Champs build for future
Ravens select Sharpe's heir apparent, Heap, in first round
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -- Todd Heap, the Baltimore Ravens' top pick in the NFL Draft Saturday, will spend his first pro season learning from one of the finest tight ends in the history of the game.
If all goes as planned, the student will ultimately replace the teacher at one of the key positions in coach Brian Billick's pass-happy offense.
The Super Bowl champions waited more than 4 1/2 hours to take Heap, a 6-foot-4 tight end from Arizona State. The Ravens will exercise a similar amount of patience in bringing along the 31st and final pick of the first round.
Heap will initially serve as a backup to Shannon Sharpe, honing his game behind the Ravens' outstanding 32-year-old tight end. Then, one day, Sharpe will step aside and let Heap make a name for himself.
"What a great opportunity for Todd Heap to come in and be mentored by one of the great tight ends in the game. It's just a great scenario for us, and for him," Billick said.
"Even Shannon understands that there's a finite limit to how long anybody's going to play," Billick said. "This is a perfect place for us to bring in a young guy behind a future Hall of Famer."
The Ravens refused to speculate on the future of veteran Ben Coates, who lined up opposite Sharpe last season. But Billick indicated that Heap would be used on special teams and see limited time with the first-team offense.
Baltimore never had a winning season before its Super Bowl run, so picking late in the first round was a new experience. As the other teams made their selections, the Ravens began to lean toward choosing a tight end. When the time came, vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome decided on Heap over Alge Crumpler of North Carolina.
Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end, gave the edge to Heap because of his superior speed.
"Now we've got another weapon that can get downfield and be a factor," Newsome said. "Todd has shown the ability to make plays, and I think that's what separated him. But it wasn't by that much. We would have been very happy to be sitting here and have Crumpler as our tight end."
Heap left Arizona State after a junior season in which he caught 48 passes for 644 yards and three touchdowns. In three seasons he set a school record for catches by a tight end, compiling 88 receptions for 1,685 yards and 10 TDs.
Those numbers are impressive, but Heap expects to sharpen his game through instruction from Sharpe, who has gathered three Super Bowl rings during his NFL 11 seasons.
"You can't ask for anything better than learning from one of the best tight ends ever," Heap said. "Hopefully I learn from Shannon and pattern myself after him."
The Ravens entered the draft looking to add depth on the offensive line, at tight end and in the defensive backfield. Heap was the highest-rated player on the board at No. 31, so Newsome grabbed him.
Billick expects Heap to contribute in 2001, one way or another.
"Long-term, this is a good pick. But he can get 250-300 snaps as a backup from the two-tight end formation," Billick said. "Plus, a tight end with his athleticism ought to have a presence on special teams in one way or another."
Every one of the Ravens' first-round picks from 1996 through last year played a key role in Baltimore's run to the Super Bowl. Heap added his name to an impressive list of first-round choices that includes Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Jamie Sharper, Duane Starks, Chris McAlister, Jamal Lewis and Travis Taylor.
"Ozzie Newsome and [director of scouting] Phil Savage have once again scored," owner Art Modell said. "We have yet to have even close to a failure in the first round in five years."