If Alabama's Dwayne Rudd was the No. 1-ranked outside linebacker in college football last season, then Virginia's James Farrior must have been 1A. Some teams, like the Ravens, even have Farrior in the top slot.
"I think it would be fair to say they're the best two, with Jamie Sharper [Virginia's other outside linebacker] being in their class," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said.
The Ravens might have to choose between Rudd and Farrior during the annual two-day league draft that begins Saturday. The team's front-office personnel will huddle in meetings tomorrow and Thursday to plot strategy for either keeping or trading away the No. 4 overall selection.
If the Ravens trade the pick to select in any of the desired Nos. 5 to 11 slots, it's likely they will fill their most pressing need by drafting an outside linebacker.
Rudd, Farrior and Sharper are the top candidates.
"I would rate this group of outside linebackers as pretty good," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "It's nowhere near that class of 1981, which featured L. T. [Lawrence Taylor], Hugh Green and Rickey Jackson, but there are some real solid players."
Which one will the Ravens take?
"Hey, I'm going into my shell," Newsome said. "I'm not going to get into that until Monday, when the draft is over."
But as of last week, the Ravens were thinking along these lines: If the team had to chose between Farrior and Rudd, Farrior would be the choice because he could make an impact right away. Rudd might become the better player in time, but as a junior who is leaving college early, he still needs to mature. Sharper is considered a notch below both.
When it comes to sheer physical talent, Rudd is unmatched. He is 6-2, 244 pounds, has an amazing 40-inch vertical leap and consistently runs a 40-yard dash around 4.55. At the scouting combine in Indianapolis 2 1/2 months ago, Rudd bench-pressed 225 pounds 29 times.
Teams also like Rudd because he comes from a college rich in linebacker tradition, having turned out such players as Cornelius Bennett, Derrick Thomas and Keith McCants.
The Ravens are impressed with his character, as well. Rudd is always neatly dressed and meticulous, a quiet kid from Batesville, Miss. There is not very much flash except on the field.
"He comes from a school that produces great linebackers and he was able to become a star, so there's a good likelihood he'll be a star in the NFL," said Carl Banks, the New York Jets' director of player development.
Farrior, 6-1 and 233, doesn't have Rudd's strength, but has a better overall game. Some experts believe he is the total package after collecting 107 tackles for the Cavaliers last season.
"What really jumps out at me with Farrior is his multidimensional skills as a true 4-3 outside linebacker," said Mel Kiper Jr., draft analyst for ESPN. "He can play strong or around the line of scrimmage, has no trouble operating in reverse and also brings a tenacity to a defense that cannot be minimized."
Farrior spent most of his senior season sharing the limelight with Sharper. They are nearly identical in size and speed (both run the 40 in 4.6), but Sharper doesn't possess Farrior's multidimensional game, though Sharper is stronger with run support.
Regardless, the Ravens are expected to choose one of the three if they trade down from the No. 4 slot. Akron's Jason Taylor (6-6, 245) and Colorado's Greg Jones (6-3, 241) also have drawn high marks from the Ravens, though neither is considered a first-round choice.
Mel Kiper Jr.'s outside linebacker ratings
The top 10 outside linebackers available in the NFL draft, according to ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.:
BPlayer, School .............. Hgt Wgt .... 40* .. Kiper's comment
Dwayne Rudd, Alabama ........ 6-2 244 ... 4.56 .. In a class by himself physically
James Farrior, Virginia .... 6-1 233 ... 4.62 ... Future Pro Bowl possibility
Jamie Sharper, Virginia .... 6-2 235 ... 4.67 ... Consistency has been his forte
Jason Taylor, Akron ........ 6-6 245 ... 4.61 ... Tall, rangy with speed and athletic prowess
Greg Jones, Colorado ....... 6-3 241 ... 4.55 ... Gifted athlete with excellent closing speed
Alshermond Singleton, Temple 6-2 226 ... 4.67 ... Plays physical, shows excellent lateral quickness
Mike Hamilton, N. Carolina A&T; 6-1 243 ..4.64 ... Has diagnostic ability and natural feel for position
Jared Tomich, Nebraska ....... 6-2 255 ..4.74 ... Solid, hard-nosed, self-made player
Tim Scharf, Northwestern ..... 6-1 237 ..4.54 ... Did his job in workmanlike manner
Keith Mitchell, Texas A&M; .... 6-2 238 ..4.59 ... Does good job accelerating and locating ball
*-Time in 40-yard dash
Pub Date: 4/15/97