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With combine-induced hype in full swing, itâ€™s time to take a look at intriguing prospects for the upcoming 2007 NFL Draft. The focus of this analysis will be on the Ravens â€œneedâ€ positions, keeping in mind that the athletes on display need to be able to play football. Mike Mamula and Mario Williams can put up all chart topping numbers they want in the combine, but that doesnâ€™t mean they will perform at a high level in the NFL. Mamula played for five disappointing years and the 2006 No. 1 pick Williams wasnâ€™t even the best defensive rookie on his team. That distinction goes to Texansâ€™ second round selection DeMarco Ryans.
This week features cornerbacks and running backs eligible for the 2007 draft.
Leon Hall, Michigan, 5â€™11 Â¾â€, 193, 4.39
Hall continues the recent trend of top-flight talent out of the Michigan, which includes Ty Law, Charles Woodson, and Marlin Jackson. While Hall played well in the Senior Bowl, there are some question marks, including the shredding of the Michigan secondary by USC. The Big Ten is a solid conference, but outside of dealing with Ted Ginn Jr. and the Ohio State passing game, the secondary of Michigan often cheated up to stop the run. This was generally a successful strategy, but given the ease with which Ohio State and Southern California threw the ball seemingly at will against the Wolverines, one has to wonder. Another knock on Hall is his good, but not elite, speed which contributes to concerns that he may be a corner-safety hybrid. Given Baltimoreâ€™s experience with Gary Baxter, there may be some concerns about the selection of a similar player. Several sources indicate that Hall might fit best into a zone coverage scheme which doesnâ€™t fit the Ravens mold on defense. Unless something terrible happens, Hall is the consensus #1 corner and will be long gone when the Ravens are mulling over the remaining candidates with the 29th selection of the draft.
Revis is an interesting prospect not only for his solid ability at corner, as a 2006 Jim Thorpe award semi-finalist, but also for his excellent return skills flying under the national radar playing at Pittsburgh. This ability to return paid off as Revis set a Pittsburgh record by returning interceptions for touchdowns in each of the first two games of the 2006 season. Trouble starts with a slower 4.54 40 yard dash. While this speed is adequate it will make it hard to run with top receivers at the next level. Revis makes up for this lack of speed with a nasty hard-hitting attitude and being very effective in press coverage trying to give minimal cushions. As a return man, he found the end zone once in 2005 against Cincinnati and again in 2006 against Virginia. He has a reputation for hitting lanes well and waiting for blocks to develop but sometimes fails to control the ball, resulting in fumbles. Revis should also be gone by the time the Ravens have their chance, mostly likely by #18 to the Bengals.
Marcus McCauley, Fresno St., 6â€™0 Â¾â€, 203, 4.39
McCauley has the potential to be a dangerous selection. He is a better prospect than his former teammate, Richard Marshall, the Pantherâ€™s second round pick last year who had a solid rookie season. McCauley has prototypical size and blazing speed; think of a new Chris McAlister. Why isnâ€™t he a top 10 selection? McCauley struggled his senior year not intercepting at pass and being regularly targeted in the passing game. This inconsistency that dogs the Ravens with McAlister seems to have bitten the Fresno State product. According to observers, some of his difficulties in coverage stem from McCauleyâ€™s conservative style and from playing the man and not the ball. There are other positives, especially in his confidence in defending the run and reliable tackling in the open-field and secondary. McCauley has the physical tools that no other corner in the draft possesses; the only question is whether he can recover from a rough senior campaign and transition into the more demanding NFL. McCauley will likely be around at 29 and is absolutely worth a hard look given the age and declining ability of Samari Rolle and the uncertainty surrounding 2006 3rd round selection David Pittman.
