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Baltimore Ravens: The Case Against Picking a CB Early

The Baltimore Ravens are fortunate at cornerback: They have their two starters in place. Not many teams can say that. That said, the Ravens’ depth is a mess, with a number of young guys with upside but little professional success. Rashaan Melvin is the only one who has shown to have legitimate NFL potential, and our last impression of him was his incineration at the hands of Tom Brady.

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Cornerback is a need in Baltimore. There is no way around that, and if Ozzie Newsome doesn’t come away with a nickel cornerback, this draft will have been a failure in terms of helping the defense.

So who is the guy? After watching tape on the guys considered first-round prospects, I feel comfortable saying that “the guy” will not be a first-round choice. A cornerback’s job is primarily to keep the other team from catching the football. Not all of the perceived first-rounders do that very well, and the depth in this class is good enough that the Ravens can wait until the mid rounds and snag a prospect every bit as good as some of the reaches earlier in the draft.

Just take a look at the prospects.

Legitimate First Rounders: Trae Waynes, Kevin Johnson, Jalen Collins

Like I said, a cornerback needs to keep the other team from catching the football. These guys, all perceived first rounders, do that. 

I am souring on Waynes a bit the more I watch him. He is fast and smart, which keeps him from getting beat deep often. He struggles changing directions, though, so Waynes could have difficulty defending shorter routes in off coverage, issues that will be exacerbated by his tackling issues. Still, Waynes is a smart player who has a low floor. He should be, at minimum, an average starting cornerback.

Kevin Johnson is the most natural cover corner in this draft despite his 4.5 speed. Johnson is a very fluid athlete who changes directions well, and he has obvious instincts that will serve him well in the NFL. Subpar speed could concern some teams, but it shouldn’t. Richard Sherman, after all, ran closer to a 4.6 at the NFL Combine, and he has worked out fine for the Seattle Seahawks.

Finally, Jalen Collins has the highest upside of this group, and he was also one of the most successful. I went into his film assuming he was as raw as a prospect could be, but that isn’t the case. Collins has natural football skills in addition to ideal athletic benchmarks that are reminiscent of Jimmy Smith’s.

I like all these guys, but I expect them to be gone by the time the Ravens pick. Further, none of them are no-brainers. They each have issues with their game that could keep them from succeeding in the NFL. There are similar prospects available later, and there are better prospects at different positions who could be available at 26th overall.

First Round Pretenders: Ronald Darby, P.J. Williams, Marcus Peters

All three of these guys have gotten first-round hype, but they shouldn’t. P.J. Williams probably won’t be a first rounder after his DUI arrest, but Ronald Darby and Marcus Peters still have that hype. 

Here is one stat that shows that Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams are way overhyped. Florida State ranked 59th in passing yards allowed. That seems a little high for a team with two first-round cornerback prospects, doesn’t it? Their 7.3 yards allowed per pass is also very high. 

The film backs up the stats, rather than the hype. Darby and Williams get beat a lot: Their athleticism does not make up for their warts. It’s not a good sign when I was watching Darby against Miami and came away more impressed with Miami receiver Phillip Dorsett.

Then there is Marcus Peters, a player who has captured Ravens’ fans imaginations. Peters is actually a pretty simple prospect to break down. He has an awe-inspiring jam, he has great ball skills and he struggles in every other phase of the game. That includes tackling, off coverage and recovering from when he doesn’t land his jam. In nearly every game I watched, Peters got burnt to a crisp at least once.

Exhibit A: 

He’s slow to react, which NFL receivers will pick on constantly. He’s too limited to be a first-round prospect.

I don’t like the value on any of the six guys I’ve mentioned so far. Wait a bit in the draft, though, and the value grows.

Value on the Second and Third Day

No matter what kind of cornerback you like, there is a guy who fits the bill in the mid-rounds of the draft.

There is Quinten Rollins, who is among the highest upside players in this draft. He played just one year of college football at Miami of Ohio, showing clear development throughout the season. His ball skills and fluidity are unquestionable.

There are two questions: Is he committed to football (he played basketball for four years) and can a team live with his lack of long speed? If the Ravens are convinced he is committed to football, Rollins represents a much better value on the second day than any of the first-rounders.

If a great height-speed combo is more important, then Byron Jones is the guy. Jones was among the top finishers in every event he participated in at the NFL Combine. Paired with his height (6’1″) and arm length (32″), Jones has the athletic skill set teams covet and the film that proves he’s no workout wonder. Check out BSL’s Mike Randall’s scouting report on Jones to see what he can do.

Troy Hill is the opposite side of the coin: A marginal athlete with tremendous tape. Hill is small at 5’10″ and not very fast, but he is a natural football player. Hill played a lot of zone coverage at Oregon, which should appeal to the zone-heavy Ravens.  He’s very feisty with the potential to be the Steve Smith of cornerbacks. Check out his aggressiveness to attack this route and force the incompletion.

Most likely, Hill will be a Day 3 pick, where he represents excellent value.

There are a ton of other guys. Steven Nelson didn’t miss a single tackle last year per Pro Football Focus. Quandre Diggs is aggressive and fluid. The list goes on.

The depth in this draft is great. The top prospects are not. So why not wait? They might not have the measurables of the top guys in some cases, but by and large, the best cornerback values in this draft will come on the second and third days. With this in mind, the Ravens will be better off waiting, perhaps doubling down to increase the likelihood of finding an immediate contributor.  

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