Rivers headlines linebacker class

OWINGS MILLS -- Keith Rivers did nothing to disgrace the Southern Cal linebacker tradition, displaying speed, skill and a hard-hitting mentality bestowed by his Trojans' predecessors. Rivers became the latest USC star to wear the coveted No. 55 jersey, following in the footsteps of Willie McGinest and Junior Seau.

At 6-foot-2, 241 pounds with 4.58 speed, an eye-popping 42-inch vertical leap, the consensus All-American from Lake Mary, Fla., is regarded as one of the top 10 selections in the draft with his ability to play inside or outside linebacker.

Could he be of interest to the Baltimore Ravens as linebackers Ray Lewis and Bart Scott head into contract years?

It's believed that Rivers ranks fairly high on the Ravens' draft board, but it's regarded as a long shot that they select him with the eighth overall pick since linebacker doesn't present a pressing need.

"He's an excellent player, I think he has versatility that he can play inside 'backer or outside," Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. "He's an excellent athlete, has some run-and-hit ability, excellent range in coverage, very instinctive player and he's a great kid. He's a very safe, no-brainer type pick and he'll be an outstanding player for somebody."

Tennessee's Jerod Mayo and Penn State's Dan Connor are the only other two linebackers projected to go in the first round.

Unless Oklahoma's Curtis Lofton and Georgia Tech's Philip Wheeler slide into the third or fourth round, the Ravens are likely looking at a second-day pool that includes Miami's Tavares Gooden, UNLV's Beau Bell, Colorado's Jordan Dizon and Iowa's Mike Humpal.

"There are definitely some guys we like," DeCosta said. "All those guys will be options for us on the second day."

Gooden is a 6-1, 234-pounder who ran a 4.62 vertical leap at the NFL scouting combine and ran in the high 4.4s and low 4.5s with a 39 1/2 inch vertical leap at his campus workout. He excelled at middle linebacker last fall, recording a career-high 100 tackles with three fumble recoveries and one interception.

"We love him," DeCosta said of Gooden, who was unable to play in the Senior Bowl due to a hip injury.

Dizon is severely undersized at 5-11, 229 pounds, but the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year led the nation last season with 120 solo tackles while registering four sacks and finishing with 173 total tackles.

Although Dizon has 4.71 speed and the explosiveness of a 34-inch vertical leap, he needs to gain bulk and strength. He only bench pressed 225 pounds 12 times, less than many skill players.

He gets high marks for intensity and scrappiness, but it's unclear if he can survive in the NFL.

Bell is regarded as more of a thumper at 6-1, 244 pounds. He's recovering from a deep tibia bruise and only ran a 4.9 at a recent workout, but had 4.7 clockings previously.

"Beau Bell is another player we really like," DeCosta said.

Bell is viewed as a classic, throwback middle linebacker who has drawn heavy interest from the Cleveland Browns and visited their headquarters recently. The Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year posted a career-high 126 tackles last season with five forced fumbles, three sacks and four interceptions.

"I just want to relay to teams, 'Please don't hold that 4.9 against me," Bell told Cleveland reporters. "That's not me at all. Before the Senior Bowl, I was running in the mid-4.7s. "I can guarantee teams I will be back to that very soon. If you turn on the tape, you can see that I'm not a 4.9 player."

Humpal has great size at 6-3, 244 pounds and improved his 40-yard dash time to 4.68 seconds at his Pro Day after running a 4.82 at the combine.

The Ravens did well with picking another gritty former Hawkeyes standout, selecting offensive tackle Marshal Yanda last year as he emerged as a rookie starter.

Named second-team All-Big Ten Conference last year, Humpal had a career-high 123 tackles with three interceptions and two forced fumbles. "With his intangibles, measurables and intensity, he'll be a very good pro," DeCosta said. "He's a tough kid."

NOTE: ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, a retired Philadelphia Eagles quarterback became the latest to weigh in on the Ravens' quarterback outlook. Following Steve McNair's retirement, the Ravens have just two quarterbacks on the roster in Kyle Boller and Troy Smith.

"If Matt Ryan is on the board at No. 8, I can't see the Ravens passing on him," Jaworski said during a conference call. "In my mind, Ryan is the only early-round QB that is a legit top 10 pick. So, if you are Baltimore and he falls to you, you just can't let him go. After watching Boller since he came to Baltimore, I just do not see him as the future of the franchise."

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


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