Ravens' picks have a running theme

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens' mantra for this year's draft was to improve the offensive line as well as stick to a certain line of thinking.

The Ravens once again picked the best players at their positions and came away with the draft's best guard (Ben Grubbs), returner (Yamon Figurs) and fullback (Le'Ron McClain).

Those three players represented almost half of a solid -- albeit not scintillating -- Ravens draft class.

"The draft doesn't have to be that hard," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "Sometimes you can outthink yourself."

By making the safe pick, the Ravens might have picked up two starters and two significant contributors for this season.

Grubbs, their first pick, could beat out Keydrick Vincent for the starting right guard job. McClain, a fourth-round pick, is expected to be the lead blocker for Willis McGahee.

Another impact player could be Figurs, a third-round pick who was the fastest player at the NFL combine. He will have a shot at supplanting B.J. Sams as the return specialist.

Antwan Barnes, a fourth-round pick who set Florida International's school record with 23 sacks, could become a situational pass rusher. His presence could lessen the blow of losing Adalius Thomas in free agency.

"I think we'll look back on this draft three or four years from now," general manager Ozzie Newsome said, "and see a bunch of players that are going to be major contributors on a team that was 13-3 and hopefully has positioned itself to go deep into the playoffs next year."

The Ravens' biggest trend continues to be upgrading the offensive line.

With Grubbs and Marshall Yanda (a third-round pick), the Ravens have now used four of their past nine first-day draft picks on offensive linemen. In comparison, the Ravens' offensive line for the 2001 Super Bowl had only one starter (left tackle Jonathan Ogden) drafted in the first three rounds.

"The group that we've been able to bring in over the last three years, these guys can play more than one position, they're light on their feet, they're tough and they're smart," DeCosta said. "They should be pretty good this year, and I would think even better next year."

This influx of new linemen, the addition of a new fullback in McClain and the trade for McGahee represent an active approach to improve a sagging running game.

"With the type of back that we have and the type of offensive linemen we have, I think there is a marriage there," Newsome said. "We got some athletic guys that can get out in space and get to the second level. Now, we have Willis and his ability to attack the perimeter of the defense."

Outside of drafting quarterback Troy Smith in the fifth round, the Ravens didn't add a marquee name through the draft because they were somewhat limited. Not only did they pick at the bottom of nearly every round, but the Ravens also lost picks in the third and fourth rounds because of trades for McGahee and quarterback Steve McNair.

When you factor those offensive starters into this year's draft, the Ravens were extremely pleased with this weekend's results.

"We did the best we could given the circumstances," DeCosta said. "I think we got better today."


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