Cardinals Target Speedy Slot Receiver

The Cards are taking the proactive approach in retaining their own free agents, but it looks like WR Bryant Johnson will be the one who gets away. Cardinals coaches began to brace for that reality during Senior Bowl week, when they got an up-close look at one of the most dynamic slot receivers in the country.

California wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins (5'11", 187 pounds) is one of the most explosive receivers in the draft. Last season, he totaled 872 receiving yards with a 12.1-yard average. For his career, he's tallied 1,748 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Hawkins was named second-team All-PAC-10 and given the Dink Artal Award for special academic commitment and improvement. Hawkins, who was overshadowed by DeSean Jackson for much of his career, is somewhat of a dark horse in the draft.

"I just want to prove that I can play with the best," he said.

Hawkins has soft hands and explosive speed. He is also elusive and runs well after the catch. The drawbacks are that he is not a great route runner and is rough around the edges. His work ethic has been less than admirable, so he would need to get recommitted.

Hawkins is aware of his perceived shortcomings.

"I think I need to work on every aspect, as far as catching the ball, my mental game…I need to work on everything," he said.

Hawkins went about bolstering his reputation during Senior Bowl week. He shined during the practices and capped off his week with a 36-yard touchdown during the game. His efforts did not go unnoticed by North Team coach Lane Kiffin.

"Lavelle Hawkins has had a big-time week," Kiffin said. "He's really performed well and helped himself out. He's made some dynamic plays downfield on the ball and has shown himself as a true speed receiver who can get downfield and run by guys, but also make the plays when they're there.

"He's made some guys miss. We've got to work on his ball security, right now it's all over the place, but we're really pleased with Lavelle."

Arizona scouts seemed equally pleased with Hawkins' performance as they closely monitored all the receivers in attendance. The Cardinals averaged 254.1 receiving yards per game, ranking fifth in the league. However, they might have to replace the 528 yards contributed by Bryant Johnson last season.

Hawkins could replace those numbers and then some, as he can contribute out of the slot and as a punt returner. In Arizona, he could exploit the single-coverage opportunities provided by playing between Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.

"I think you're going to get a hardnosed player, a guy happy to be there, who's going to be there all year round working out with the team and willing to get better."

If Johnson signs elsewhere and Hawkins falls to the third round of the draft, he may prove too tempting for GM Rod Graves to pass up.

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