OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -If quarterback was the only position of concern for the Baltimore Ravens, their strategy for the NFL draft would be simple: Trade up from No. 8 to make sure Matt Ryan is wearing purple and black this fall.
Even before Steve McNair announced his retirement last week, the Ravens targeted quarterback as a deficiency. In falling from 13-3 in 2006 to 5-11 last season, Baltimore's offense sputtered under the direction of an injured McNair, an inconsistent Kyle Boller and a raw Troy Smith.
There's no guarantee Ryan is the answer, and that's one reason why the Ravens are reluctant to move up to get him. General manager Ozzie Newsome forked over his first-round pick and a second rounder in 2003 to get Boller, whose development has been so slow that Baltimore selected Smith last season and is strongly considering taking another quarterback in the first round Saturday.
But the Ravens are also thin at cornerback, defensive end and safety, and will likely need a new left tackle if Jonathan Ogden limps into retirement after a frustrating 2007 season.
So, when asked last week if might trade up from eighth overall, Newsome replied, ``I think the biggest obstacle for people trading up is what they have to give up to move up into that top five. It's not easy to move up into the top five (or) to the top six without basically giving up the majority of your draft.''
With head coach John Harbaugh taking over for Brian Billick and memories of last season's flop still fresh in everyone's mind, the Ravens perceive this to be a pivotal draft. Newsome has a history of choosing well when provided a top 10 pick, and with three choices in the top 99 overall, he can vastly improve an aging team in desperate need of youthful talent.
``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 Eric DeCosta, Baltimore's director of college scouting. ``I'm very excited. We've all talked, the three of us, about sleepless nights and waking up in the middle of the night.''
The Ravens can only dream of getting Ryan with the No. 8 pick, because several teams ahead of them - most notably Atlanta and Kansas City - could use a franchise quarterback. If the Boston College star is already gone, Baltimore will probably take cornerback Leodis McKelvin of Troy, who provides an added bonus in that he is an excellent kick returner.
If the latter scenario occurs, then Baltimore can still get a quality quarterback later in the draft, someone like Joe Flacco of Delaware, Chad Henne of Michigan, Louisville's Brian Brohm or John David Booty of Southern Cal.
``We think there are seven or eight quarterbacks in this draft that are very good prospects,'' DeCosta said.
If the Ravens take McKelvin, offensive tackle Ryan Clady of Boise State or defensive end Vernon Gholston of Ohio State, they should receive instant results. Ryan, on the other hand, will not provide instant gratification and could spend the entire 2008 season on the sideline.
Baltimore learned two things from drafting Boller: Trading up for a quarterback doesn't always pay off, and it's prudent to wait before throwing him into a game. Boller was thrust into the starting lineup at the outset and didn't have the opportunity to learn from a veteran in front of him on the depth chart.
``I think what it has done is allowed us to look back and see the best way to groom a starting quarterback in this league,'' Newsome said. ``Kyle started from Day One. Was that the right thing to do? I don't know. Right now, I'd probably say no.''
Much of the focus is on the first pick, but it's imperative that Baltimore drafts well in rounds 2-7, too. There are plenty of holes to fill, and the talent in this draft could help fill a void in several areas.
``The wounds from last season are still fresh,'' DeCosta said. ``That was a very trying season for me, personally. This draft is very strong in comparison to last year's draft. We've got nine picks, we hope to have some more at some point possibly, and I think we can really legitimize the roster for the next four, five, six years with an excellent draft this year.''

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