Ravens look to get bigger at cornerback in NFL draft

Larger defensive backs needed to combat tall, physical wide receivers

February 27, 2011|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

INDIANAPOLIS — Finding a big, physical cornerback is considered one of the Ravens' top needs. After watching the first round of wide receivers get measured at the NFL scouting combine — 16 of 23 were over 6 feet — it has almost become a necessity.

"It seems like the receivers are getting bigger," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel. "Smaller corners typically will have a disadvantage going against bigger receivers. If you can get bigger, those guys can be a little more durable and physical. There aren't many of those guys out there. If you do, you get a guy like Champ Bailey or Chris McAlister or Charles Woodson."

Luckily for the Ravens, this cornerback class uncharacteristically features some quality players with size. Texas' Aaron Williams, Colorado's Jimmy Smith and Virginia's Ras-I Dowling are among the best cover men in college, and all are over 6 feet 1.

The decision for the Ravens is whether any of them are first-round talents. Some draft experts say there's not a first-round cornerback beyond the top two (LSU's Patrick Peterson and Nebraska's Prince Amukamara).

"The guy that I think could be that third corner is Aaron Williams," said Mike Mayock, the NFL Network draft analyst. "What I am trying to figure out in my head is [whether] he is the third corner or the first free safety. If I drafted him, I draft him as a corner first. He reminds me a little bit of Woodson as far as his skill set. He's not as consistent as I would like, but he's an interesting guy."

Cornerback is likely among the Ravens' priorities in this draft. Their starters from last season, Josh Wilson and Chris Carr, are expected to become unrestricted free agents. Domonique Foxworth, a starter in 2009, is coming off knee surgery that sidelined him all of last season, and nickel back Lardarius Webb is a season removed from the same operation.

All four of those cornerbacks are under 6 feet tall, and none weighs more than 192 pounds. Adding some size would allow the Ravens to play more press coverage and match up better with physical receivers.

"I think I want to be a big, fast, tough, disciplined football team," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Sometimes you can't have everything. A guy like Josh Wilson, who I love, he plays bigger than his size."

Here's look at the top cornerbacks who could fill the Ravens' need for size:

Jimmy Smith, Colorado. His confidence matches his size (6-2, 211 pounds). Smith's build resembles McAlister's, and he has the same brashness.

In talking about his strengths, Smith rattled off his size, speed and ball skills. "I'm a shutdown corner," he said.

A reporter mentioned the comparisons to Nnamdi Asomugha, one of the elite NFL corners, and Smith replied, "I think I have better ball skills than he does."

There is the question of Smith's playmaking ability. The potential first-round pick didn't have an interception in 2010.

"I had one opportunity for an interception — a one-handed interception — and I dropped it," Smith said. "After that, I had like three passes thrown my way for the rest of the season."

Aaron Williams, Texas. At 6-1, 195 pounds, Williams is smart, instinctive and a hard hitter. The first-round prospect even missed a game last season with a concussion caused by a collision with a teammate.

Williams finished his college career with 106 tackles (including 12 for losses), four interceptions, three sacks, six forced fumbles and five blocked punts.

There is concern that he isn't over doesn't weigh more than 200 pounds, which has led some to project him as a safety.

"I don't see myself playing safety," Williams said. "But whatever team picks me up and need me to play safety, I'm locked in right away."

Ras-I Dowling, Virginia. In talking to reporters, Dowling didn't exude confidence. But the 6-2, 198-pound defender has the size and statistics.

In his first three seasons, he totaled eight interceptions and 28 pass breakups. What has moved him into the second round is a painful senior season, during which hamstring, knee and ankle injuries limited him to five games.

"The kid had a pretty high grade going in [to his senior season]," Mayock said. "He's a big, good-looking kid. Everybody's frustrated that they won't be able to see much senior tape."

Brandon Harris, Miami. It was disappointing Sunday when Harris measured 5-9 at the combine because teams don't regularly draft defenders that short in the first round. But his physical style and mental toughness put him among the top four cornerbacks in the draft.

"It won't be a hindrance to me at all," Harris said of his size. "I'm a very competitive person. I get on the edge when people start talking about things like, 'You're not the biggest guy, how are you going to cover those big receivers?' That's part of the game. I've faced bigger receivers all of my life. I've always been considered a smaller player. But year in and year out, I've been productive at my position."



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