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OWINGS MILLS â€” The Baltimore Ravens are expected to attempt to find a running back to complement Pro Bowl runner Willis McGahee during the second day of the draft.
Since the Ravens havenâ€™t been in touch with free agent backup Musa Smith, it appears theyâ€™ll be looking for depth as Cory Ross and P.J. Daniels are the only other tailbacks 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, weâ€™re definitely going to look at our options because it is a strong class."
Itâ€™s considered a deep running back draft where thereâ€™s quality beyond the sizzle of projected first-round picks Darren McFadden, Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Stewart and Felix Jones.
"This yearâ€™s running back class is probably the strongest itâ€™s been," Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage said with as many as 20 running backs expected to be picked.
Rutgersâ€™ 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. Heâ€™s an outstanding prospect."
Tulaneâ€™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.
"Heâ€™s a very physical, strong runner," DeCosta said. "Heâ€™s hard to bring down."
Central Florida junior Kevin Smith gained 2,567 yards last fall, just 61 shy of Barry Sandersâ€™ NCAA record, as he 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 a late-round or free agent option who was one of the Ravensâ€™ predraft visits.
Texasâ€™ 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 Techâ€™s Tashard Choice, an Oklahoma transfer who gained 3,465 career yards. He lacks top-end speed, though.
East Carolinaâ€™s Chris Johnson has the Ravens and several other teamsâ€™ attention because of his eye-catching sprinting ability.
Heâ€™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. "Heâ€™s got a lot of kick return ability and has great potential to be a third-down back in this league."
NOTES: The Ravens scheduled a private workout this week with University of Miami middle linebacker Tavares Gooden. … The Ravens attended Clemson defensive end Philip Merlingâ€™s workout Thursday along with several other NFL teams. Merling is recovering from sports hernia surgery. … The Ravens signed exclusive-rights free agent cornerback Ronnie Prude, and they cut kicker E.J. Cochrane. â€¦ Cornerback Willie Gaston is no longer listed on the Ravensâ€™ roster.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Timess and the Annapolis Capital.