Secondary players a primary concern

Evaluating and ranking cornerbacks no easy task

Ravens draft

April 22, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN REPORTER

If the Ravens take a quarterback with the No. 8 pick, they'll undoubtedly draft Matt Ryan from Boston College.

When it comes to the Ravens' other biggest need in the draft, the decision is not that simple.

This year's cornerback class -- especially the top of it -- is one of the most difficult groups to dissect for NFL teams.

It's debatable who is the top cornerback in the draft. It's even more debatable whether any of the corners deserve to be taken in the top 10.

"We spent more time talking about corners in the meetings than probably any other position because it is a tough group to kind of get a feel for," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "Hopefully by [Saturday], we'll be able to figure that question out."

The Ravens are looking to take a young cornerback because both of their starters, Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, are older than 30 and coming off injury-marred seasons.

The top three cornerbacks appear to be Troy's Leodis McKelvin, Tennessee State's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Kansas' Aqib Talib.

The problem is McKelvin and Rodgers-Cromartie come from small schools, and Talib comes with some baggage.

"I think they all do things very well," DeCosta said. "They're all very good athletes. I think they will all be starting corners in the NFL."

McKelvin quickly moved up the draft board with a great showing in Senior Bowl practices and postseason workouts.

With outstanding speed, he has the ability to run with any receiver as well as make a mark as a returner (he led the nation with three punt returns for touchdowns as a senior). But McKelvin, who lacks size at 5 feet 11, failed to come up with several interceptions that were in his grasp.

"He can play the ball, but he doesn't have great hands," DeCosta said. "With that return ability, he's a double-edged sword."

Rodgers-Cromartie, like his cousin, is known for making plays when he is around the ball. The San Diego Chargers' Antonio Cromartie led the NFL in interceptions last season.

But Rodgers-Cromartie isn't physical in helping to stop the run -- he's 182 pounds -- and he played against the likes of Alabama A&M, Samford and Austin Peay.

"I think he'll be high interceptor in the NFL," DeCosta said. "But the small-school background is a little bit of a concern. That history with small-school corners is not great, particularly where [in the draft] you have to take this guy to get him. He's a very intriguing guy with a lot of potential and some things to work out."

Talib has the tools to be a top-notch corner in the NFL. He has size, instincts and confidence that teams look for at this position.

But Talib's draft status took a hit when he acknowledged in interviews at the NFL combine in February that he tested positive for marijuana three times while at Kansas.

"Anytime we get information like that, we use it," DeCosta said. "It's never a good thing."

How much will this hurt Talib on draft day?

"We have seen it impact other players' draft positions," DeCosta said.

Cornerbacks haven't been the usual hot commodities in the past two drafts.

In 2006, the first cornerback wasn't taken until the 15th pick, when the St. Louis Rams drafted Tye Hill. Last year, the first one wasn't selected until the 14th pick, when the New York Jets selected Darrelle Revis.

It's unknown whether any of this year's cornerbacks will go higher.

In this year's top 10, the Jets (No. 6), New England Patriots (No. 7), Ravens (No. 8) and New Orleans Saints (No. 10) could be interested in taking one.

It seems the Ravens are not alone in trying to figure out who is the clear-cut top cornerback in the draft.

"Do we have a corner ranked No. 1 on our board? Yes, we do," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "But could one guy be ranked at the top on our board and he's only fourth on someone else's board? That could be true, too."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

CORNER MARKET

Leodis McKelvin

College: Troy

The top cornerbacks in the draft: Size: 5-11, 190

2007 stats: Returned three punts for touchdowns, made two interceptions and broke up nine passes. His eight career kick returns for touchdowns (seven punts, one kickoff) tied the NCAA Division I-A record.

Plus: Good speed, feet and instincts. Can make instant impact as a returner.

Minus: Failed to make several interceptions because of bad hands. Comes from small Division I school.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

College: Tennessee State

Size: 6-2, 182

2007 stats: Deflected 11 passes and picked off two others, returning both interceptions for touchdowns.

Plus: Prototypical corner with great speed, height and playmaking ability. Proved he could play against big-time college stars at Senior Bowl.

Minus: Rarely challenged in Division I-AA. Can play recklessly, which has led to costly penalties.

Aqib Talib

College: Kansas

Size: 6-1, 202

2007 stats: Had 13 pass deflections and five interceptions, returning two for touchdowns.

Plus: Has the confidence to be a top corner in the NFL. Shows great awareness and body control.

Minus: Lacks great speed. Inconsistent as a senior. Has character issues.

Mike Jenkins

College: South Florida

Size: 6-0, 200

2007 stats: Intercepted three passes and deflected 12 others.

Plus: Physical defender who can re-route receivers in press coverage. Uses quick feet to help him recover when receivers get behind him.

Minus: Was arrested on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct during 2007 spring camp. Hesitates at times in coverage.

Brandon Flowers

College: Virginia Tech

Size: 5-10, 189

2007 stats: Made five interceptions and knocked down nine other passes.

Plus: Plays faster than his timed runs. Smart, instinctive defender who is aggressive in run support.

Minus: Will bite on double moves and allow receivers to get behind him. Needs to play under control and cut down on his missed tackles.

JAMISON HENSLEY

NFL DRAFT

When: Saturday, 3 p.m., rounds 1-2; Sunday, 10 a.m.; rounds 3-7.

Where: Radio City Music Hall, New York

TV: NFL Network, ESPN and ESPN2

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