2008 Draft "Critical" For Ravens

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While director of college scouting Eric DeCosta may sound like a broken record, he honestly believes that the Ravens' 2008 draft is the most important of his 13-year career in Baltimore.

He affirmed as much in the annual pre-selection press conference Tuesday afternoon.

"I've said this is probably the most critical draft we've ever had, based on our needs on this team, based on the future, our record last year and where we want to get to," said DeCosta, who sat alongside general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh. "I'm very excited."

Admitting to multiple sleepless nights of late, DeCosta's enthusiasm is also tempered with uncertainty.

Holding the eighth pick in the April 26-27 draft, the Ravens are in a precarious position. With no clear-cut separation of talent among the top prospects, just who will be there when Newsome offers his stamp of approval is a muddy guess.

But that doesn't mean this group is rattled. Newsome will simply follow his classic plan of slotting the top eight players and taking whichever one falls, an successful tradition that led to previous top-10 picks, including Jonathan Ogden (fourth, 1996), Peter Boulware (fourth, 1997), Duane Starks (10th, 1998), Chris McAlister (10th, 1999), Jamal Lewis (fifth, 2000), Travis Taylor (10th, 2000) and Terrell Suggs (10th, 2003).

Newsome confirmed that the Ravens' personnel department will put the finishing touches on the draft board by next Thursday.

"I know one thing, and that is we're going to have eight guys," he said. "There will be somebody there for us to pick. If you look at the pictures around this room, it's probably going to be a very good player."

Still, DeCosta's sense of urgency is understandable. There is new head coach John Harbaugh, entering his inaugural campaign in Baltimore. There is a roster needing depth in many key areas.

And, there is the specter of a disappointing 5-11 season that rippled through the franchise with the firing of Brian Billick and a majority of former coaches.

"The wounds from last season are still fresh," said DeCosta. "That was a very trying season for me, personally. We have nine picks and they're very valuable picks. This draft is very strong in comparison to last year's draft.

"I think we can really legitimize the roster for the next four, five, six years with an excellent draft this year."

While DeCosta and Newsome were careful to remain noncommittal on specific players, they did offer their thoughts on two positions of interest.

As Steve McNair works his way back from an injury-marred 2007 campaign, a crop of young quarterbacks could be snapped up early - even before the Ravens' second-round pick at No. 38.

Boston College's Matt Ryan, Louisville's Brian Brohm, Delaware's Joe Flacco and Michigan signal-caller Chad Henne are widely considered as first- or second-round talents.

"I think the top four or five guys all have different strengths, they all have different weakness, but they're all good football players," said DeCosta. "They've all won in college, which is probably the most important thing. They all throw the ball well, and they are all smart guys.

"We think there are seven or eight quarterbacks in this draft that are very good prospects. What we have to do is try to fit them with all the other players in the draft, and that's kind of where the magic is."

The Ravens are also monitoring the progress of Samari Rolle, who missed 10 games in 2007 while battling epilepsy and a shoulder injury, and Chris McAlister, whose knee injury kept him out of eight contests.

Draft analysts have linked the Ravens with various cornerbacks, such as Troy's Leodis McKelvin, Mike Jenkins of USF, Arizona's Antoine Cason and even Tennessee State senior Dominique Rodger-Cromartie.

"I wouldn't say there's a clear-cut No. 1 corner this year in the draft," DeCosta explained. "I think if you polled every single team you'd have a different order, but all four guys are worthy of being first-round picks. I think they all do things very well. They're all very good athletes. I think they will all be starting corners in the NFL."

Whomever is selected, Newsome is confident that his draft board will be able to withstand the unexpected taking place seven spots before his - a far cry from January's East-West Shrine game, when the Ravens didn't have a head coach.

"We do our own work, we don't panic," said the general manager. "We have a plan in place and we stick with the plan. We just go with our eyes. The majority of the guys that are on our staff all started out like Eric did.

"I think they understand the Ravens' way of doing things."

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