Always In Hot Pursuit

Desire For Corner Depth Might Affect How Ravens Pick

Nfl Draft 2009 / Two Days To Go

April 23, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Cornerback has undergone more change than any other position on the Ravens, but their offseason restocking of the secondary might not be complete.

The Ravens are considering taking a cornerback in the early rounds of the NFL draft, and they are intrigued by Illinois' Vontae Davis in the first round and Utah's Sean Smith in the second.

"I think corners are like pitchers in baseball - you can never have enough," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel. "You never want to get beat because your corners aren't good enough to play or not healthy. So, having that depth at that position is just critical."

There always seems to be a run on cornerbacks in the first round - and for good reason. In the past five Pro Bowls, 15 of the 20 starters at cornerback were selected in the first round.

The Ravens - and the rest of the NFL - do not have a good track record with second-tier cornerbacks. Of the four cornerbacks taken by the Ravens outside the first round (DeRon Jenkins, Gary Baxter, David Pittman and Derrick Martin), only Baxter turned out to be a capable starter.

That's why so many teams grab cornerbacks in the first round.

"Corners are always tough to find," said Joe Hortiz, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "The top ones go early and often. By the end of the first couple of rounds, you're looking for a guy with traits."

The draft's consensus top cornerback, Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins, is expected to be taken long before the Ravens' 26th overall pick.

The other cornerbacks who could be available to the Ravens are: Davis, Connecticut's Darius Butler, Wake Forest's Alphonso Smith and Vanderbilt's D.J. Moore.

"They are all good players; they are all different," DeCosta said. "There's probably going to be four or five corners drafted in the first round. So, we're just going to sort it out. There are some guys we like in the first round."

Davis, whose older brother Vernon played at the University of Maryland, could be the wild card of this cornerback class. He has the talent to become a Pro Bowl player, but his lack of discipline (he was demoted twice from the starting lineup at Illinois) could curb his potential.

"He is probably the most gifted guy" among cornerbacks, DeCosta said. "He is a little bit inconsistent. He has some really good tape and some tape that isn't quite as good. He's a work in progress with a lot of potential."

Another cornerback who could tempt teams is Butler, a cousin of Ravens running back Willis McGahee. Butler is known for his man coverage and excelled in one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl.

"He's a silky-smooth athlete," DeCosta said. "He has tremendous ball skills. He's not as big as Jenkins and Davis. He's a little thinner in his legs and lower body. But he might be the best cover guy in the draft."

Beyond the first round, these are the other cornerbacks who have drawn interest from the Ravens: Sean Smith (second-round prospect), Maryland's Kevin Barnes (middle rounds), Oregon State's Brandon Hughes (middle to late rounds), Nicholls State's Lardarius Webb (middle to late rounds) and St. Paul's Greg Toler (late round).

Sean Smith is considered a solid fit for the Ravens' press coverage. At 6 feet 3, Smith is the tallest defensive back in the draft and can use his long arms to disrupt receivers coming off the line.

"If they're outstanding cover-2 prospects, Indy and Tampa are going to love them more than the Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers," Hortiz said. "We need guys that can run downfield with players. So cover-2 corners might get knocked a little bit regardless whether they're a good football player or not. They just might not be a good fit."

The draft could further reshape the Ravens' cornerback group. This offseason, the Ravens added Domonique Foxworth (Maryland) and Chris Carr, released Chris McAlister and re-signed Samari Rolle.

But the Ravens want to solidify their defenders because they go against quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer twice a season.

"Corner is a position where you can never have enough talent," DeCosta said. "If we have the opportunity to select a guy that we think is a 'can't miss' prospect at corner [in the first round], we would do that."

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