With eight draft picks, the Baltimore Ravens enter May’s NFL draft with the ability to upgrade at positions in which they don’t necessarily need upgrades (after filling starter voids, of course).
One position on the roster that isn’t in dire of need of help is cornerback, but that shouldn’t stop the Ravens from addressing the position.
Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb solidified themselves as a potential top-tier duo last season; however, after those two, uncertainty looms.
With full-time third cornerback Corey Graham now in Buffalo, it’ll be up to Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson to assert themselves as Graham’s heir. Both are fairly unproven, with Jackson having zero career defensive snaps, and Brown coming off a 2013 season in which he rarely touched the field (39 snaps).
Both are capable of taking over Graham’s role, but neither are desirable choices, and ideally, adding another corner to the mix would be optimal.
Which cornerbacks in this year’s draft class could be of interest to Baltimore?
EARLY ROUND OPTIONS
Jason Verrett, TCU – Verrett will not be limited to the slot, but he will likely find that role as his best fit in the NFL, as he possesses above average speed and hip flexibility to match smaller slot receivers step for step.
Verrett is the most well-rounded cornerback in this class, and many of his qualities are similar to those of Webb, which could lead to the Ravens seeing more potential in him than other corners in this class. His ball skills and route recognition are top notch, and as a likely first round pick, he may be out of Baltimore’s reach unless the team opts to take a cornerback with the 17th overall pick.
Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech – A dark horse for the Ravens with the 17th pick? Fuller is a local product (Mt. St. Joseph) and plays with above average physicality in man coverage. Fuller’s reaction time allows him to compensate for average speed (4.49 40-yard dash), and he possesses a 6’0, 190-lb frame that sets up for room for bulking.
Fuller has the potential to be a #1 corner for a defense, and worst case he’s a good second option. While Baltimore isn’t in dire need of a starter, who knows if Smith is in Baltimore after 2015? Plus, Webb’s contract provides no guarantees that he’ll be in Baltimore for the entire duration of his deal:
Bradley Roby, Ohio State – Considered by many as the top cornerback prospect heading into the 2013 season, a perceived “poor” final college season for Roby has weakened his appeal, although he still proved last year that he is a viable first round prospect.
While maybe not ideal for Baltimore at 17, Roby could be a trade back option, or if he falls, a second-round target. His closing speed is uncontested among the 2014 cornerback prospects, and he can step in right away for Baltimore as the third cornerback, with he and Webb sharing slot and outside coverage capabilities.
LATE ROUND OPTIONS
Victor Hampton, South Carolina – A recent arrest won’t help his cause, but as a day three option, Hampton possesses a skill set that allows him to step in and be a third cornerback for a defense as a rookie.
Hampton is a scrappy, pint sized (5’9) cornerback whose physical play works to his advantage on most occasions. His get-in-your-face demeanor in coverage figures to be his strong suit at the next level, and his press coverage ability appeals to Baltimore’s defense. Hampton’s sure tackling is another positive he brings, and his physical coverage translates to the occasional big hit.
Walt Aikens, Liberty – Keeping with the theme of physical press corner, Aikens may also appeal to the Ravens. The team has “maintained interest” in Aikens, and he provides the physical man coverage tendencies that would be valuable to Baltimore’s defense. He has a desirable frame (6’1, 203, 32 ¼” arms) to build on, and as a long-term third cornerback, Aikens’ physical play would be welcomed. He may not beat out Brown or Jackson as a rookie like the other cornerbacks named above, but he’d provide more than enough value for a day three pick.
Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State – Can we just consider Joyner a “defensive player” as opposed to labeling him with one position? He’s not the true back-end free safety that would warrant a safety label, and he wasn’t utilized as a cornerback enough in college to receive that label either. A better way of describing Joyner is saying he’s someone who ideally can line up anywhere in the back eight of a 3-4 defense.
Want him to cover a receiver on the outside? In the slot? Blitz off the edge? Roam the back end of the defense? Joyner can realistically be used in any of those roles, with slot corner being one of his fortes. For a team that needs safety and cornerback help, adding a versatile defensive weapon like Joyner could kill two birds with one stone.