Passing need

The Baltimore Sun

When and where the Ravens grab a quarterback in the 2008 NFL draft is now a matter of heightened urgency - if not to the team, then at least to the fans.

Whom they get, having lost Steve McNair to retirement, will be a product of the poker game the draft has become.

Several pundits around the country have Matt Ryan - easily the most polished quarterback in this year's lottery - falling to the Ravens with the eighth pick, despite the fact at least three teams picking ahead of the Ravens need help at that position.

As ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said recently, it would take a "perfect storm" of events to deliver the former Boston College ace to Baltimore. But on draft day, anything is possible.

Here's a scenario:

The Miami Dolphins take one of the Longs - offensive tackle Jake of Michigan or defensive end Chris of Virginia - with the first pick and the St. Louis Rams take the other Long with the second.

At No. 3, the Atlanta Falcons need a quarterback to remove the odor from the Michael Vick mess, but a new front office might deem it better to start with run-stuffing defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey of LSU. After the Oakland Raiders take playmaking running back Darren McFadden of Arkansas, the Ravens have to sweat out two more quarterback-needy teams.

The Kansas City Chiefs, picking fifth, want Jake Long. Without him, they might trade down. The New York Jets could use the sixth pick on Ryan, but have other pressing needs. The New England Patriots are not in the market for a quarterback at No. 7, but might be in the mood for a trade.

And if Ryan falls all the way to the Ravens, it will be a win-win situation, according to NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, who describes Ryan as a "true franchise quarterback."

"Knowing Matt pretty well, I'd love to see him go to Baltimore," Mayock said on a conference call this week. "Baltimore's a better team [than the teams picking earlier] and had a down year. They're closer to being good."

Mayock was only slightly hesitant to compare Ryan with Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts.

"From an emotional toughness mind-set, he reminds me of Peyton Manning," Mayock said. "If he gets beaten up a little as a rookie, it's just going to make him better. Matt's the kind of kid who can take a beating, learn from it and move on."

Kiper, meanwhile, likens the 6-foot-4 1/2 Ryan to members of the gilded 2004 quarterback class that included Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger - both of whom have won Super Bowls - and Philip Rivers.

"He's very similar in the way he goes about his business," Kiper said.

What that means for the Ravens is anyone's guess. Another team they have to watch is the Carolina Panthers, who hold the 13th pick but might be interested in trading up to get Ryan.

Because Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has said he wants to get more picks, not fewer, it's unlikely he'd forfeit those picks to move up.

Which might leave him looking at the second tier of what is viewed as a pedestrian quarterback class. Some team likely will chase Delaware's Joe Flacco into the bottom of the first round ahead of the Ravens' 38th overall pick.

In that case, they could wind up with one of the next three quarterbacks - Louisville's Brian Brohm, Michigan's Chad Henne or Southern California's John David Booty.

If they waited until their third-round pick (No. 99 overall) or the fourth round (106), they probably could get Tennessee's Erik Ainge, San Diego's Josh Johnson or Kentucky's Andre Woodson.

Interestingly, Johnson played for former Ravens quarterback Jim Harbaugh - brother of Ravens coach John - at San Diego. Last season, against lesser competition, Johnson threw 43 touchdown passes and only one interception. But he's a project and wouldn't be ready to step in like Ryan if needed.

There is at least one nagging issue with Ryan. In 43 games at Boston College, he threw 37 interceptions. He addressed the subject with reporters at the NFL scouting combine in February.

"As a quarterback, you never want to turn the ball over," he said. "We did that a good amount this year, but when you're aggressive with the ball, sometimes mistakes are going to happen.

"Ultimately, I think wins are the most significant stat, but no question, you've got to turn the ball over less if you want to be a successful quarterback in the NFL."

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