Late-First Round Corners Seek to Answer Critics

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One week after releasing 6-foot-1 cornerback Chris McAlister, a trio of young draft prospects could eventually fill the three-time Pro Bowlers' shoes.

But noting their diminutive size, heels might be an option they'd want to consider.

D.J. Moore of Vanderbilt stands only 5-foot-8, Alphonso Smith of Wake Forest is 5-9, and Connecticut's Darius Butler measures in at 5-10.

All have the talent to creep into the first round – where the Ravens are slated to pick at No. 26 – or would be prime candidates to tab by trading down into the second round for better value.

And not one of them is making excuses for a lack of height.

Peppered with questions about their size from reporters, scouts and coaches last weekend at the NFL Combine,

"I'm 5-8, so everybody was bigger than me, for the most part," Moore said with a smile at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. "But it was the same as anybody.

"You read your keys and do your job, and the quarterback is going to throw the ball and try to make it a jump ball every play."

Said Smith: "I've gotten this far. I can't do anything about it and I'm going to continue to get the question, maybe four or five years down the road. So the only thing I can say is 'I make plays, and I'm a pretty decent player.'"

Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins (6-0) and Vontae Davis (6-1) of Illinois are the two cornerbacks expected to come off the board first in the opening round, leaving Moore, Smith and Butler all vying to separate themselves among the later picks.

Smith says his production should speak for itself. A natural playmaker, he finished his career in Winston Salem, N.C., with 21 interceptions, setting an ACC career record.

Scouts have pointed to his athleticism, competitiveness and sound study habits as reasons why he is able to overcome a lack of inches.

"I think I compensate for it with the ball skills that I have, the knowledge of the game and just the way I approach the game," Smith said. "I'm very, very competitive.

"I think out of all the defensive backs, I've had the most productive career," he continued. "Twenty-one career interceptions. I've made plays from freshman year to sophomore year to junior year to senior year."

Smith, a native of south Florida, even sharpened his skills by training against hometown acquaintances Anquan Boldin and Santonio Holmes during his offseasons.

In Smith's eyes, such exclusive experience only helped him work against bigger and stronger wideouts at the next level.

"Oh yeah," he said. "Trust me, it made it real easy."

While the humble Moore was hesitant to completely put himself ahead of his comrades, he pointed to his versatility as a bonus.

Moore said Vanderbilt was his only Division I scholarship offer to play football coming out of high school, and he returned the favor by lining up at quarterback, receiver and even returning kicks.

"I think it helps, because I can kick return and I can cover," said Moore, who posted 11 interceptions over the last two years. "I've got to do something right.

"Returning, that's an opportunity to be on the field and make plays."

Butler has received his share of praise, as well.

NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock has cited Butler for his stellar footwork. At a lanky 183 pounds, Butler is slight, but he makes up for it with tremendous speed – he said he expects to run a 4.3-second 40-yard dash on Tuesday – and an impressive vertical.

Butler, a four-year starter, totaled only one interception last year after opponents avoided him for snaring 10 over his first three seasons, but still was voted first team All-Big East as a senior.

"I want to show freakish athletic ability," said Butler. "That's my goal. That will open some eyes."

The former Husky admitted he keeps an eye on the Ravens, as well. As Willis McGahee's cousin, Butler admitted he speaks with the Baltimore running back at least once a week.

"I know the market out there," he stated. "I know they cut Chris McAlister."

All three corner standouts also know what they must prove at the Combine workouts this week – that their stature will not be a hindrance in the professional ranks.

But every time someone asks that dreaded question – whether it is a reporter, scout or coach – Moore, Butler and Smith have always seemed to definitively answer it, both on and off the field.

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