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OWINGS MILLS — The Baltimore Ravensâ€™ draft agenda extends beyond acquiring blockers and a potential quarterback of the future.
Operating under the defending AFC North championsâ€™ oft-repeated mantra of going for the best player available, thereâ€™s a distinct possibility that the top football player left when the Ravens are on the clock in the first round could be a cornerback.
Even though Michiganâ€™s Leon Hall and Pittâ€™s Darrelle Revis are regarded as locks to be drafted within the first half of the round, there are a few potentially intriguing cornerback options for Baltimore with the 29th overall pick.
University of Texas All-American Aaron Ross or Arkansas standout Chris Houston are two cornerbacks with first-round grades that could slip to the Ravens.
"There are some good corners this year," Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. "[Retired former Green Bay Packers general manager] Ron Wolf, I’ve heard him say, any time you can draft a good corner, you should draft him.
â€œWe’ve spent a lot of time on these guys. There are some talented guys. If one of those guys is there, we know how they play and we’re on the clock, I think we’d turn the card in."
Ross won the Jim Thorpe award as the nationâ€™s top defensive back as a senior, intercepting six passes with 80 tackles.
At 6-0 and 193 pounds, he has developng cover skills, good speed at 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash and is an accomplished punt returner. His chief drawbacks are limited experience, a history of academic problems and a tendency to take too many risks.
â€œHe can flat-out cover,â€ DeCosta said. â€œHeâ€™s fast and explosive and is going to be a good NFL player.â€
Meanwhile, Houston has definitely piqued the Ravensâ€™ interest.
Despite a major size disadvantage at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, Houston shut down imposing USC wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett last season for three inconsequential receptions. He also fared well against the University of Tennesseeâ€™s Robert Meacham and LSU’s Dwayne Bowe, two other first-round prospects.
Houston was the fastest (4.32) and strongest (bench pressed 225 pounds 27 times) cornerback at the NFL scouting combine. Although he has a limited background in zone schemes, Houston excels at bump-and-run coverage and has a reputation for being competitive, talkative and studious.
â€œHe told us he studied tendencies on tape of how Jarrett likes to release and get off press coverage,â€ DeCosta said. â€œThatâ€™s the approach those guys are going to have to take at our level. We love his potential.
â€œI think Houston is a very intriguing player because heâ€™s very explosive. Heâ€™s only been used as a press player, but he does play inside on the nickel package. He has so much upside.â€
The Ravens have remained bullish on Fresno State cornerback Marcus McCauley despite a subpar senior campaign where he was benched briefly.
McCauley might slip into the second round, where the University of Marylandâ€™s Josh Wilson, UNLVâ€™s Eric Wright, Syracuseâ€™s Tanard Jackson, Kent Stateâ€™s Usama Young and Tennesseeâ€™s Jonathan Wade could be attractive targets for the Ravensâ€™ 61st overall pick.
At 6-foot-1 and 203 pounds, McCauley ran a 4.37 at a campus workout attended by Ravens secondary coach Dennis Thurman.
â€œMcCauley was probably the No. 1 corner coming into this year,â€ DeCosta said. â€œHe has a great size and speed combination. Some games he looks like a top 10 pick, other days he looks like a second-day pick.
â€œHe was inconsistent this year, but the tools are there. We believe we have a structure in place where we think he could have success.â€
Jackson is a Maryland native who projects to cornerback or safety. A hard-hitting 6-0, 200-pounder, he has even played linebacker in nickel situations. He visited the Ravensâ€™ training complex earlier this month and assistant secondary coach Mark Carrier attended his Pro Day.
â€œJackson gives you flexibility,â€ DeCosta said. â€œHeâ€™s a great kid and we love his ball skills. We love his attitude. We think heâ€™s a guy who can develop.â€
The Ravens have also spent time scouting a few cornerback sleepers in Wingate Collegeâ€™s David Jones, who visited earlier this month, and Howard Universityâ€™s Geoff Pope.
Although the Ravens feature Pro Bowl selection Chris McAlister at one cornerback spot and have another former Pro Bowl cornerback in Samari Rolle, this might be the year to bring in a future starting candidate.
Rolle struggled at times in deep coverage last season and was scorched for several touchdowns.
Corey Ivy is a scrappy, undersized nickel back. Evan Oglesby, Ronnie Prude and Derrick Martin donâ€™t represent the total package of skills, size and speed that the position demands.
Plus, the Ravens got nothing out of third-round pick David Pittman a year ago and want to see him apply himself more diligently heading into his second season.
"We love our stable of corners that we got this past year, we’re very high on those guys," DeCosta said. "How does the best player available compare to a guy like David Pittman or Ronnie Prude or Derrick Martin?
â€œIf we think there’s a guy who can come in and beat those guys out very quickly and possibly beat out Corey Ivy as that nickel, then we would consider it."
NOTE: Pope said heâ€™s scheduled to work out for the Ravens and Miami Dolphins on Tuesday. The 5-11, 186-pounder ran a 4.30 at his Pro Day with a 35-inch vertical jump.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland