Hands Just As Important As Feet For WRs

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It may be an incredibly obvious notion, but to separate themselves at the top of this year's draft, the 2009 crop of receivers need to show they can simply hold on to the ball.

And considering the talented group at the NFL Scouting Combine, there is no shortage of sure-handed prospects.

That is great news for the Ravens, who own the 26th pick in the first round and could be looking at a reliable wideout to stretch the field and make the tough grabs over the middle.

"We want guys with great ball skills, particularly down the field and inside between the hashmarks," said Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta. "You want to see a guy that can take a hit and work his way downfield. Catching is very important, and we're really scrutinizing that with every guy here."

One only needs to look back at Super Bowl XLIII, where Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin put on a catching clinic for the Arizona Cardinals, to see how a reliable receiver can impact the game.

North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks has received comparisons to Boldin for his fearlessness and ability to come up with unlikely grabs, such as his eight-receptions, 217-yard and three-touchdown performance against West Virginia in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

One of his catches will be on highlight reels for a long time, as Nicks used his left hand to catch a pass thrown behind him on a crossing route, and then shifted the ball behind his back to his right hand without breaking stride.

"I catch a lot of crazy passes all the time, but I don't think I've ever topped that one," said Nicks. "I watched it a couple of times (on replays). It kind of shocked me, but I'm a receiver and that's my job to catch the ball."

Nicks is creeping into the first round on many draft boards after a junior season where he totaled 68 receptions for 1,222 yards and 12 touchdowns.

A strong showing at the Combine - particularly in the Gauntlet drill, where players have to run the length of the field while catching passes fired from both sides by multiple quarterbacks - and Nicks could be considered among the best along with Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin of Missouri.

"I want to show everybody I'm every bit as good as the first two," Nicks stated.

Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey is also hoping he can break into that top tier, but he has more to prove regarding his hands.

The former track star has blazing speed that has scouts anticipating he will run a sub-4.4 time in the 40-yard dash on Sunday, giving him the coveted talent of blazing past defensive backs to haul in the deep ball.

The McDonough High School product boasts eight plays of 50 or more yards through his three-year tenure as a Terrapin.

But despite his speed, Heyward-Bey knows he must silence critics of his receiving skills.

"I've worked on it since Day One, when I got to College Park, and the second I left College Park," he said Friday. "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."

At the Combine, however, a receiver's hands are just as important - if not more - as their feet.

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