Baltimore Ravens Draft Preview: Matt Ryan Is Clear Target in First Round

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Baltimore Ravens Draft Preview: Matt Ryan Is Clear Target in First Round

All signs point towards the Ravens selecting Boston College QB Matt Ryan with the 8th pick in the 1st round, assuming the consensus #1 QB prospect is still on the board.  

Possessing off-the-chart intangibles (intangibles inherently can’t be measured with charts anyways though, right?), a solid arm, and All-ACC pedigree, Ryan appears to be the answer to the franchise’s eternal quest to find a franchise quarterback. 

Despite his fantastic senior season (59.3% passes completed, 4,507 yards, and 31 touchdowns), some draft experts doubt Ryan’s ability to develop into an elite player.

The most glaring issue is Ryan’s tendency to throw interceptions, as evidenced by the 19 he tossed last season.

The high total is somewhat deceptive, says NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock.  After studying film of all 19 INTs Mayock declared he was “not even a bit” troubled by the rash of turnovers. 

Instead, Mayock fingers Ryan’s suspect receiving corps.

“The reason is he is trying to make a play.  He doesn’t have wideouts who can uncover from a decent corner,” Mayock contends.                                                                                                                                 
Baltimore coveted Ryan long before QB Steve McNair’s surprise retirement on April 17, but with other glaring needs and Ryan previously projected to be drafted in the top five, the prospect of the BC signal-caller wearing purple and black seemed unlikely. 

The Dolphins (#1), Falcons (#3), and Chiefs (#5) all were considered interested in Ryan.   However, Ryan’s stock has fallen in the eyes of some teams picking before the Ravens and they seem to be looking in different directions.

Miami has been in serious contract talks with OT Jake Long.  The Falcons now seem enamored with DT Glenn Dorsey and the Chiefs recent shopping of DE Jared Allen makes DE Vernon Gholston a more logical pick for them. 

A bigger hurdle for the Ravens snatching Ryan is a potential move by the Carolina Panthers, who hold the #13 pick and are also desperate for a franchise quarterback.

Moving up from #13 to #7 would be quite pricy for Carolina, though.  According to the Trade Value Chart posted on nfldraftcountdown.com, such a transaction would require the Panthers giving up, in addition to the #13 pick, either its 2nd round pick or 3rd and 4th round selections. 

In addition to decreasing interest in Ryan from other teams, the certainty of the Ravens selecting Ryan increased with GM Ozzie Newsome’s comments following the quarterback’s press conference.

"This (McNair’s retirement) will not impact our decision in the draft, not one iota," said Newsome.

If one takes Newsome at his word, the only logical conclusion from this statement is that the Ravens decided to select a QB in the first round 2008 draft before McNair’s announcement, since his departure certainly highlights the team’s need for one. 

So, it certainly seems that ESPN’s John Clayton will be correct with his claim that that there is “no way” the Ravens would pass on Ryan at #8. 

With the draft about as predictable as one of Kyle Boller’s passes, however, there is a good chance that the Ravens will be forced to trade up for Ryan or watch him don the hat of another team.

The Ravens are unlikely to trade up for the Chiefs #5 pick or the Jets #6 pick because the team has multiple needs (QB, CB, OT, LB), and the move would be quite costly (the #8 pick, a 2nd rounder, and a 5th round pick). Instead, Newsome and the Ravens will sit and wait that Ryan falls.

But what if Ryan is giving interviews for ESPN in his new team’s jersey by the time the Ravens are on the clock?

Four players – Troy CB Leodis McKelvin, Kansas CB Aqib Talib, Boise State OT Ryan Clady, and USC DL Sedrick Ellis are the favorites to be Baltimore’s consolation prize.

McKelvin and Talib fill the obvious need for a young CB who can play nickleback this season and step in for Samari Rolle in the near future.  Both CBs have visited the Ravens’ headquarters and are considered virtually equal by many draft experts.  Rumor has it that the team prefers McKelvin despite traditionally avoiding small-school players. 

Clady, widely considered the second-best OT in the draft behind Michigan’s Jake Long, would also make sense considering the almost-certain retirement of Jonathan Ogden. 

The team’s confidence in young tackles Marshal Yanda and Jared Gaither will dictate its decision on Clady.  If Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh believe the duo can fill Ogden’s shoes, the Ravens will pass on him.

Ellis is the real wild card in predicting the Ravens draft. 

There is no doubting Ellis’ talent.  The Ravens director of college scouting, Eric DeCosta, recently called him a “top-three pick” in other draft years.  Previous projections had him being drafted ahead of LSU DT Glenn Dorsey, who is now closely linked to the Falcons at #3.

The question is whether the Ravens should draft Ellis despite already possessing one of the NFL’s stoutest defensive lines, anchored by Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg, and Trevor Pryce.

Improving the D-line would be a clear luxury; a tough course of action for a 5-11 team with gaping holes at QB and CB to take.

However, the team has historically made its first-round picks based on value, not need.

For example, the Ravens passed on star RB Lawrence Phillips and selected Ogden with the fourth pick in the 1996 draft despite needing a running back.  No one regrets that decision.

The brilliance of value-picking was most recently demonstrated in the Minnesota Vikings selection of RB Adrain Peterson.  The Vikings picked Peterson #7 overall last year despite already having a capable RB in Chester Taylor.  Peterson went on to rush for 1,341 yards, score 12 TDs, and set the NFL single-game rushing record. 

With the Peterson example so fresh in their minds, passing on Ellis would be hard for the Ravens brass to do unless Ryan was still around.

Of course, disregard the preceding paragraphs about backup plans for Ryan if Gholston, RB Darren McFadden, Jake Long, Dorsey, or DE Chris Long were to somehow available at #8. 

All are expected to be drafted by the time the Ravens pick, but just ask Brady Quinn or Aaron Rodgers about the certainty of mock draft projections.

The direction of the Ravens’ second round pick is contingent on its first selection.

The team is likely to fill its needs at QB and CB in the first three rounds, and many pundits predict within the first two.

If Ryan falls to them in the first, the team will look at CBs such as Patrick Lee out of Auburn, Tracy Porter from Indiana, Penn State’s Justin King, and Terrell Thomas from USC. 

If the Ravens pick McKelvin, Talib, Clady, or Ellis, however, they will almost certainly target a QB in the second round.

After Ryan, though, the talent level of QB prospects dramatically drops while the questions rise. 

Delaware’s Joe Flacco, with his 6’6” frame and rocket right arm, has tantalizing potential.  Despite his upside, concerns about him making the leap from former I-AA Delaware to the NFL abound. 

Brian Brohm from Louisville, Chad Henne from Michigan, and John David Booty of USC round out the second tier of QBs.  Each struggled with consistency during his collegiate career and none are considered sure-fire prospects. 

The severe drop off from Ryan and the other QBs provides even more incentive for Baltimore to pursue the BC signal-caller in the first round.  Newsome knows he can ill-afford to whiff on another potential franchise QB after watching 2003 first-rounder Kyle Boller fail to develop.  Quite simply, Ravens fans would revolt.

Predicting specific picks after the first two rounds is a futile endeavor, but it’s certain the Ravens will spend the rest of the draft filling needs on its aging roster.

They will likely spend a mid-round pick on an OT, hedging their bet that Yanda and/or Gaither will pan out. 

The team will probably pick an inside linebacker as late-round insurance for MLB Ray Lewis, and might consider a project along the lines of last year’s selection of QB Troy Smith. 

With the NFL draft, the only certainty is uncertainty, especially in drafts such as this one which lack a clear top pick.  Tune into ESPN at 3pm on Saturday to watch the drama unfold. 

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