Ravens have need for speed

The Baltimore Sun

INDIANAPOLIS -Darrius Heyward-Bey sounded like a track man yesterday when he talked about tomorrow's 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine.

"I just want to run something comfortable. Nothing too crazy," the wide receiver from Maryland said. "I don't want to strain myself out there."

What, he was asked, would be comfortable?

"Somewhere around 4.4 [seconds], 4.3," he said.

Anything less than 4.4 will elevate the pulse of scouts on teams that need speed at wide-out and improve Heyward-Bey's chances of landing in the first round of the draft April 25.

Wide receivers don't run until tomorrow, and the No. 1 wide receiver of this year's class, Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech, isn't going to run until his pro day next month. He's still recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered during the season.

Those who do run will bear watching. Jeremy Maclin of Missouri, Percy Harvin of Florida and Heyward-Bey have established speed. Hakeem Nicks of North Carolina, Kenny Britt of Rutgers, Brian Robiskie of Ohio State and Juaquin Iglesias of Oklahoma will try to answer questions about their speed at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"I think I have lot more speed than expected," Nicks said, "and that's what I have to prove."

The Ravens are paying close attention to the wide-outs in this draft in hopes of adding one with speed.

"We want a playmaker," director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "We want a guy who can help us win a game, make a critical play on third down. But we also want a guy that has that Raven mentality, which is toughness, selflessness, football character and durability. Those things are really important. We're not going to just take a guy that's 6-foot-4 and runs a 4.3 if he doesn't have all of those qualities."

With the 26th pick of the first round, the Ravens could go for a wide receiver, cornerback or even a linebacker, depending on who falls to them. But they most likely will get a first-day receiver who is expected to contribute.

Because Heyward-Bey's speed is established, he'll need to show he can catch the ball naturally, a knock he's well aware of.

"I've worked on it since Day One, when I got to College Park, and the second I left College Park," he said. "I never sit back and think that I'm good at anything. I feel like you need to improve on everything - your hands, routes, even your speed."

NOTES: : George Kokinis, the Ravens' pro personnel director who left to become general manager of the Cleveland Browns, said that despite trade rumors involving quarterback Derek Anderson, he "definitely could envision" having both Anderson, a former Raven, and Brady Quinn on the team again next season. ... Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford said he will run and perform all agility tests but won't throw at the combine, preferring instead to throw at his pro day March 19.

top receivers

The top wide receivers in the 2009 draft:

Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech: Compared to the Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald for his ball-catching skills.

Jeremy Maclin, Missouri: Can affect the game on offense or special teams as a returner.

Percy Harvin, Florida: Has durability issues, but if used right, could be a Reggie Bush-type player.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland: Great speed but needs work on his pass catching.

Kenny Britt, Rutgers: Big (6-3, 218), physical receiver with lots of upside.

Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina: Not as big as Britt but more polished, with outstanding hands.

Brian Robiskie, Ohio State: Needs to demonstrate speed to keep from dropping.

Read daily combine updates at www.baltimoresun.com/ravens

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