Ravens: More corners you have, the better off you’ll be

With injuries to Webb, Washington, team is in the market for defensive backs

April 16, 2010|By The Baltimore Sun

There is an assumption floating around that if the Ravens were certain that both Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington would be 100 percent healthy by training camp, the franchise wouldn't have to focus on getting a cornerback during the first two days of the draft.

But Eric DeCosta, Ravens director of player personnel, doesn't necessarily view it that way.

"I kind of compare corners to pitchers," DeCosta said. "They're fragile. They can break down. You can never have enough good ones. I'm a Red Sox fan, and they go out and sign a couple good pitchers every year, because guys are going to come down with injuries — hamstrings, back, shoulders, all that kind of stuff. It's the same with corners.

"The more corners you have, the better off you'll be. You have to have them, because the quickest way to get beat is by bad corner play."

Even when Washington was healthy, he and free agent Domonique Foxworth didn't exactly shut down opposing receivers the way the Ravens had hoped, although Foxworth did play well in the second half of the season.

It's clear the Ravens need help at that position if they want to make a run at winning a Super Bowl, especially with coach John Harbaugh indicating at the owners meetings that there is a realistic chance Webb and Washington could begin the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list. That would mean they couldn't play the first six games.

So where will the Ravens target a cornerback in the draft?

The team, obviously, isn't going to tip its hand, but there are several directions it could go. The highest-rated cornerback in the draft, Florida's Joe Haden, will almost certainly be long gone by the time the Ravens pick at No. 25 on Thursday. And there is a good chance Boise State's Kyle Wilson, considered by most scouts to be the second-best corner behind Haden, will be gone as well. But after Wilson, everyone seems to have a different opinion.

"You know, they're all first-round, second-round-type guys, and probably all 32teams have a different ranking," DeCosta said.

Some scouts consider Rutgers corner Devin McCourty a first-round talent, but others think he's more likely to be a second-round pick.

One thing elevating McCourty is his play on special teams. He blocked seven kicks in college and averaged 25.1yards returning kicks. He's also versatile. He played on the inside his first two seasons in college, then moved to the outside for his final two.

"I think being a complete football player [helps me] and not just a corner or a nickel," McCourty said. "Just being able to do everything a coach wants on special teams, too. I'm hoping [special teams] helps me get on a team and do whatever I can just to play."

Alabama's Kareem Jackson is one prospect whose stock has soared since the scouting combine.

"Kareem is a guy that I think a lot of people didn't think would run very well," DeCosta said. "But he ran in the low 4.4s. He's a great technician. Nick Saban is a great defensive backs coach and really puts a lot of stress on his DBs to play a lot of different coverages, a lot of pro-style coverages. [Jackson] also tackles extremely well."

Florida State's Patrick Robinson looked at times like the top cornerback in the country last year, but there are concerns about his consistency.

"Patrick Robinson is probably one of the best athletes at the corner position in the entire draft," DeCosta said. "He's very, very fluid in his hips, he has very good feet, he's a fast guy, and he's got good ball skills. He's not the most physical guy. Kareem is probably more physical, but Robinson probably has better feet."

A number of coaches and general managers expressed the sentiment at the combine this year that the prevalence of spread offenses in college football has made it easier to evaluate cornerbacks because there are often four wide receivers on the field. It's one of the reasons Wilson's stock has risen, with Boise State playing in the pass-happy Western Athletic Conference. But Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome doesn't see it that way.

"I think we still use the same criteria for evaluating a corner regardless of the offense he's playing against," Newsome said. "It's more or less the receiver that he's playing against that we make the evaluation against. The spread offense has hurt some other positions in terms of evaluating, but not corner."

There is always the chance, too, that the Ravens are confident enough in their scouting that they could go after a player from a smaller school, much as they did with Webb, who was drafted in the third round out of Nicholls State.

The Ravens didn't really have their eye on Webb until he tested well at the combine, but the more tape they watched on him, the more they liked him.

"Every once in a while, a guy will come down on our radar screen that maybe we didn't know a whole lot about," DeCosta said. "But it's a challenge. To be a small-school guy and make it in this league is an extremely difficult thing. It happens every year, but it's very, very challenging. There is some luck involved. But from my standpoint, one of the cool things about my job is finding a small-school guy like that."

kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

twitter.com/KVanValkenburg

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