The prize at the center of the card table is Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan.
Of all the teams with a top 10 selection in this month’s draft, the Ravens are considered the biggest lock to pounce on Ryan if he’s still there when they’re on the clock with the eighth overall pick.
Along with the Miami Dolphins, who hold the top overall pick, Atlanta Falcons (No. 3) and the Kansas City Chiefs (No. 5), the Ravens have conducted a private workout for Ryan.
"Baltimore is pretty obvious: If he’s there at eight, you’ll jump at the chance," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said during a conference call. "You have to wait and see if you’re Baltimore and Kansas City. I’d say every one of those teams is interested in Matt Ryan.
"I think that internally they’ve made that decision that if he’s there, they’re going to take him. Kansas City’s not going to make that public and Atlanta’s not going to make that public. At worse, he’ll go eighth to Baltimore."
In the Dolphins’ case, they’re reportedly leaning toward either drafting Virginia defensive end Chris Long, Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long or Ryan.
Ryan is a big consideration for Miami. Remember, Dolphins executive Bill Parcells once drafted Drew Bledsoe with the top overall pick when he was with the New England Patriots.
Miami picked BYU quarterback John Beck in the second round last year, but it was under a different leadership regime.
Ultimately, it will come down to how much or how little confidence the Dolphins have in Beck, who struggled mightily as a rookie last season. The Dolphins also acquired veteran Josh McNown during the offseason.
"The key for Matt Ryan is how much they like John Beck, and that’s what’s hard to tell," Kiper said. "If you don’t take Matt Ryan as quarterback, then you don’t take another quarterback. Why take a quarterback when you’ve got John Beck?"
Meanwhile, the Falcons are encouraged about how former Ravens starter Chris Redman played at the end of last season. However, he’s not viewed as the long-term answer for a team that’s still reeling from Michael Vick’s imprisonment on federal dog fighting charges.
"Ryan’s an outstanding player," Falcons coach Mike Smith said at the NFL owners’ meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., last week. "He comes as advertised."
Kansas City is regarded as a wild card. There’s already heavy speculation that general manager Carl Peterson could wind up shopping the pick in trade scenarios.
The Chiefs have Brodie Croyle under contract, but it’s unclear how firm their commitment is to him.
"The quarterback position is the key position in our league," Chiefs coach Herm Edwards said last week. "When you draft one that high, you know you’re going to have to give the guy the ball and say, ‘Go play.’
Scouts grade Ryan highly for size, pocket presence, accuracy, arm strength and intangibles.
The major knock on Ryan is a tendency to force the football into tight coverage while trying to make big plays. An unwillingness to check down more often and a group of receivers that dropped a lot of passes led to his 19 interceptions last season.
Kiper compared Ryan favorably to NFL quarterbacks Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers.
"Those three quarterbacks, if he had been blended into those, there are a lot of similarities," Kiper said. "And two of those quarterbacks have already won Super Bowls. I think that’s why he’s the No. 1 quarterback. Where he ends up right now is anyone’s guess."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said it was likely that Baltimore would draft a quarterback and praised Ryan, but said what the team is planning to do is "top secret."
"I do know that Matt Ryan is going to be a really good quarterback in the NFL," Harbaugh said.
The Ravens have solid options beyond Ryan since it’s regarded as a strong quarterback draft that also features Louisville’s Brian Brohm, Delaware’s Joe Flacco and Michigan’s Chad Henne.
Baltimore has already put Flacco through a private workout and is scheduled to host all three quarterbacks for visits this month.
When it comes to the draft, though, it’s hard to ascertain what teams’ true opinions or intentions are.
"Too much is at stake for accurate information to get out," Kiper said. "I talk to the friends I’ve had for 25 years in the league and they won’t lie to you. You have to trust your sources. It’s always a juggle on what you’re going to say and what you’re going to do."
NOTE: Exclusive-rights free agent defensive tackle J’Vonne Parker re-signed with Baltimore.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.