Two recent Super Bowl teams drafted Virginians on Friday to improve glaring deficiencies.
The New England Patriots chose University of Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling of Chesapeake with the opening pick of the second round.
Five selections later, the Arizona Cardinals tabbed Virginia Tech tailback Ryan Williams of Manassas.
As the third round neared conclusion, the New York Jets added Hampton University defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis. Many analysts considered him a second-round talent, but his dismissal from the University of South Carolina program and a 2010 malicious wounding charge in Hampton -- his trial is in July -- affected his stock.
Dowling might have been a first-round pick had he left Virginia after an All-ACC junior season in 2009 or remained healthy in 2010. But he played in only five games as a senior, enduring hamstring and knee ailments before fracturing his ankle.
Despite the injuries, Dowling, a graduate of Deep Creek High, ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the combine.
"I'm feeling great. I'm 100 percent," Dowling said on a media teleconference. "If we had camp tomorrow, I'd be ready to go. I had my pro day not too long ago - my private workout - and I felt 100 percent then."
Winner of three of the last 10 Super Bowls, New England posted an NFL-best 14-2 regular-season record in 2010 but lost its first playoff game, at home, to the New York Jets. The Patriots ranked 30th in pass defense, yielding 258.5 yards per game and 25 touchdown throws. Opponents completed 63.5 percent of their passes.
Dowling is the second Cavaliers corner in as many years selected in the second round. The Minnesota Vikings chose Chris Cook last season.
Dowling's selection marks the 27th consecutive year a U.Va. player has been drafted. On New England's defense he joins another Hampton Roads product, linebacker Jerod Mayo of Kecoughtan High, the 2009 Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Williams' selection makes him the second Tech running back chosen in the first three rounds, joining 2004 first-rounder Kevin Jones. He appears an ideal fit for the Cardinals, who ranked last among NFL teams last season with 86.8 yards per game rushing.
Not coincidentally, Arizona finished 5-11 and in last place in the NFC West. The Cardinals have Beanie Wells and University of Richmond alum Tim Hightower (expiring contract) at running back, but as Williams told ESPN Radio on Friday, "I'm used to sharing the load."
Williams visited the Cardinals, NFC champions three seasons ago, before the draft and said a team official told him to be prepared for draft call. When it came, Williams, on site at the draft inside New York's Radio City Music Hall, cried.
“They told me how interested they were in me and that they hope and pray I was there at pick 38 because at pick 38, I’d be a Cardinal,” Williams told the Arizona Republic.
“I’m not sure if they told anybody else that … but they were men of their word and I really, really respect that. I trust them with everything, because they said what they were going to do.”
Replacing the injured Darren Evans, Williams ran for a Tech-record 1,655 yards and ACC-record 21 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman in 2009. But a nagging hamstring injury sidelined him for three-plus games in 2010, limiting him to 477 yards.
Williams’ 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine in February was a pedestrian 4.58 seconds, but he rallied with a reported 4.45 at Tech’s pro day in March.
When healthy, Williams ran with a speed-power combination rarely, if ever, seen at Tech. He is the second running back chosen in this draft.
Alabama's Mark Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, was the only running back selected in Thursday’s opening round, going to the New Orleans Saints with the 28th pick. It marked the first time since 1963 that no running back came off the board in the first 24 picks.
“I’m gonna miss playing here,” Williams told the Roanoke Times earlier this month, “but I wanted to play in the NFL since I was 7. … So I’m 100 percent happy with my decision (to leave two years early).”
Hampton's Ellis joins a Jets team built on defense by head coach Rex Ryan. New York has advanced to the AFC championship game the past two seasons and last year ranked third in total defense.
Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun