Matt Stafford or Mark Sanchez. I couldn't see them.

"It's a good feeling that Joe is just scratching the surface of what he can become. It's a lot easier fr om my perspective to field a football team when you don't have to start with the quarterback."

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

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