Ravens scouting running backs

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens are expected to select a running back to complement Pro Bowl runner Willis McGahee during the second day of the draft. Since the Ravens haven't been in touch with free agent backup Musa Smith, it appears they'll be looking for depth as Cory Ross and P.J. Daniels are the only other backs under contract.

"No doubt, we need another back," Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. "Whether we take one in the first round or the seventh round, we're definitely going to look at our options because it is a strong class."

It's a deep running back draft where there's quality beyond the sizzle of projected first-round picks Darren McFadden, Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Stewart and Felix Jones.

"This year's running back class is probably the strongest it's been," Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage said of a group expected to have 20 running backs drafted.

Rutgers' Ray Rice could be a potential target for Baltimore if he slides. At 5-foot-8, 199 pounds, Rice lacks size, but makes up for that with 4.4 speed and outstanding production.

He gained 2,012 yards and scored 24 touchdowns last season to finish with 4,926 yards and 49 touchdowns for his career. He also caught 25 passes last season.

"Ray Rice is a very shifty, explosive back with quick vision and change of direction," DeCosta said. "He makes things happen in space and catches the ball very well. He's an outstanding prospect."

Tulane's Matt Forte is a more imposing runner at 6-1, 217 pounds who also has 4.46 speed and is known as an excellent blocker. He broke through last season with 2,127 rushing yards, 23 touchdowns and 32 catches.

"He's a very physical, strong runner," DeCosta said. "He's hard to bring down."

Central Florida junior Kevin Smith gained 2,567 yards, just 61 shy of Barry Sanders' NCAA record, and led the nation with 29 touchdowns.

The 6-1, 217-pounder lacks breakaway speed with a 4.53 clocking.

Richmond running back Tim Hightower is late-round or free agent prospect who was one of the Ravens' predraft visits.

Texas' Jamaal Charles has 4.38 speed and gained 1,619 yards and scored 18 touchdowns last season for the Longhorns.

The Ravens have displayed some interest in Georgia Tech's Tashard Choice, an Oklahoma transfer who gained 3,465 career yards. He lacks top-end speed, though.

East Carolina's Chris Johnson has the Ravens and several other teams' attention.

He's a pure speed back with a scorching 4.24 clocking at the NFL scouting combine. Johnson rushed for 1,423 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior, catching 37 passes for 528 yards and six touchdowns.

"Chris Johnson has big-time speed and home run ability," DeCosta said. "He's got a lot of kick return ability and has great potential to be a third-down back in this league."

NOTES: The Ravens held a private workout this week with University of Miami middle linebacker Tavares Gooden. ... The Ravens attended Clemson defensive end Philip Merling's workout Thursday along with several other NFL teams. Merling is recovering from sports hernia surgery. ... Cornerback Willie Gaston is no longer listed on the Ravens' roster.

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

Ravens Insider Top Stories