By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun
6:59 PM EDT, April 27, 2011
When the Ravens are on the clock with the 26th pick of the first round of the NFL draft, it's very likely that one streak will end or another will continue.
Will the Ravens take a defensive player in the first round for the first time since 2006? Or will the Ravens make a trade in the first round for the fourth straight year?
ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper said the decision comes down to one player — Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith.
"If Smith's gone and you're sitting there at 26, I'd get out of there. I'm not reaching," Kiper said. "In this draft, I think that could be a great scenario for the Ravens."
For Smith to fall to the Ravens, he would have to get past the Detroit Lions (No. 13), San Diego Chargers (No. 18), Philadelphia Eagles (No. 23), New Orleans Saints (No. 24) and Seattle Seahawks (No. 25).
Smith carries shutdown-corner ability, which has made him the clear-cut third-best pass defender in the draft behind LSU's Patrick Peterson and Nebraska's Prince Amukamara. But he also carries some baggage, which is why he would slide to the bottom of the first round.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, NFL teams know that Smith flunked three drug tests at Colorado, and he informed one team that one was for misusing codeine. His other revelations included: two alcohol-related arrests and an arrest for third-degree assault in a restaurant.
Sports Illustrated reported that "a number of teams" have removed Smith from their draft boards because of concerns over the arrests and attitude.
"It's obvious everybody knows I made some mistakes," Smith said after his pro day in March. "People think I have bad character, which I think is a misconception. I think it's bad decisions, not bad character."
Smith added, "When I go talk to the teams, it's a situation. It's just me explaining to them I was young, made some immature mistakes, but I'm past that now. I'm ready to be a professional."
Smith would become the first defensive player taken by the Ravens in the first round since defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in 2006. But there are no guarantees that the Ravens will stay in the first round.
In a scenario similar to last year — when Denver traded with the Ravens to move up to get Tim Tebow — the Ravens could receive calls from teams wanting to get back into the first round for a quarterback like TCU's Andy Dalton or Florida State's Christian Ponder. The interested teams could range from Buffalo (34th overall), Cincinnati (35th), Cleveland (37th), Arizona (38th) and Tennessee (39th), although it's hard to believe the Ravens would want to help out an AFC North rival.
"I still think they're a logical trade-down candidate," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said of the Ravens. "They're hoping to get two picks in the second round. I think the vertical receiver and the rush guy are the two they'd love to get."
If the Ravens stay at No. 26, here are four prospects to watch (outside of Smith):
Muhammad Wilkerson, DL, Temple. The Ravens would get a disruptive pass rusher (he had 9.5 sacks last season) and an eventual replacement for Cory Redding at defensive end. Some consider Wilkerson unpolished as a football player. But his size and athletic ability project him to be a longtime starter in the NFL.
Cameron Heyward, DL, Ohio State. His strength, power and versatility fit the mold of the Ravens' defense. The son of the late Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, he hurt his stock with an average senior season (3.5 sacks). At 6 feet 5, 280 pounds, Heyward is projected to play defensive end in a 3-4 defense, and could also take over for Redding, who is entering the final year of his contract with the Ravens.
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa. Considered the top defensive end in the country entering his senior season, Clayborn is now projected to go near the bottom of the first round. He slid because of an unspectacular final season and because of Erb's Palsy, a condition since birth that has affected strength in his right arm. Still, Clayborn is a disruptive force with 15 sacks and 27 tackles for loss in his final 26 games.
Brandon Harris, CB, Miami. The Ravens want to get bigger at cornerback, and the 5-foot-9 Harris doesn't really fit the bill. But he's fearless in run support, aggressive in tackling and passionate about the game. Those are traits that the Ravens really covet.
The common thread among these players is they all play on the defensive side of the ball. The Ravens could surprise by reaching for an offensive lineman or wide receiver in the first round, but all signs point to the team adding a young playmaker on defense. This could be the time to get younger on defense, which had two starters under the age of 27 last season (Ngata and linebacker Jameel McClain).
"Do we go in thinking that it's definitely going to be an offensive player or a defensive player? No, we don't," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "We just want to get good football players."
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