Cornerbacks on Ravens' radar

OWINGS MILLS -- Leodis McKelvin stared across the line of scrimmage at the imposing wide receiver, and immediately began shadowing one of the nation's best football players all over the field. McKelvin absolutely shut down Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson two years ago, holding the future Detroit Lions' second overall pick to a mere two catches for nine yards.

"I figured if he could go that high, I could definitely play in the league," McKelvin recounted at the NFL scouting combine. "I love challenges."

Now, McKelvin is no longer an anonymous Troy University player. Ranked as the top cornerback by multiple teams because of his speed, competitiveness and uncommon return skills, he's regarded as a prime candidate for the Baltimore Ravens' eighth overall selection if they don't draft quarterback Matt Ryan.

"I know what I'm capable of," McKelvin said. "Now, I just have to go out and prove it to everybody else. I plan on being the first corner taken in the draft."

The Ravens could use an influx of talent at cornerback due to the advancing age of starters Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, who missed several games last season due to knee injuries and epilepsy, respectively. There's virtually no proven depth behind them.

McKelvin represents a combination of 4.38 speed, a 38-inch vertical leap and dominant special-teams ability. He tied a Division I-A record with eight kicks returned for touchdowns, holding the career kick return mark with 3,817 career yards.

At 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, McKelvin lacks ideal size. However, he takes an aggressive approach to football.

For the Ravens to land McKelvin, who visited their training complex one week ago, they may face competition from the New England Patriots, who pick seventh and also need a corner. One day after McKelvin's trip to Baltimore, he was meeting with Patriots coach Bill Belichick in Foxboro, Mass.

"McKelvin's got great feet, very, very quick, plays tenaciously and he's an unbelievable return man," Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. "I think he's an outstanding prospect. He doesn't have the size you really covet, but I think he's a player that really upgrades you on the back end.

"He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He's got that small-school mentality. He's got that quiet confidence about him. He's feisty and he's motivated."

The Ravens aren't concerned about the small-school label on McKelvin in light of how Osi Umenyiora and DeMarcus Ware matriculated from Troy to succeed in the NFL. Troy's demanding schedule included Oklahoma State, Georgia and Florida. Most quarterbacks avoided throwing in McKelvin's vicinity.

"Coming from Troy, of course there have been questions," McKelvin said. "You just have to go out there and compete."

South Florida cornerback Mike Jenkins is another prospect on the Ravens' radar. Some analysts have assigned him a higher grade than McKelvin.

The productive 5-10, 197-pounder has 4.38 speed and cover skills to match.

"Probably one of the more explosive, fast guys in the draft," DeCosta said. "Good player with a lot of upside, I think his performance was somewhat inconsistent this year. I think he's as talented as any corner in this draft."

There has been a lot of buzz about Tennessee State cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the cousin of San Diego Chargers star Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie has low 4.3 speed and is a tall athlete at 6-1, 185 pounds who dominated Division I-AA with 11 career interceptions, four returned for touchdowns.

Critics have questioned his toughness and raised concerns about him having one kidney even though doctors have cleared him medically.

"Cromartie might be the best cover guy in the entire draft," DeCosta said. "He's very athletic, but he needs to get physically stronger. He's a thinner, slender guy.

"Going against backs like Jamal Lewis, you've got to be able to do some tackling. I think he's a work in progress, a developmental guy."

Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib, who visited the Ravens, is a consensus All-American. However, the 6-1, 202-pound Texas native raised red flags when he admitted that he tested positive for marijuana three times in college.

"You probably spend more time with him to smell his breath, so to speak," DeCosta said when asked about players with character issues.

Those past indiscretions won't necessarily scare off the Ravens about Talib, who says he has matured since becoming a father a year ago.

"We believe in giving guys a second chance," DeCosta said. "He has the package and potential to be a great corner, but there's some immaturity there in the past.

"You would like to think he's outgrown that. In talking to the kid, I think he realizes he's being given a unique opportunity and I think he'll flourish."

The Ravens have also met with Arizona's Antoine Cason, the Jim Thorpe award winner who intercepted 15 career passes.

"I think the knock on Cason is he's not real fast," DeCosta said. "He ran a 4.52 at the combine, which is good, not great. He's tremendously talented from a vision and instinct standpoint, probably best suited to Cover 2 schemes. He's a very intelligent kid who I think is going to be a very good pro."

The Ravens are also high on hard-hitting Virginia Tech standout Brandon Flowers, who lacks stopwatch speed, and Eastern Kentucky's Antwaun Molden, a 6-0, 198-pounder with 4.4 speed.

Boise State junior Orlando Scandrick, who visited Baltimore, ran a scorching 4.32 and is rising on draft boards. He's projected as a second or third-round pick.

"His flat-out cover ability is very impressive," DeCosta said. "His tackling is inconsistent, but this is a guy on the come. I think his best football is ahead of him."

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

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