Bottom's up

The Baltimore Sun

When it comes to the Ravens, drafting in the bottom of the first round has been worth the wait.

From Ray Lewis to Todd Heap to Ed Reed, the Ravens have watched future Pro Bowl players repeatedly slide down to them.

With the 29th overall pick today, the Ravens expect another top prospect to drop - but they just have to be careful where this one lands. All of the Ravens' presumed targets are 300-pound offensive linemen: Southern California center Ryan Kalil, Texas guard-tackle Justin Blalock and Central Michigan offensive tackle Joe Staley.

"History is a good indicator that we are going to get a player who falls down to us who we have pretty highly rated," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "It could be a top 20 player, could be somebody from our top 25. I feel confident that will happen again this year, and we'll get a guy that we're very excited about on draft day."

The Ravens likely would be excited with Kalil or Blalock, and both would fit the team's successful criteria when drafting at the bottom of the first round.

Like Heap and Reed were in their drafts, Kalil and Blalock are generally rated among the top two at their positions.

Kalil, a three-year starter at USC, is the consensus top center of the draft. He didn't allow a sack or quarterback pressure in his final 26 games and was named the Pacific-10 Conference's top offensive lineman last season.

"He's very smart with a lot of charisma and personality, which is important at the center position," DeCosta said.

Blalock, the Big 12's Offensive Lineman of the Year, is typically rated one of the best guard prospects and among the linemen who play both guard and tackle.

He didn't allow a sack in his final 27 games and started a school-record 51 games. Just as impressive, he scored the highest of all this year's prospects on the Wonderlic test.

"You know he's very intelligent," DeCosta said. "You know he's very strong and explosive."

Many draft experts have linked the Ravens to Staley, but that would go against the Ravens' trend. In their illustrious 11-year draft history, the Ravens have never used a first-round pick on a player from a mid-major program.

Staley is considered the draft's third-best offensive tackle behind Wisconsin's Joe Thomas and Penn State's Levi Brown. A converted tight end, Staley is the best athlete of this tackle class and has few flaws in his game.

There's a chance Staley might not even enter into the discussion because there are four teams that could take him before he reaches the Ravens. The New York Giants (No. 20), Denver Broncos (No. 21), Kansas City Chiefs (No. 23) and New Orleans Saints (No. 27) have expressed interest in him.

If none of their top prospects is available, the Ravens might consider trading out of the first round for the first time in team history. The Ravens have only two picks in the first 133 of the draft and could be interested in gaining more first-day selections.

"We are more likely to trade down than trade up," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "If it happens, it won't be until we're on the clock. We do have a limit as to how far we'll go back, and that will be based on the number of players that we have rated so that we still get one of them."

Besides these linemen, the Ravens also have been linked to Auburn guard Ben Grubbs, Arkansas offensive tackle Tony Ugoh and Tennessee guard-tackle Arron Sears in the first round.

Although depth on the offensive line is the team's biggest concern, it doesn't necessarily mean the Ravens will address that position on the first day of the draft. It was only last year when the Ravens waited until the fifth round to draft Dawan Landry to fill the starting strong safety spot.

That's why it wouldn't be surprising to see the Ravens go elsewhere in the first round. Other possibilities include: Purdue defensive end-outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, Florida defensive end-outside linebacker Jarvis Moss, Arkansas cornerback Chris Houston and Florida State outside linebacker Lawrence Timmons.

"We do not - especially on the first day of the draft or the top four picks - factor in need," Newsome said. "We factor in who's the best player. There have been some occasions where we took a player knowing that we had needs at other positions."

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