Ravens scouting speedy cornerback class

OWINGS MILLS -- It didn't take long for several NFL cornerback prospects to make a speedy impression at the annual scouting combine, just a few ticks past four seconds on a stopwatch. This draft class is highlighted by several defensive backs with outstanding speed.

And the Baltimore Ravens could be in the market for a cornerback with the eighth overall pick of the first round. While the Ravens feature two former Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, both are coming off injury-plagued seasons.

McAlister, 30, is recovering from a knee sprain that didn't require surgery. And Rolle, 31, missed several games with epilepsy before returning to play and hurting his shoulder.

Both starters ended last season on injured reserve. And there isn't much established depth besides nickel back Corey Ivy, who lacks ideal size for the position.

Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib could be a consideration for Baltimore at No. 8.

"I think Talib would be a possibility for the Ravens," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said in a conference call. "I think that Talib would have to be in that discussion."

At 6-foot, 202 pounds, Talib represents a blend of size, speed and playmaking ability.

He returned an interception for a touchdown in the Orange Bowl, flashing an aggressive nature and sound awareness for the resurgent Jayhawks. Talib also tested well, registering a 4.47 time in the 40-yard dash and turning in a 38-inch vertical leap.

With 13 career interceptions, Talib doesn't lack for production or confidence.

"Of course, that's my plan to be the first cornerback to be drafted," Talib told reporters in Indianapolis. "They want interceptions at corner. If you have good hands, it shows you can make plays on defense.

"That matters a great deal. When the ball is in the air, I find a way to get to it."

South Florida cornerback Mike Jenkins is another potential top 10 selection.

At 5-foot-10, 197 pounds, he's regarded as the top cover cornerback.

Last season, he intercepted three passes and recorded 41 tackles. He opted to pull out of the Senior Bowl, but impressed talent evaluators with a 4.38 clocking.

He returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against Cincinnati last year.

However, Jenkins has a reputation for not being much of a hitter. And he has a character issue in his past.

Last spring, he was arrested for misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence after a fight erupted outside a bar. Police officers used a taser on Jenkins.

Following a brief suspension, he earned All-American and All-Big East honors.

Another impressive defensive back is Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the cousin of San Diego Chargers Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie who led the NFL with 10 interceptions last season.

Rodgers-Cromartie excelled at Tennessee State, which was the only school to recruit him after he attended four different high schools in four years.

The 6-foot-1, 184-pounder ran a blistering 4.33 and is the reigning Ohio Valley Conference indoor track champion in the 60-yard dash.

Rodgers-Cromartie had a kidney removed as a newborn, but has been cleared by doctors and insists he hasn't had any health problems.

"Interesting kid, he's a real athletic kid more so than the level he was playing at," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "I thought he stood up to the challenge at the Senior Bowl. Every year, some seem in awe of the situation and some take advantage of it and look like they belong.

"He looked like he belonged. He was physical in the game, which was one of the questions about him."

Troy State cornerback Leodis McKelvin is another highly-regarded prospect.

The 5-10, 190-pounder ran a 4.38 at the RCA Dome.

He also held up well against larger schools, including the University of Florida, Arkansas, Georgia and Oklahoma State, and has electrifying return skills.

McKelvin wouldn't be the first standout to make the leap to the NFL from a small college that has also produced New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora and Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware.

"When you're a small-school kid, there's more pressure on you," Mayock said. "There's a level of comfort with NFL teams when you can sit there and hang your hat on the production coming out of the SEC.

"You can hang your hat on that and feel like your job is safe. You can go out and put yourself on the line for a small-school kid, but it's more difficult."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.


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