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Ozzie maneuvers for a big finish

This is Ozzie Newsome's season, the time of year when the Ravens GM weaves a path of intrigue into the NFL draft. No one likes this time of year more. Very few have been as efficient at plumbing the depths of college talent for as long as he has, going on his 14th year in Baltimore.

More than that, he has a knack for deftly reinforcing the Ravens' roster. This offseason alone, Newsome brought in free agents Domonique Foxworth, Matt Birk, Chris Carr and L.J. Smith, canceling the loss of Jason Brown and, to an extent, Jim Leonhard (Carr will return kicks).

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Some have even suggested that this is potentially Ozzie's finest moment. (Baltimore Beat Down said just that earlier this week.)

I disagree. Let me explain...

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Good as it's been, you don't top what Newsome did in his very first draft. You can't beat the first two picks he ever made. In Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis, Newsome set the bar so high, it's unlikely he can ever top that. Two Hall of Famers, two cornerstones for a franchise that, once it got its head above water, has been swimming with the elite of the NFL.

Newsome rarely misses in the first round. There was Travis Taylor in 2000 and Kyle Boller in 2003. You can criticize him for Taylor if you like, but remember that Peter Warrick (fourth to the Bengals) and Plaxico Burress (eighth to the Steelers) were off the board, and Warrick bombed. As it turns out, Newsome had a shot at Burress with the fifth pick, but took Jamal Lewis, instead, who was the NFL's last single-season, 2,000-yard rusher. Can't criticize that. And after Taylor, the next two receivers taken were Sylvester Morris (21 to the Chiefs) and R. Jay Soward (29 to the Jaguars). Taylor looked like a Pro Bowl player next to those two.

What Newsome does at No. 26 this month will determine how much better the Ravens can be in 2009. The overwhelming need is for a speedy wide receiver to help Joe Flacco. Newsome says he doesn't draft for need. But he maneuvered twice in the first round last year to get Flacco and that was a glaring need. Might he maneuver again for his wide-out of choice?

Or will he go for the best player available? And if Rey Maualuga, a middle linebacker from USC, happens to be there at 26, how could he not leap at Maualuga? Same for tight end Brandon Pettigrew?

This year, a good player could easily drop. The question is, will that player hit the Ravens' laps?

Photo: Lloyd Fox / The Baltimore Sun


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