In consecutive drafts in 1998 and 1999, the Ravens found two starting Super Bowl cornerbacks. One was smallish Duane Starks; the other was prototypical big cornerback Chris McAlister. In each case, the price was the 10th overall pick.

Now, for the first time since general manager Ozzie Newsome empowered that Super Bowl defense, the Ravens could spend a first-round pick Thursday night in search of the elusive shutdown cornerback.

Or they could wait until the third round to find reinforcements for Chuck Pagano's retooled secondary.

As usual, activity around the position will be fast and furious.

"I think it's a decent year for corners," said Eric DeCosta, the team director of player personnel. "Typically, they come off the board quick. Anybody that has any kind of size and speed, typically, will fly off the board in the first three rounds, and that's almost been the case every single year."

Size and speed are at a premium with the position. Patrick Peterson of LSU and Prince Amukamara of Nebraska have both, and that's why they will be taken in the top half of the first round. Jimmy Smith of Colorado would be certain of going in that range, too, if not for character concerns.

Speculation on where Smith goes has run the gamut — the 13th pick (Detroit), 23rd (Philadelphia), 26th (Ravens) or the second round. It is worth remembering that two arrests for underage possession of alcohol and at least one failed drug test aside, Smith apparently has a little of McAlister in him.

"There's only one Chris McAlister," DeCosta said when asked to make a comparison. "Physically, Jimmy and Chris are about the same size, so they do look a little bit alike.

"I think what a good scout will do — one of the qualities of a good scout — is really being able to compare [prospects] to players in the past. [They have] that memory bank to say, 'This guy is like that guy.' That really helps when you're in the meetings and you talk about thousands of players. If you can do that to kind of paint a picture of the player, I think that's really valuable."

Smith is 6 feet 2 and 211 pounds, and he reportedly ran a hand-timed 4.37 in the 40-yard dash before the scouting combine, where he ran 4.45. Because he is tall, athletic and quick, he ranks with Peterson and Amukamara (he is quicker than Amukamara). Because of that, some team might be willing to risk a high pick to get him.

Newsome, the team's general manager, said it's possible this cornerback draft could mirror the 1999 draft, when Champ Bailey (seventh) and McAlister went in the top 10.

A year ago, five cornerbacks went in the first round, but only two (Joe Haden and Kareem Jackson) went in the top 20. An early run Thursday on cornerbacks could push the Ravens to another position or another round. If Smith doesn't drop or the Ravens red-flag him, they will have other options into the fourth round.

Those options include two cornerbacks from Texas, one from Miami and a burner from Virginia Tech.

Curtis Brown (4.42) and Aaron Williams (4.49) played at Texas under coordinator Will Muschamp (it was Muschamp who sold the Ravens on linebacker Sergio Kindle a year ago). Brown, 5-11 and 185, made this self-assessment at the combine: "When you turn on the film, the film shows I'm a very good coverage corner, I believe. I knock down the ball, and I don't get caught on much."

Brown may knock the ball down, but he doesn't catch it often. He had only two interceptions in 52 games at Texas.

Williams is slightly taller and bigger, but he was only the third cornerback at Texas last season until an injury elevated him to No. 2. He forced six fumbles and intercepted four passes in three years, and he has the ability to move to safety.

Another name to remember is Brandon Harris, who helped Miami's secondary finish third in the nation in passing yards surrendered last season. Harris is a shade taller than 5-9 with 4.45 speed. He started 32 of 39 games at Miami and held up against bigger receivers (28 deflections, four interceptions).

"Me being a smaller cornerback, it helps to come from a system like Miami where I was able to be aggressive and physical against those bigger receivers that don't expect guys my size to be able to do [that]," he said at the combine.

"At Miami, they played me in the slot a lot, and I also played outside. I was able to move around and make a lot of plays."

One intriguing prospect is Johnny Patrick, who started 40 of 46 games at Louisville and demonstrated a variety of skills. He had nine interceptions and 22 pass breakups, blocked two field-goal attempts and returned a fumble 21 yards for a touchdown.

He is down on some boards because of his speed — he ran only a 4.59 at the combine.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kenmurraysun



Cornerbacks to watch



JIMMY SMITH

Colorado

(6-2, 211)



Projection: First-round talent, second-round character concerns

Of note: Three interceptions in 47 career games

Skinny: Needs to go to team with strong locker room



CURTIS BROWN

Texas

(5-11, 180)



Projection: Third or fourth round

Of note: His uncle, Hosea Taylor, was a draft pick of the Colts' in 1981.

Skinny: Solid player in the secondary with return skills (he averaged 14.2 yards on 14 punt returns)



AARON WILLIAMS

Texas

(6-0, 195)



Projection: Third round.

Of note: Had 11.5 tackles for losses, three sacks and five blocked punts at Texas

Skinny: Versatile player with great athleticism, but wasn't consistent in college



BRANDON HARRIS

Miami

(5-10, 195)



Projection: Third or fourth round

Of note: Rivals.com ranked Harris as the third-best cornerback in the country out of high school in Miami.

Skinny: Physical player and shutdown corner for Hurricanes



JOHNNY PATRICK

Louisville

(5-10, 191)



Projection: Third or fourth round

Of note: Went to Louisville as running back, but switched to defense after redshirt freshman season

Skinny: Skill set and size could be attractive to Ravens

Ken Murray

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