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Browns may beat Ravens to Ngata

THE BALTIMORE SUN

More than a year removed from being the Ravens' head scout, Phil Savage still figures into the team's draft strategy.

Savage, now the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, likely represents the last hurdle between the Ravens and presumed target Haloti Ngata.

If Savage passes on the massive Oregon nose tackle at No. 12, the Ravens would pounce on him at No. 13, a league source said.

If Savage takes Ngata, the source said the Ravens would either select Florida State outside linebacker Ernie Sims or trade back in the first round, gain additional picks and draft a safety to fill the last hole in the starting lineup.

"I have no idea what Phil's going to do at 12, and I'm as close [to him] as anybody in the league," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said.

At the scouting combine in February, Savage told reporters that the Browns would draft Ngata if he were available. Ngata, a 6-foot-4, 338-pound anchor, would be the ideal replacement for Maake Kemoeatu, who signed with the Carolina Panthers in free agency.

It was originally believed that Ngata could go as high as No. 8 to the Buffalo Bills. But the Bills apparently favor Florida State defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley (who is considered a health concern by the Ravens, a source said), and the Detroit Lions (No. 9), the Arizona Cardinals (No. 10) and the St. Louis Rams (No. 11) have not expressed much interest in Ngata recently.

That would leave Ngata for the Browns and the Ravens. There is hope that Cleveland will want to address its poor pass rush and take Florida State linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, who is not among the Ravens' top 13 prospects. The Browns, though, could groom Ngata behind aging nose tackle Ted Washington.

If Ngata is not available, it is believed the Ravens would strongly consider Sims before shopping for a trade. Sims, though, could get drafted by the Lions, Cardinals or Rams.

According to a league source, the Ravens' top four choices for the 13th pick are: Texas quarterback Vince Young, Texas safety Michael Huff, Ngata and Sims. Young and Huff aren't expected to make it out of the top 10.

If none is there at 13, trading back in the first round would seem essential for the Ravens, who only have two picks in the first 3 1/2 rounds.

By sliding back, the Ravens could acquire an additional second- or third-round pick as well as fill their void at safety with either Ohio State's Donte Whitner, Virginia Tech's Jimmy Williams or Tennessee's Jason Allen, all of whom could be sitting there in the bottom half of the first round. Allen has some medical issues (shoulder and hip), but he might be the most talented of the group.

"The frustrating part about trading is you need another partner," director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. "It's a suspicious league. Nobody wants to trade unless they're getting more value than they're giving. I'd probably trade back every year because we would get more picks and I have a lot of confidence that we would get a similar type player."

The Ravens' phone will be ringing frequently if Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler and Southern California offensive tackle Winston Justice are available with the 13th pick. It is believed that the Ravens view Cutler and Justice more as trade bait than viable draft options.

The New York Jets and the Minnesota Vikings both might want to move up for Cutler. The Jets would have to give up the second of two first-round picks (29th overall) along with their early second-rounder (35th). The Vikings would have to offer their first-round pick (17th overall) along with selections in the third and sixth rounds.

The Ravens could have more of an auction if Justice remains on the board. The San Diego Chargers (No. 19) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 23) both might want to jump in front of the Philadelphia Eagles, who have been linked with Justice at No. 14. The Miami Dolphins (No. 16) and the Dallas Cowboys (No. 18) also could be trading partners because of Justice.

The Chargers would have to give up their first-round choice in addition to picks in the third and fourth rounds. The Buccaneers would have to offer picks in the first, second and fourth rounds.

Newsome said he has already spoken with teams about trading down, but he declined to specify the number. He also wouldn't place a limit on far he was willing to fall back in the first round.

"That's hard to say," Newsome said. "It's all based on what players are there on the board and how far we would have to go back. It's very subjective."

The Ravens have never traded back in the first round because they historically have had top players fall to them.

DeCosta admitted this week he isn't optimistic that trend will occur this year. The consensus top eight in this draft (signed No. 1 Mario Williams, Young, Huff, Reggie Bush, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Matt Leinart, A.J. Hawk and Vernon Davis) are presumed to go in the first 10 picks.

