Ravens could land one of draft's top WRs

OWINGS MILLS – For the Baltimore Ravens, their draft philosophy and big-picture outlook could prompt them to draft a wide receiver as high as the first round. When the Ravens are on the clock with the 25th overall pick Thursday night, it's entirely possible that the best player available in terms of talent and upside will be a wide receiver.

Although the Ravens upgraded the receiver position by trading for Anquan Boldin as well as signing Donte' Stallworth and retaining Derrick Mason, they're likely to need to acquire a receiver in the near future considering that Boldin has a history of durability issues and Mason is 36 years old.

Both Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas visited the Ravens' training complex, and at least one of those imposing wide receivers could be available for Baltimore in the first round.

"If the best player available for us at 25 is a wide receiver, then we will take that wide receiver," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "What you also have to look at , not only this year, but you have to look at next year and two years from now, what your team will look like at each position.

"Not only just trying to build it for September for the opener, but we're also trying to build it for the future. So, wide receiver is an important position for us as we head into this draft when you look at our roster and what potentially could happen to it over the next two or three years."

Bryant is sliding due to concerns about his character following an NCAA suspension for lying about his relationship with former NFL star Deion Sanders and reports that he was chronically late for practices and games at Oklahoma State.

He had a rough childhood with his mother jailed and convicted of dealing drugs.

He has never been arrested, though.

And Bryant is regarded as a gifted player who's capable of taking over games.

Bryant caught 87 passes for 1,480 yards and 19 touchdowns as a junior, production that's hard to argue with.

"He's got a great body of work," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "We had a chance to work him out, we had the chance to talk to him, a lot of different resources and ways to skin a cat to kind of fit a guy's profile in. He's caught a lot of balls.

"We've talked to people at the school. You do all your research and you just kind of build a profile and see where he stacks against anybody else. It is a little bit more challenging, but fortunately we have a lot of tape to look at."

Bryant raised a few more eyebrows by hiring a life-skills coach to accompany him for visits with NFL teams and to make sure he's on time.

He also wore new cleats instead of his broken-in pair, which he forgot, for his Pro Day workout after declining to work out at the combine due to not being in optimum condition. The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder has prototypical size, good speed (4.52) and natural route-running ability.

It's unclear if he's going to fall all the way to the Ravens, but they're making preparations just in case he's there.

"I think they would have to jump on him because he's so talented even with the issues he's had, but I don't know if he'll be there," said Russ Lande, a former Cleveland Browns scout who covers the NFL draft for the Sporting News. "The Ravens will take a gamble on character guys. This guy could be a top-flight wide receiver. His strengths and weaknesses are parallel to Boldin's. Boldin could teach him a lot about how to be a professional."

What does Bryant tell NFL personnel about the NCAA incident?

"I just tell them I misled the NCAA about going out to Deion Sanders' house," Bryant said during the scouting combine. "I apologized for it and I'm back on track and ready to go. I was nervous. Going out to Deion Sanders' house wasn't a violation, but lying was a violation, so I got the punishment.

"It was a bad mistake, but I'm a great person. I enjoy the opportunity to make people smile. People that know me, they know it was a mistake."

Thomas has an ideal size-speed combination at 6-foot-3, 229 pounds with a 4.38 clocking in the 40-yard dash. The Georgia Tech standout is coming off a broken foot and worked out on a limited basis for NFL scouts, including the Ravens , on Sunday in Atlanta.

He had surgery after breaking his fifth metatarsal before the combine.

Last season, Thomas caught 46 passes for 1,154 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 25 yards per reception.

Thomas played in a run-first offense, but caught 120 career passes for 2,339 yards and 15 touchdowns.

"This kid is huge and is clean off the field and a bigger and faster player than Bryant," Lande said. "He's this year's version of Calvin Johnson. I wouldn't be surprised if the Ravens took a gamble on him."

Because he played in a run-first offense in college, Thomas will probably need some time to adjust to the entire NFL route tree.

"A lot of teams question my route-running ability," Thomas said. "I ran a lot of routes in school, but we just didn't run them in the game. I can run routes."

The Ravens aren't necessarily locked in on drafting a wide receiver in the first round or even the second round.

If they did choose to draft a wide receiver in the second round, IIlinois' Arrellious Benn is a strong option.

The 6-foot-1, 219-pounder battled injuries and substandard quarterback play last season, but has good body control, is an aggressive blocker and ran a 4.40 at his Pro Day.

"If Arrelious Benn had a good quarterback last year, he would be going in the first round," said former Ravens and Browns scout Daniel Jeremiah, author of the Moving the Sticks blog. "He's got a lot of ability. He's big and strong. He would be a heck of a second-round pick."

Other viable options for the Ravens later in the draft include: South Florida wide receiver Carlton Mitchell, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior who's on their radar, USC wide receiver Damian Williams, LSU wide receiver Brandon LaFell, whose speed and hands have been questioned, Ohio University wide receiver Taylor Price and Citadel wide receiver Andre Roberts and Connecticut's Marcus Easley and Minnesota's Eric Decker.

"I think Andre Roberts is one of the most complete receivers in the draft," Jeremiah said. "Carlton Mitchell has a lot of deep speed, but he's really raw."

University of Florida possession receiver Riley Cooper visited the Ravens, as did Syracuse wide receiver Mike Williams.

Williams has impressive physical ability, but had numerous off-field issues at Syracuse and is believed to be sliding as teams are concerned about his character.

The Ravens aren't believed to be very high on Notre Dame wide receiver Golden Tate, a short, converted running back who won the Fred Biletnikoff award, or Cincinnati wide receiver Mardy Gilyard. Gilyard isn't very big or fast and his personality has turned off some teams.

The Ravens have never drafted a Pro Bowl wide receiver with the exception of Jermaine Lewis, who was selected as a return specialist.

And they have not gotten the production they envisioned out of receivers such as Travis Taylor, Patrick Johnson, Mark Clayton , Devard Darling and Demetrius Williams.

"The NFL is a different ballgame, and a lot of these receivers can't adjust to that," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said in a conference call. "That's why it's hard to evaluate. You have to project. Can a wide receiver deal with NFL conditions? We don't know that until they get into the NFL."

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