Aaron Ross, Texas, 6â€™0 Â½â€, 193, 4.50
Aaron Ross seemingly came from nowhere to win the 2006 Thorpe award as he was a nickel and dime back at Texas until his senior year. That isnâ€™t as shocking, considering the immense talent in the Texas secondary including Michael Huff, Cedric Griffin, Nathan Vashar, Michael Griffin and Tarrell Brown, all while Ross was a Longhorn. Given only one year of starting experience, there is debate about him being a one year wonder and he is viewed as raw in terms of technique and footwork. However, Ross isnâ€™t afraid to lay the wood on opponents and his recovery and game speed appear faster than his 40 time, which at times has been clocked in the higher 4.5 second range. Ross will also likely be available towards the end of the first round and, given his return ability, might be a stronger candidate than McCauley. However, Ross is a big play gambler at the corner position, which is something the Ravens cannot afford with corners so often on an island.
Hughes is a member of the 2006 AP All-American team due to his consistent play, leading the Pac-10 with 17 passes defended as a junior. That number is impressive, but it also says that teams werenâ€™t afraid of throwing Hughesâ€™ way. This coincides with an improved but still mediocre 4.57 40 time and a penchant for riding receivers which certainly will draw flags. There are still positives; Hughes played well in man coverage and appears to understand routes fairly well. The projections for Hughes vary from very late first round to mid-second round. The Ravens will likely not draft on Hughes, as his speed and susceptibility to pump fakes and double moves are major concerns.
Chris Houston, Arkansas, 5â€™9 7/8â€, 185, 4.32
USCâ€™s rout of Arkansas wasnâ€™t the fault of Chris Houston. He matched up against USCâ€™s Dwayne Jarrett in man coverage for most of the game and performed admirably, holding Jarrett to 35 yards on five receptions and no touchdowns in the 50-14 Arkansas loss. Jarrett has been downplaying that match-up recently claiming he wasnâ€™t 100% healthy. After that game, Houston wasnâ€™t challenged much for the remainder of the year. Opposing teams preferred to pick on the rest of the secondary; only Sidney Rice went over 100 yards receiving in man coverage against Houston. Much of the success comes from Houston using his impressive strength, exemplified by a 450 pound bench, to press receivers at the line and then run stride for stride with them in coverage. The negatives focus mainly on the lack of physicality of his play in run support and only recording three interceptions in 34 games, two of which came against sub-par Mississippi State. There is some danger in Houston getting excessive attention as a combine warrior with the impressive bench press and speed (low 4.4 40 yard dash). Houston appears to be an upper second round selection and unless the Ravens value him more highly than various non-NFL sources indicate, it seems likely the Ravens won’t be looking at Houston at the 29th selection. Trading down is an option and there are surely players teams in the top of the second round Baltimore may like to acquire, but trading down isnâ€™t something the team does very often.
Tanard Jackson, Syracuse, 6â€™0â€, 196, 4.56
Jackson is another corner who has been solid by not spectacular in his play, though probably underrated if a team institutes a zone cover scheme. Jackson has a quick burst and reaction, but isnâ€™t necessarily â€œfastâ€ as demonstrated by his high 4.5 40 yard dash. Having started 33 games, there is experience in reading the quarterbackâ€™s eyes and in remaining true to his assignments while playing in position. Tackling is a prideful element of the game for Jackson who seems to take pleasure in delivering big hits and coming up in run support. Despite these great attributes, Jackson is a player the Ravens will likely avoid with his average timed speed and character issues that include being stabbed in the chest while breaking up a fight in 2004 and a 2006 suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.
David Irons, Auburn, 5â€™10 Â¼â€, 190, 4.44
David Irons is the lesser known of the Auburn Irons; his running back brother Kenny is the football center of attention in the Ironsâ€™ family. That being said, David was a solid four year starter at Auburn and played with a serious chip on his shoulder during Senior Bowl practices. While his accomplishments at Auburn are very impressive, surgeries on his left ACL in 2001 and 2004 are cause for concern. Durability is a serious concern along with average measurables. Irons is solid in man coverage, which suits the Ravens current system well and his experience should allow him to contend for playing time immediately. Look for Irons to be available in the third round and he could be a replacement plan for David Pittman depending on how the team views that situation, although it isnâ€™t the Ravens style to give up on a one year player selected on Day 1 of the draft.
Josh Wilson, Maryland, 5â€™9 Â¼â€, 189, 4.39
Wilson is well known to Maryland Terrapin fans and is rapidly gaining attention from pundits after clocking a 4.28 second 40 in the spring of 2006. Son of Tim Wilson, the nasty lead blocker for Earl Campbell, he isnâ€™t afraid of contact and plays much bigger than his 5â€™9â€ frame would suggest, reminding some of Antoine Winfield. Wilsonâ€™s terrific return skills will get some notice and it could push him up draft boards. Even with all the eye-popping speed, receivers sometimes get open against Wilson as he is fast rather than quick. That said, some of his biggest games were against the toughest competition, showing that there is the potential to be a better professional than college player. Wilson prepares well for the big games and has done quite well academically earning honors each of the past two seasons as a business administration major. All of these things make Wilson a fairly safe pick for the Ravens in the third round; even if Wilson projects as a nickel-back, his return abilities were among the best in the nation, providing a backup for B.J. Sams. There is significant danger in Wilson becoming a workout warrior with the media and a team might select him earlier than justified based on speed alone. Current Minnesota Viking and former South Carolina Gamecock Troy Williamson is a case in point from 2005.
Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma, 6â€™2â€, 218, 4.45
Peterson became the leading member of the running back class of 2007 as a freshman at Oklahoma. He has the size and speed every coach desires in a runner to break a solid gain into six points as a 5.4 career yard per carry average in the Big Twelve demonstrates. Clearly the consensus on Peterson is that he is the number one back of the class. Even with the accolades and records, such as tying Emmitt Smith and Marshall Faulk in requiring the fewest games to reach 1,000 yards as a freshman, there are some serious concerns. Peterson is a very upright runner and has taken a beating during his time in college. The 747 collegiate carries along with 24 receptions caused a lot of wear and tear and Peterson is constantly dinged up, including several shoulder dislocations in 2004 and surgery for the problem in 2005, a chronic high ankle sprain in the 2005, and finally a left collarbone fracture in 2006. The Sooner has suffered or played through injuries for the majority of his college career, leading to more questions about his preferred style of running over defenders as opposed to a less physical solution. Despite the negatives listed, Peterson is a great prospect and should be taken long before the Ravens can think about which players are left on their draft board.
Marshawn Lynch, California, 5â€™11â€, 217, 4.50
Lynch is an interesting prospect, with the weight of Peterson in a frame that is three inches shorter. Only the second Golden Bear to reach 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, Lynch was the driving force behind the teamâ€™s successes the past two years. Known as a leader in the locker room with great work ethic, Lynch also has the ability to relax and focus teammates. He also has the moves that few possess and is able to effectively put them to use in getting small through creases and has shown amazing ability as a cutback runner who is able to get downhill and still make defenders miss with excellent stop and go moves. As a blocker, he is very capable in picking up the blitz and has also proved that he can handle the passing game; in 2006, he recorded 34 receptions for 328 yards and four touchdowns. The real knocks on Lynch include the lack of superior timed speed, recording a 4.46 compared to the 4.37 of Peterson, supposed lack of ability to be a pile mover, and minor durability and character concerns. He is a player who should be solid in the NFL, but might not be a superstar. Expect Lynch to be gone before the mid-20s as Green Bay, both New York teams, and potentially Denver as well would leap to have an all-around back on their roster.
Michael Bush, Louisville, 6â€™3â€, 247, 4.50
Michael Bush is the enigma of the 2007 draft after breaking a leg and entering the draft before he played another down of football. Even at the combine, Bush admitted that heâ€™s not yet able to run or perform the necessary drills. However, a player that is 6â€™3â€ weighing 250 pounds with good hands and patience will always be in demand. Bush is more of an elusive runner than a power back, which is interesting given his size, but makes sense as he was originally brought to Louisville to be a quarterback. However, the results are indisputable as he sported career averages of 5.8 yards per rush and 13.02 yards per reception. Trick plays are also possible as demonstrated by a 48 yard pass to teammate Kolby Smith. If Bush had come out of college healthy and had a senior campaign as expected, he might be contending to be the top back chosen in this draft, but he may be waiting anxiously like Willis McGahee when it comes time for his name to be chosen. Finally, reported timed speed is all over the map, with sources listing him as a mid 4.6 runner and others saying that he has the type of speed Jamal Lewis had coming out of Tennessee without as much power. There is a strong change that Bush will be available towards the end of the first round for the Ravens and potential for him to be available as their pick in the second as well, but it all depends on his recovery from a broken leg. The Ravensâ€™ decision will surely be driven by Bushâ€™s recovery status and the potential retention of both Jamal Lewis and Mike Anderson for the 2007 season.