"Hey, if A.J. Hawk is there at 13, we'll take him," DeCosta said.

The Ravens might be tempted to trade up (and give up their only other first-day pick in the process) for Young and Huff. Young is a rare athlete at quarterback, and Huff is the top defensive back in the draft.

"There are some players that can be special players in this draft," DeCosta said. "The more likely scenario is to trade back if we make a move. But you never say never. You just never know."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Ravens' needs

Rating the Ravens' level of need at each position entering the draft:

Quarterback (moderate): With Boller's contract ending after 2007, Ravens need to start grooming another young prospect. Maybe Clemson's Charlie Whitehurst in third round (if the team can acquire one) or Oregon's Kellen Clemens on second day.

Running back (moderate): Jamal Lewis is essentially under a one-year contract and Mike Anderson turns 33 in September. The immediate need is for a pass-catching, third-down back. UCLA's Maurice Drew, who is projected to go in the fourth or fifth round, could serve that role and make an impact as a returner.

Offensive line (low): It's a group that needs to be upgraded. But last year, the Ravens invested a second-round pick in tackle Adam Terry and a fourth-rounder in guard-center Jason Brown. The only spot available is the one left by tackle Orlando Brown.

Wide receiver (moderate): The Ravens are looking for a third receiver who could double as a returner. Small targets such as Western Michigan's Greg Jennings and Wisconsin's Brandon Williams both could be available in the third or fourth rounds. Colorado State's David Anderson could be a sleeper.

Tight end (moderate): The only hole in this group is a physical blocker after the team failed to replace Darnell Dinkins in free agency. The Ravens could consider Wisconsin's Jason Pociask or Colorado's Quinn Sypniewski in the sixth and seventh rounds, when they have four total picks.

Defensive line (moderate): In the first round, the Ravens could address their lack of size inside with Oregon's Haloti Ngata or add explosiveness at tackle with Florida State's Brodrick Bunkley. The depth at tackle is questionable because former second-round pick Dwan Edwards has failed to develop.

Linebackers (moderate): Depth is a concern. The only experienced backup is Gary Stills, who is more of a special teams ace. The draft class at outside linebacker is strong, but the group of inside linebackers is considered average.

Secondary (high): The Ravens' draft priority is finding a starting safety. Look for Ohio State's Donte Whitner, Virginia Tech's Jimmy Williams or Tennessee's Jason Allen in the first round. The second-round candidates include South Carolina's Ko Simpson and Nebraska's Daniel Bullocks. The Ravens also have a need at nickel back.

Special teams (moderate): B.J. Sams has been erratic at returner, and the Ravens want someone who could be multi-dimensional (fill role of No. 3 receiver or third-down back). Although the team signed veteran Leo Araguz, it would be surprising if the Ravens didn't leave the draft with a punter. The top punters in the draft - Wake Forest's Ryan Plackemeier, Illinois' Steve Weatherford, Colorado's John Torp and Arizona's Danny Baugher - should all go no earlier than the sixth round. Weatherford also handles kickoffs.

[ Jamison Hensley]

Predictions for Ravens

Here's what the mock drafts are predicting for the Ravens in the first round:

CBS Sportsline: Haloti Ngata (Oregon), NT

Dallas Morning News: Ngata

Draft King: Jay Cutler (Vanderbilt), QB

ESPN.com: Ngata

Fox Sports: Cutler

GM Jr.: LenDale White (Southern California), RB

Mel Kiper Jr.: Ngata

Newsday: Chad Greenway (Iowa), OLB

New York Times: Winston Justice (Southern California), OT

NFL.com: Justice

NFL Draft Countdown: Brodrick Bunkley (Florida State), DT

Pro Football Weekly: Antonio Cromartie (Florida State), CB-S

San Francisco Chronicle: Justice

Sports Illustrated: Ngata

Sports Illustrated.com: Bunkley

Sporting News: Justice

USA Today: Cutler

Yahoo Sports: Ngata

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