- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 20, 2002

BALTIMORE The Baltimore Ravens have shown an uncanny ability the past six years to mine gold in the NFL Draft. Today they'll cross their fingers and hope to strike the mother lode.
With needs seemingly everywhere, Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' senior vice president of player personnel, simply cites the 1997 draft to prove that Baltimore has hit the jackpot before. That year the Ravens drafted linebackers Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper, safety Kim Herring, center Jeff Mitchell and capable backup linebackers Tyrus McCloud and Cornell Brown.
Although only Boulware remains, that draft set the foundation for the Ravens' rise as one of the league's top defensive powers.
"Looking at the 2002 draft takes me back to the 1997 draft, when we had just moved to Baltimore, played a season here, and we realized at that point that we needed an influx of talent and an influx of young talent," Newsome said. "I think we ended up with 10 or 11 picks that year and those were a bunch of players that had a big part of what we have accomplished. So we are approaching the 2002 draft in that manner."
Salary cap constraints and the expansion draft decimated the roster this offseason. With the 24th overall pick and 10 selections in the seven-round draft, the Ravens head into the draft needing a running back, fullback, offensive tackle, cornerback, safety, linebacker, defensive tackle, quarterback, punter and a return specialist.
With the return of running back Jamal Lewis, who sat out all last season with a torn ACL, and third-year quarterback Chris Redman penciled in as the starter, an offensive tackle may be the Ravens' top priority. The team can ill-afford to let Lewis and Redman get banged up all season because of a weakness on the right side of their line.
Miami's Bryant McKinnie, Texas tackle Mike Williams, and Arizona State's Levi Jones are considered the top three tackles in the draft. McKinnie, a 6-foot-8, 345-pound beast, and the 6-5, 375-pound Williams, likely will be gone when the Ravens draft at No.24. However, Jones (6-5, 306 pounds) may be available for the Ravens.
Ravens offensive line coach Jim Colletto has personally worked out 10 offensive tackles. When it comes to drafting at that position, coaches really must do their homework.
"[Newsome and coach Brian Billick] have heard me say it at meetings: 'I would rather play with a four-man line than bring this guy in here,'" said Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "So there are some bad ones out there."
The Ravens may select a cornerback or safety in the first round. The free agency losses of starting cornerback Duane Starks to the Arizona Cardinals and strong safety Corey Harris to the Detroit Lions has left Baltimore with two glaring holes at important positions. Last week the Ravens worked out prospective secondary help in 5-10 cornerback Lito Sheppard (Florida) and 5-11 safety Ed Reed (Miami), two of the best players at their positions.
With the Ravens picking at No.24, their first-round choice may come down to the highest-rated player they have on their draft board. The Ravens ruled out trading up because of their salary cap problems.
"At some levels, we could have two or three positions where we've had players graded the same," Newsome said. "If they are graded the same, then at that point, we feel we can take needs."
The Ravens need receivers. Free agency claimed starting wideout Qadry Ismail and tight end Shannon Sharpe, the team's two leading receivers last season. If the season started today, Travis Taylor and Brandon Stokley would line up opposite each other, and Stokley probably is better suited to be a No.3 receiver. A lack of receiving depth is perhaps the biggest concern.
Undoubtedly, the Ravens will draft a wide receiver. The team probably won't use its first-round pick on one, but look for one of the lower-round picks, especially in the third round (87th overall), to be used on a receiver.
"It does truly feel like starting over in a sense that it's going to be a new team," Billick said. "It feels very similar to when I arrived here three years ago."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide