Durability Key at Wide Receiver Position

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*With the Scouting Combine on deck and NFL Draft around the corner, BR.com's Ryan Mink sat down with Ravens Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz for a lengthy conversation on drafting wide receivers. Check back over the course of the next week for stories and blogs from that interview.
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Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz makes it pretty simple. If a player isn't on the field, he can't contribute.

Thus, when the Ravens are evaluating draft prospects, they are looking for players who will be healthy. And that may be especially important at the wide receiver position, where the Ravens have suffered their share of bad luck over their 16-year history.

"Durability is a key to wide receiver production, like it is at every position. I think that 's one of the focuses," Hortiz said. "When you say, 'Where can we get better and where do we focus on,' it's not so much the evaluation of the player, it's the evaluation of the player's injury risk."

The Scouting Combine, which begins today in Indianapolis, will offer the Ravens their first chance to personally assess the health of many prospects and the team is taking full advantage.

The Ravens are sending their entire medical staff of nine doctors and four trainers.

"One of the most important things we do at the Combine are the physicals and evaluations by our doctors," general manager Ozzie Newsome said.

Baltimore has drafted 15 wide receivers in its history. Here are a few who have made some big plays for the Ravens, but been hampered by injuries, starting from the beginning:

  • Patrick Johnson (2nd round, 1998)
    Johnson averaged fewer than 10 games played per season during his first tenure with the Ravens, which lasted four years.
  • Travis Taylor (1st round, 1999)
    Taylor suffered a broken clavicle his rookie year and missed seven games. He sat out five contests with a groin injury in 2004, his final year as a Raven.
  • Brandon Stokley (4th round, 1999)
    Stokley dealt with multiple injuries throughout his four-year career in Baltimore and played an average of eight games per season.
  • Mark Clayton(1st round, 2005)
    Clayton sat out two games in 2009 with a knee injury and 24 days in training camp with hamstring issues. Clayton has only missed four games in his five-year career, however.
  • Demetrius Williams(4th round, 2006)
    Williams missed a combined 19 games in 2007 and 2008, including the playoffs, with ankle injuries.
  • Yamon Figurs(3rd round, 2007)
    Figurs broke his foot during last year's offseason minicamps, which put him on the PUP list at the start of Training Camp. He did not make the 53-man roster.
  • Marcus Smith (4th round, 2008)
    Smith missed all of 2009 with a knee injury sustained in the Ravens' first preseason game.

This year's draft class has talented players with questions surrounding their health. Three of those players have been projected to go to the Ravens in recent mock drafts.

Illinois wideout Arrelious Benn reportedly played through some ankle issues in his junior year. Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham sat out all of 2009 after tearing cartilage in his right knee. Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas broke his foot on Feb. 17 while training for the Combine.

"We pay attention to that," Hortiz said. "We don't want to take receivers that have the history in college of being banged up because we need them out there. If there is a history of an injury, we'll look closely. That's part of our process."

However, a player who has had injuries may not necessarily be injury-prone. And there are players who fall in the draft because they were coming off an injury and turn out to be steals.

Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who missed four games with a sprained knee in his senior year at Georgia, is living proof. The Ravens wisely snatched him up as an undrafted free agent and he was a starter by season's end.

Time will tell if the Ravens see a player worth gambling on this year. But fans can rest assured that Baltimore's evaluators are taking a detailed look into the health of all players the team is interested in selecting – and that includes at wide receiver.

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