Ravens eyeing deep cornerback class

INDIANAPOLIS- The trend in the NFL toward prolific passing games is triggering a reaction around the league and a demand from incoming draft prospects. Identifying and obtaining cornerbacks with elite coverage ability and speed has become a major priority. Especially considering the emphasis on passing with the growth of the spread offense and advantages given to offenses in terms of the rulebook.

"It used to be that you had to go through a lot of tape to see if they can cover somebody," Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Now you've got four receivers on the field with most of these teams and it's wide-open football. There are multiple corners out there covering people. So, you probably do get a better feel for that. "

And the Ravens have a need at cornerback following a pair of torn anterior cruciate ligaments last season suffered by Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb.

Although Harbaugh expressed confidence that Washington and Webb will return as soon as training camp, he isn't writing that in stone. "I don't think you can count on it," he said. "I'm sure we'll have a contingency plan."

Fortunately for the Ravens, this draft class features one of the deepest, most talented group of cornerbacks in recent memory.

Without the presence of a shutdown cornerback with speed, coverage skills and athleticism, it's hard to hold up as a defense nowadays.

While University of Florida blue-chip cornerback Joe Haden isn't expected to be available when the Ravens are on the clock with the 25th overall pick of the first round, there are a few other cornerbacks that could be worthy of consideration.

"Corners are interesting," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said.

Especially fast-rising Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson.

Wilson excelled at the Senior Bowl and is regarded as the second-ranked cornerback available.

There is some debate whether Wilson is big enough at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds.

"He's a guy I watched a lot of tape of and I took a lot of heat headed into the Senior Bowl from some my buddies around the league because I had him as a first-round player and they didn't," Mayock said. "I think he showed footwork and change of direction skills that surprised a lot of people."

Wilson wasn't a top recruit out of high school, only garnering scholarship offers from Boise State, Rutgers, Richmond and Delaware. His brother made him a highlight video to draw attention.

Now, he's considered a solid option for teams looking to upgrade at cornerback later in the first round or in the second round.

"My biggest strength is my playmaking ability," said Wilson, who met with the Ravens over the weekend at the NFL scouting combine. "I cover, I hit, I can do it all."

The Ravens have also been linked to other cornerbacks in mock drafts, including Devin McCourty (Rutgers) and Patrick Robinson (Florida State).

McCourty has excellent special-teams ability and is also on the radar of the New York Jets and the Minnesota Vikings.

"Devin McCourty is a guy who I think is going to run well," Mayock said. "And aside from being a very good corner, he might be the best special-teams player in the whole draft from a return perspective, gunner, jammer, makes tackles. You get quite a package if you draft Devin."

Robinson, who met with the Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns and the New York Giants, is an intriguing player because of his speed. He predicted he'll run the 40-yard dash in 4.2 seconds.

"Patrick Robinson is a guy who's going to light this thing up," Mayock said. "He's going to come out and run 4.3, 4.32. He's got the best feet of any corner in this draft. The reason I've got him as the fourth-ranked corner is he's inconsistent.

"When I look at the tape, one game he looks great, the next game he looks like he doesn't care. And that's one of those things I get nervous at, especially in the first round."

Oklahoma State cornerback Perrish Cox is intriguing because of his size, physical nature and rare kick return skills.

The second-team All-American set the Big 12 Conference record for kick return yardage and had six return touchdowns on special teams.

"I'm physical and I bring excitement," Cox said. "There are a lot of things that I bring, but you'll have to wait and see."

However, Cox also comes with some baggage.

He has three children at age 23, and has been arrested for speeding and driving with a suspended license.

He was suspended from playing in the Cotton Bowl because of curfew violations.

Cox left the team hotel to hang out with his girlfriend and got caught in traffic, missing curfew by a half-hour.

Cox is under heavy scrutiny from NFL teams because of his poor choices.

"It was a mistake, something I did wrong," said Cox, who intercepted four passes last season. "I shouldn't have left in the first place. I tell them straight up, it was my fault. I take all the blame for it.

"Half of them give me a hard time about it. It gets kind of tough whenever they give me a hard time. They kind of harass me a lot." That has included some harsh questioning from Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome during a meeting at the combine.

"They were one of the ones that harassed me, gave me a hard time about the curfew thing," said Cox, who also met with the San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers and the St. Louis Rams. "I kind of listened to [Newsome], took in whatever he was telling me. I don't want to get suspended again, get harassed like I've been getting harassed. I learned from it. It won't happen again."

NOTES: The Ravens have also met with LSU safety Chad Jones, Ole Miss defensive end Greg Hardy, Ohio State outside linebacker-defensive end Thaddeus Gibson and Notre Dame safety Kyle McCarthy. … Tennessee safety Eric Berry considers himself to be the top player in the draft. He's capable of playing cornerback or safety. And he has drawn several comparisons to Ravens safety Ed Reed, a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year. "I think it's a fair comparison based on potential," Berry said. "Obviously, Ed Reed has done a lot more than me in the NFL. But I feel like I can do some of the same things he has done. If you look at our track records and compare them, you can see that I'm on Pace to be Ed Reed or better." … Notre Dame wide receiver Golden Tate, who met with Baltimore this week, had an impressive showing Sunday with hand-timed 40-yard dash times of 4.36 and 4.37 seconds. … Illinois wide receiver Arrelious Benn, a potential first-round target for Baltimore, ran a 4.48 and bench pressed 225 pounds 20 times.

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