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FROM THE ARCHIVES

Jonathan Ogden isn't just safe pick, he is the right pick

By John Eisenberg

The Baltimore Sun

April 21, 1996

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Lawrence Phillips was the gutsy pick. But was the gutsy pick the right pick?

No way.

Not when Jonathan Ogden was still available when the Ravens made the fourth pick in the first round of the NFL draft yesterday.

Ogden is a fine choice as the first true Raven, and not just because Phillips came with off-putting personal baggage.

Ogden also makes sense from a football standpoint, which is what counts.

Offensive linemen are the foundation of any good team. They're like starting pitchers: You can't have enough of them, particularly good ones.

"Everything starts up front," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said yesterday.

Ogden, a huge tackle from UCLA, gives the Ravens' line a centerpiece for the next decade.

His blocking won't be as exciting as Phillips' running, but it will serve as a fundamental asset for the Ravens for years. How can you turn that down?

"He's a guy that can last 12 years for us," Ravens owner Art Modell said yesterday. "He's like [former All-Pro] Anthony Munoz. We'll start him off at guard and see where it goes from there."

Sure, there is always a chance Phillips will run wild for the Rams and become the next Emmitt Smith, and the Ravens will regret being scared off by his baggage, which, no doubt, they were at least to some extent.

Modell shrugged at the possibility. "The draft is a crap shoot," he said. "There are no guarantees."

But Ogden is close to one.

"You have to see the footage on him," Modell said.

"He is a rare individual from a mental and athletic standpoint," Marchibroda said. "The finest downfield blocker [among collegians] that I've ever seen on film."

Owners and coaches always offer such flattery on draft day, of course. What else are they going to say when they stake their reputations on a 22-year-old?

Still, there seems little doubt that Ogden is the real deal. Any scout worth a clipboard and stopwatch had him rated above all other offensive linemen in the draft.

Walking draft encyclopedia Mel Kiper Jr. had him rated as the best player in the draft along with receiver Keyshawn Johnson and linebacker Kevin Hardy, the first and second players taken yesterday.

Make no mistake: It was a stroke of good fortune for the Ravens when the defense-poor Cardinals unexpectedly passed on Ogden with the third pick to draft defensive end Simeon Rice, allowing Ogden to fall to the Ravens.

A stroke of luck just too good to turn down.

Though they're needier at running back and the undeniably brilliant Phillips was available, the Ravens rated Ogden as a better prospect.

As much as they surely were intimidated by the potential public relations disaster of drafting Phillips, who pleaded no contest to battering his former girlfriend last year, they thought Ogden was the better player.

Modell admitted he favored Phillips at first, but Ravens director of football operations Ozzie Newsome showed him some film that changed his mind.

In the days before the draft, Modell, Marchibroda and Newsome discussed all choices they might have to make with the fourth pick. Phillips or Hardy. Johnson or Phillips. Ogden or Rice. They raised some 15 possibilities, Modell said.

Then they decided which player they wanted in each choice. When it came down to Ogden and Phillips yesterday, their minds already were made up.

Did the Ravens favor any other player in a potential choice with Ogden?

"No," Modell said.

All of which made it easy for Modell to explain the choice yesterday after indicating last week that Phillips probably would be chosen if still available.

"We just didn't expect Ogden to be there," Modell said.

The fact that he was there makes the Ravens' lives easier. Now their first pick is just a football player, not a political football. Of course, Modell insisted yesterday that he was ready to draft Phillips, even after getting "some" anti-Phillips pressure from within the organization.

It's an easy thing to say after picking someone else.

We will never know just how much the Ravens were intimidated.

And we won't know for a few years whether they did the right thing.

It won't look good at first, you can count on that. Offensive linemen almost always struggle early in their careers, and Ogden is going to be asked to switch to guard after spending his whole career at tackle. He'll be in a spotlight, and it won't be fun at times.

If Phillips runs wild in St. Louis, Ogden will look like a bad pick.

But he isn't. He is a long-term investment who should play well in the NFL. He has the potential to be among the best offensive linemen in the league well into the next century.

Good teams are built on such foundations.

It's not an exciting pick.

It isn't the gutsy choice that stirs headlines.

But it makes sense.