Kenny Irons, Auburn, 5â€™11â€, 200, 4.50
Irons followed the dynamic duo of Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown at Auburn after they left for the NFL. The hallmarks of Irons include instantaneous acceleration and the ability to quickly get into the second level of a defense before defenders are able to close. Irons is a pure runner and doesnâ€™t have the ability to grab a ball out of the air and seems to prefer to let the ball come to a small window. He struggles when asked to catch the ball downfield. His timed speed is only average, but the quick acceleration out of a cut when he recognizes a block sets him apart from other prospects. Given the evolution of the Ravens offense, Irons is not the type of player the Ravens desire in the backfield. The Brian Billick offense loves to do what the defense doesnâ€™t expect, including having the fullback or running back catch the ball in the flat, or even split wide as Jamal Lewis did on a few occasions last season. Pick 29 is a big reach for this player and if the Ravens chose to select him it may be best to either hope he falls to the bottom of the second round or to trade into the middle of the second round to acquire him.
Antonio Pittman, Ohio St., 6â€™1â€, 195, 4.65
Pittman started as the featured runner on the most wide-open Ohio State offense in recent memory but finished the 2006 season with a 5.1 yard per carry average compared to 5.3 and 5.6 in prior years. In many ways, that may be the book on Pittman; a solid back, decent in pass protection, but never dominant. As 2006 progressed, many Buckeye fans began to wonder if Pittman was even the best back on the team as true freshman Chris Wells burst onto the scene with size, speed, and playmaking ability superior to Pittman. Pittman held on to the starting job, though many attribute that to Jim Tressellâ€™s loyalty, experience in the offense, and some concern about Wellsâ€™ ball security. Even so, Pittman still has the speed to take it to the house as he showed against Michigan this season despite his smaller stature and lack of power compared to many of the professional backs who are in the 220 range as opposed to Pittmanâ€™s 195. For the Ravens, Pittman presents value as a third round pick with his experience in the Big Ten and could prove useful as a third down or change of pace back in the NFL.
Tony Hunt, Penn St., 6â€™2â€, 230, 4.60
Has anyone helped their draft status in recent months as much as Tony Hunt? After performing admirably in the Senior Bowl, even the casual draftnick began to take notice of the value this player presents to a team. Tony lacks the elite timed speed that is desired to break long runs and the flash that makes watching players like Reggie Bush or LaDanian Tomlinson so much fun, but he moves the chains. This quality makes him as a real value pick in the draft, especially as he has been productive as a short-range receiver averaging roughly 10 yards for each of his 86 receptions over the past three years, scoring three times in 2006. Huntâ€™s marketability for the Ravens really depends on what type of player they wish to have on the team. If there is a need for a home run threat out of the backfield, the team will look elsewhere. If the team needs a solid north-south runner who has the proven ability to move the chains in a conference built around running and stopping the run, he could potentially be a great value. Huntâ€™s choice not to run the 40 at the combine shouldnâ€™t raise any big questions because his real value rests in game footage. Running a high 4.5 or 4.6 at the combine may only emphasize the fact that heâ€™s not a top flight back. Depending on the Ravensâ€™ needs, Hunt might be just the man for the job. Think of Rudi Johnson from the Bengals; a solid all-around back but doesnâ€™t seem to break off the twenty or thirty yard rumble. Depending on how the draft plays out, Hunt would be an excellent pick for the Ravens in the third round.