In need of reinforcements, Ravens eye strong cornerback draft class

Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson (River Hill) might be one of the Ravens' targets in the NFL draft.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome stood next to Jimmy Smith at the team's training complex a week ago and broke into a wide smile moments after the cornerback signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension.

The deal secured the team's 2011 first-round NFL draft pick and provided the Ravens' secondary with some stability. But it did not end the team's need for, and intense interest in, acquiring reinforcements in the defensive backfield.


The Ravens' defense was crippled by injuries at cornerback last season, when Smith suffered a Lisfranc sprain; Lardarius Webb struggled with a lingering back injury; and Danny Gorrer, Asa Jackson and Aaron Ross had season-ending injuries.

The Ravens ranked 23rd in pass defense with 248.7 yards allowed per game and gave up 4,341 passing yards and 22 touchdown passes.


The team was not overly impressed with last year's class of cornerback prospects, but this year, Marcus Peters (Washington), Jalen Collins (LSU) and P.J. Williams (Florida State) visited the Ravens. Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson (River Hill) also worked out for team officials in Owings Mills, according to NFL sources.

"Last year, we could have used about any corner in this draft," Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said. "We've looked at the corners and we think it's a pretty good class. They come in all different shapes and sizes. Some guys play outside, some guys play inside, some guys can do both. Some guys are big, some guys are small. Some guys are fast, some guys are good with their hands."

There are several scenarios in which the Ravens could land a gifted cornerback with the 26th overall selection. That includes Peters, who was kicked off Washington's team.

Peters had a series of confrontations with a new Huskies coaching staff last season. The final straw for coach Chris Petersen was an argument with an assistant coach.

In a September game, Peters was benched after he head-butted a wide receiver and drew a personal foul. Peters threw his helmet and gloves on the sideline as coaches tried to calm him down. After the incident, he was suspended for a game.

Peters tested positive for marijuana in 2011and was suspended for the first quarter of a bowl game in 2013 for violating team rules and then again last season, for two series against Stanford, for being late to meetings.

At the NFL scouting combine, Peters denied a report that he once choked a coach in practice.

On the field, Peters is aggressive and swift at 6 feet, 198 pounds, and led the Huskies with three interceptions and 10 passes defended last season. He was a second-team All-Pacific-12 Conference selection in 2013, when he led the team with five interceptions.


"I really like Marcus Peters as a player a lot," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "Peters is as good a pure press corner as there is in the class, kind of like [Michigan State's] Trae Waynes. He's quick, plays with an edge. He tackles. He's a freaky, good-looking corner that, if he was clean off the field, would be probably a top-15, [top-]18 pick in any class.

"Now you add in the question of whether or not there are character concerns, whether he can take authority, his relationship with his coaches, I think what that does is just throws a cloud over it a little bit and pushes him toward the bottom of the first round. I think he's going to go between 20 and 32. I'd be really surprised if he slid out [of] the first round."

Johnson, who's expected to be the highest-drafted player from the Baltimore area, has no known off-field problems and has a good reputation in NFL circles. He made a strong impression during his workout and visit in Owings Mills, according to sources.

Several teams have graded Johnson highly. He visited the Dallas Cowboys and had private workouts for the Cleveland Browns — who grade him as their top cornerback, according to a source — the Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers, Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots, Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles. He also had a dinner meeting with Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert.

"I think the guy the Ravens would have a shot on is Kevin Johnson," said Russ Lande, a draft analyst and former scout for the Browns and St. Louis Rams. "A lot of teams like him, but he's not getting a lot of publicity. He's tall, very smart, very mature, plays physical, can run. He's experienced in all kinds of coverages. The Ravens like tall guys. People at Wake Forest swear by him."

An All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, Johnson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds last season and had a 41.5-inch vertical leap at the scouting combine.


"He's extremely athletic," DeCosta said of Johnson, who also met with the Ravens at the combine. "Very, very good feet; sudden; great man-to-man skills; can play zone. I think he's a tough kid. He's played at a high level of football. He's a good prospect."

Collins and Williams are regarded as potential first- or second-round targets, but both face questions about their character.

Collins is recovering from foot surgery and reportedly failed four drug tests at LSU. When healthy, Collins has impressive athleticism; he once chased down Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon from behind. At 6-1, 199 pounds, he has run the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds and recorded a 36-inch vertical leap.

Williams was charged with driving under the influence this spring, but the charges were dropped this week. Although Williams earned Defensive Most Valuable Player honors in the 2014 Bowl Championship Series national title game, his time in the 40 is an underwhelming 4.57 seconds. He did have a 40-inch vertical leap.

"Williams is an easy, safe pick," Lande said. "He's a solid athlete. He'll never be great, but he'll be good."

The Ravens sent senior personnel assistant George Kokinis to check out Connecticut cornerback Byron Jones' Pro Day workout. Jones was strong in the 40 (4.36 seconds) and vertical leap (44.5 inches) and had a record-breaking 12-3 broad jump at the combine.


"The concern about Jones is he really was a one-year wonder," Lande said. "A lot of those guys fail. He's a workout warrior, but his film last year was outstanding."

Another potential early-round option is Florida State corner Ronald Darby, a former track star from Potomac High in Oxon Hill. Darby's cover skills aren't nearly as polished as Williams', but he has 4.38-second speed in the 40 and a 41.5-inch vertical leap.

"Darby is a risky pick," Lande said. "He's a far more superior athlete than he is a football player. He's going to get torched when he's not in press man [coverage]. He's one of those guys [who] if he never improves, he'll be out of the league in a few years."