Ravens on the clock

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens could find themselves within striking distance of one of their most coveted targets and land Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew today in the first round of the NFL draft.

It will require a long wait, perhaps as much as four hours, and a recurrence of the Ravens' tradition of good fortune to wind up with Pettigrew at the 26th overall pick. At 6-foot-6, 263 pounds, Pettigrew is the consensus top-ranked tight end and is regarded as the only complete player at his position.

If the Ravens don't get Pettigrew, they are confidence that they still have several attractive contingency plans.

"I'm not as stressed as last year," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "I thought last year was a really critical draft for us. This year, I think sanity rules. We're not going to do anything crazy.

"I'd rather hit a double this year quite honestly than aim for the fences and try to hit a home run. We're way ahead of the game in terms of watching players."

Pettigrew would fill a need and represent a value as he's a large target with soft hands for strong-armed quarterback Joe Flacco to throw to as well bei ng capable and willing to inject a physical blocking presence into the offense.

Veteran tight end Todd Heap hasn't been a great mesh with the new coaching staff, L.J. Smith was signed to a one-year contract and both players have extensive injury histories.

"If Pettigrew is still there, I'm pretty sure Baltimore will turn the card in on him," retired NFL scout Tom Marino said in a telephone interview. "He makes perfect sense for them, and I think he would be the best all-around player left at that point based on what I'm hearing from teams. This would be a safe, safe, smart pick that I'm pretty sure that Ozzie Newsome would be happy with."

The Ravens' chances of drafting Pettigrew increased Thursday when the Atlanta Falcons, who hold the 24th overall pick, acquired All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez via a trade from the Kansas City Chiefs. Now, the Falcons are likely to pick a defensive player.

The Buffalo Bills, who hold the 11th overall pick, are also enamored of Pettigrew's game and need a tight end. However, the Bills are looking into trading up for enigmatic, beefy Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith. That leaves the Philadelphia Eagles, the owners of the 21st overall pick, as the team that might block the Ravens from drafting Pettigrew.

The Eagles finished second in the haggling over Gonzalez, but may opt for a running back such as Georgia's Knowshon Moreno or Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells when they're on the clock to form a tandem with Brian Westbrook.

If the Pettigrew scenario doesn't unfold for Baltimore, they could be faced with some interesting options.

They could have their choice of as many as four of the highest-rated wide receivers.

That includes University of Maryland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, a big speed merchant with shaky hands and a 4.30 time in the 40-yard dash, troubled, talented University of Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin, University of North Carolina wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, an ultra-productive record-setter who's a tad slow afoot with some conditioning issues, as well as imposing Rutgers wideout Kenny Britt.

Baltimore has conducted private workouts with all four players, and it's believed that they're high on Nicks and Britt. Harvin's character issues, which includes allegedly testing positive for marijuana at the NFL scouting combine, are a major red flag.

"I would say it's a deep class," Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. "They all bring different things to the table. One guy may be bigger, the other may be the vertical presence.

"I think eve ryone's seen Heyward Bey run. He's explosive, vertical. Again, they're all juniors, so they're probably going to need some polishing and development more so than some of the senior class."

Of course, the Ravens could take some of the risk out of the equation and trade back. Or they could grab a wide receiver in the second round. One of those aforementioned receivers could slide or Baltimore could opt for an accomplished wideout like Ohio State's Brian Robiskie or Georgia's Mohamed Massaquoi with the 57th overall pick.

"We will be prepared to pick at 26, there's no doubt in my mind, but if the opportunity presents itself that 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," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "The way our football team is, to be able to add an influx of good, young talent is just going to make us stronger."

The Ravens have a strong history later in the first round, drafting All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis with the 26th overall pick in their inaugural draft in 1996, free safety Ed Reed 24th overall in 2002 and tight end Todd Heap with the 31st overall pick in 2001.

Only holding six draft picks currently, the Ravens would love to trade back and stockpile some picks.

"You always need a suitor, another team to deal with," DeCosta said. "We always think about trading back. I like to say we're in the pick business. The more picks you have, the more chances you have of hitting on guys. Anytime we can trade back and we think we can find the player we really like, we'll do that every single time."

Another strong option for the Ravens could be hard-hitting USC linebacker Rey Maualuga, an emotional, passionate defender.

Maualuga could benefit from Lewis' mentoring and start next to him in the Ravens' 3-4 scheme before eventually replacing Le wis in the middle.

Maualuga has had some off-field issues in the past related to alcohol-related incidents at parties, but hasn't been in trouble in the past three years. The primary concern with Maualuga, a hard-nosed, powerful striking force on the field, is whether he's going to be limited to just first and second down duty due to a lack of ideal speed and stiff hips.

The Ravens are also high on USC linebacker Brian Cushing, a 6-2, 243-pound bruiser who has outstanding workout numbers and has20played defensive end, inside linebacker and outside linebacker. If Cushing slides, the Ravens may pounce on him.

A few 3-4 outside linebacker candidates that would fit in well with Baltimore's aggressive scheme include: Tennessee's Robert Ayers, Florida State's Everette Brown and Northern Illinois' Larry English.

Penn State's Aaron Maybin is another physically gifted hybrid pass rusher who's expected to go in the first 15 picks despite rumors that his stock is dipping.

Although Illinois defensive back Vontae Davis reportedly has an attitude problem and a huge ego, the younger brother of San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis is the most physically gifted cornerback in the draft. The Ravens are also impressed with fast-rising, swift University of Connecticut cornerback Darius Butler.

Since offensive tackles Smith and Michael Oher (Ole Miss) are unlikely to be available at the Ravens' pick and Arizona's Eben Britton is more of a left tackle candidate, Baltimore probably won't pick an offensive tackle in the first round. Oklahoma's Phil Loadholt (6-8, 335 pounds) is a second-round possibility.

Under the best-player available philosophy practiced by Baltimore, Wells could give them something to think about if he makes it past the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia. The Ravens could also use a big all-around back to go with Ray Rice since this is likely Willis McGahee's final season in Baltimore and Le'Ron McClain is expected to play fullback the majority of the time this season.

If the Ravens trade back, they could opt for a safe player like Cal center-guard Alex Mack. The top-ranked interior lineman, Mack visited the Ravens and is highly regarded by team officials.

"Mack is a very physical, tough guy, smart, probably a late first-round pick," DeCosta said. "He has a tough, nasty demeanor."

One season removed from a surprising run to the AFC title game, the Ravens seem confident that they're going to acquire some good football players regardless of position.

"I don't think we feel we're in a position where we have to chase needs," coach John Harbaugh said. "If we don't have to do that, now we can build a draft class. Take the six best football players and make our football team better. Then, we'll figure out how to use them if we get the right kind of guys."


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