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There is a lot of suspense surrounding the Ravens' first-round pick in the 2008 draft. Will it be a cornerback or an offensive tackle?

Or will general manager Ozzie Newsome stick to his philosophy of taking the best player available?

The second round has even more excitement because the Ravens will probably select a quarterback from among Louisville's Brian Brohm, Delaware's Joe Flacco and Michigan's Chad Henne.

"Kyle Boller set them back, what, how long has he been with the team, five years?" asked ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. "It was his job, then he lost it. Then they have to bring in Steve McNair, and then he gets hurt, and then they bring in a Troy Smith.

"It's going to be intriguing as to which quarterback they walk away with in the second round," Kiper said.

"It's going to be a quarterback, and it's going to set the tone for the next couple of years, good or bad, just like the selection of Boller."

The top priority for the Ravens appears to be cornerback, but Newsome isn't sure one is worthy of the Ravens' No. 8 overall pick. For the Ravens, that player would have to be Chris McAlister-like.

There aren't any available. There are some who are close, such as South Florida's Mike Jenkins, Troy's Leodis McKelvin (Newsome really likes this kid) and Tennessee State's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

The Ravens might also be in the market for a left offensive tackle with veteran Jonathan Ogden still straddling the fence about retirement.

Kiper said there are only two "natural" left tackles available in Michigan's Jake Long and Boise State's Ryan Clady.

But Kiper isn't sure either of them will be left on the draft board by the time the Ravens pick in the first round.

"If you look at the recent history of left tackles taken really high in the draft, there have been some really good ones like Ogden, Orlando Pace, Walter Jones, Tony Boselli," Kiper said. "Those guys have done tremendously well.

"I think the Ravens are right there off the fringe at No. 8. There could be some guy that drops down from that top seven to them, so you just have to wait and see. But they might have to weigh if a cornerback is worth the No. 8 pick. But Matt Ryan won't drop down to them. He's not going to fall like Brady Quinn a year ago."

Ryan, of Boston College, is generally considered the best quarterback in the draft.

He's a franchise player, one who will probably go to Atlanta or Kansas City, both drafting ahead of the Ravens.

After Ryan, there is a drop-off in talent but certainly not a shortage of good quarterbacks remaining, which is why the Ravens have attended the workouts of Flacco and Brohm.

The current Ravens quarterback situation is shaky at best. The free-agent market isn't loaded with good quarterbacks, and even if it were, the Ravens couldn't sign one because salary cap issues handcuff them.

McNair, 35, started just six games last season because of injuries.

Boller has had five years to become the regular starter but hasn't had consistent success.

Smith showed some promise at the end of last season as a rookie, but not enough to earn the starting job. And, let's not forget, he was a fifth-round draft pick last season.

Fans in Baltimore want a quarterback they can call their own. After numerous failures, the Ravens could have one more chance to right a long-standing wrong.

Team officials are still meeting and comparing notes.

On one side is Brohm, who is as mechanically sound as any quarterback in the draft. He has good accuracy, an efficient release and great field vision. He also has toughness.

In another corner is Henne. He is big, strong and has good zip on all his passes. He studies the game, but last season, I saw him crumble several times under pressure. He didn't appear to be able to carry a team.

Flacco can. His biggest problem is that he comes from Delaware, not Michigan or Boston College.

He is as accurate as Brohm, and certainly as tough. He reads the field well and makes good decisions.

He isn't extremely mobile but can make throws on the run. He rarely gets sacked because he has good pocket presence.

The Ravens might have a tough decision to make, one that could have a tremendous impact on this franchise. Since moving here from Cleveland in 1995, the Ravens have been one of the league's best at drafting players, especially in the middle to late rounds.

But this time, the suspense again will come in the early rounds, though maybe more in the second than the first.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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