Playing draft by numbers isn't sure bet


Before the Ravens rush to trade out of the No. 5 spot, they should consider the example of the New York Jets, who bailed on the No. 1 overall selection in 1997.

The Jets received the sixth overall pick, plus third-, fourth- and seventh-rounders. Through further trades, they wound up turning one pick into seven.

A bonanza for Bill Parcells?

Not exactly.

The St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl three years after selecting offensive tackle Orlando Pace with the Jets' No. 1 pick.

The Jets, meanwhile, failed to land a single impact player -- linebacker James Farrior, their top choice after trading down again to No. 8, has made less of a contribution than his Virginia teammate, second- round pick Jamie Sharper.

For the Ravens, the appeal of trading down is obvious -- they could still make two picks between 10 and 18, save millions on a first-round signing bonus and possibly recoup their second-round and fourth-round selections.

But would they regret passing on the chance to grab Florida State defensive tackle Corey Simon or Florida wide receiver Travis Taylor?

The answer to that question probably won't be known for several years, but it will provide the final verdict on perhaps the Ravens' most important draft.

Never in their brief history have the Ravens faced this kind of first-round debate, not even two years ago when they reached for Duane Starks at No. 10.

Their options are both thrilling and terrifying.

Thrilling, because they can exploit the No. 5 pick to maximum advantage.

Terrifying, because they can make the kind of draft-day blunder that can haunt a franchise for a decade, no matter how logical their final decision appears.

The top four choices are obvious.

The fifth pick is where the fun begins.

Owner Art Modell said he favored staying at five and 10, claiming that he's interested in quality, not quantity.

But coach Brian Billick stated the case for trading down with his usual eloquence and enthusiasm, and his argument -- and the argument of others in the organization -- likely will carry the day.

"Last year, this would have been a slam-dunk," Billick said yesterday. "The guy at five was gone at six, or seven at worst. But no matter which board you go to right now -- any board in the NFL -- the guy at five has a decent chance of being there at eight, at 10, maybe even 12.

"People can address need earlier in this draft -- and not be accused of reaching -- earlier than any draft than I can remember. I don't know that you could get a qualified expert to tell you that somebody made a mistake if Arizona takes Player A at seven or we take that player at 10 or the Jets take him at 12.

"From five to 15 is truly in the eye of the beholder."

Assuming that is the case, it would make sense for the Ravens to drop from five to say, the Green Bay Packers' spot at 14 -- as long as they received a quality offer.

On the other hand, vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome has shown a remarkable knack for hitting on top 10 picks, and he's sitting with two for the first time.

"If we choose to go back, it would be with some confidence that the players we can get at 10 and wherever we fall back to are maybe the same guys we could get at five and 10," Billick said.

That is, if the Ravens plan to draft offense.

Simon won't be available at 10, and Modell said he would become a higher priority if the Ravens failed to sign free-agent defensive tackle Sam Adams by the time the draft begins at noon today.

Adams visited the Ravens yesterday, but left unhappy with their offer. Unless things change quickly, the Ravens could risk severe consequences by failing to pick Simon.

The middle of their No. 2-ranked defense is facing three possible hits -- the conviction of Ray Lewis, the suspension of Larry Webster and the potential holdout of Tony Siragusa.

Simon has undergone four shoulder operations, but he's considered one of the three top defensive tackles to come out of the draft in the past five years, along with Warren Sapp and Darrell Russell.

Of course, it's a sad commentary on the state of the NFL that that the Ravens are even in this position.

They can't count on Lewis. They can't count on Webster. They're at the mercy of an underachieving free agent in Adams.

At least Bam Morris' latest arrest -- charged with conspiracy to distribute at least 220 pounds of marijuana -- won't count against their rap cap.

Tempted as they will be to take Simon, the Ravens likely will milk this sucker to the end, trying to extract one more draft pick from a potential suitor during their 15 minutes on the clock. And if they trade down, they almost certainly will lose out on Taylor as well as Simon.

Not that they're overly concerned.

The Ravens apparently believe they would end up with Tennessee running back Jamal Lewis at 10 and a lesser receiver -- perhaps Jackson State's Sylvester Morris -- with their other first-round selection.

They then could use their second-rounder on an offensive lineman or perhaps even Louisville quarterback Chris Redman. The last Louisville quarterback to play in Baltimore -- a guy named Unitas -- enjoyed a pretty fair NFL career.

The danger, of course, is that both Taylor and Lewis will be gone before the Ravens draft at 10. But their fallback position is equally intriguing -- using the 10th pick to trade for Cincinnati Bengals running back Corey Dillon.

That apparently is the last resort, and Modell said yesterday that he doesn't believe that Bengals owner Mike Brown will ever trade with A) the man who fired his father in 1963 and B) a team within his own division.

Whatever happens, the Ravens seem certain to land a running back they covet. The problem is, none of the top-rated backs in the draft is a sure thing.

Lewis, with his history of knee trouble, would be a far riskier pick for the Ravens at No. 10 than Starks and Chris McAlister were the past two years. But ideally, he would fit in Billick's offense the way Robert Smith fit in Minnesota.

Then again, what if Lewis blows out his knee? What if a receiver like Morris proves far inferior to Taylor? Those are among the chances the Ravens would take by trading down, and the war room will be spinning with such questions.

Never in their brief history have the Ravens faced this kind of first-round debate. Never have they weighed options this thrilling, this terrifying.

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