MOBILE, Ala. – This week, the Ravens' front office staff has assembled in Mobile, Ala., to look at some of the top senior prospects available in the 2010 NFL Draft. General Manager Ozzie Newsome and his team will be looking closely at the wide receiver position, and the Senior Bowl certainly has talent available for inspection.
It was expected that LSU standout Brandon LaFell would attend the Senior Bowl, but he was a last-minute cancellation.
Also, several of the draft's top wide receiving prospects – including Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant, Illinois' Arrelious Benn, Southern California's Damian Williams and Notre Dame's Golden Tate – are not in attendance because they are juniors.
However, the Ravens are turning their attention to the other talented wide receivers on display.
At the top of many lists is Cincinnati's Mardy Gilyard. An explosive threat for the Bearcats, Gilyard boasts back–to-back seasons with over 80 receptions and 11 touchdowns. Though he doesn't have ideal size at just over 5-foot-11 and 179 pounds, Gilyard has an innate ability to get open, consistently finding the holes in the defense. Though he had a rough first day of practice, Gilyard bounced back on Tuesday showing fluid route running and soft hands.
"I'm versatile. I can come in and help a team right away on special teams," said Gilyard after practice on Tuesday. "I can play slot, I can go outside. I've shown that the last couple practices. The main thing I bring to the table is that I'm a versatile player."
At the opposite end of the receiving spectrum is the tall and physical Danario Alexander. At just under 6-foot-5 and 221 pounds, Alexander led the nation in receiving yards for Missouri with 1,781 on 113 catches and 14 touchdowns. Known for his physical play style, Alexander can work the middle of the field and is a threat in the red zone. The knock on Alexander is that he's had a nagging knee injury throughout his career that kept him sidelined for much of his early career. Alexander has been consistent in practice this week and showed a willingness to block downfield in the run game.
When Danario was asked to describe his play style, he didn't hesitate to answer.
"Physical and yards after the catch," he said. "That's the big thing for me. I want to try to get to the end zone every time I catch the ball."
Perhaps the receiver who is helping his draft stock the most is Florida's Riley Cooper. Cooper has a great physical build at just over 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, and might just be the complete package.
Cooper became a favorite target of Tim Tebow, catching nine touchdowns in his senior season. He is also an accomplished baseball player that signed a contract with the Texas Rangers. However, Cooper has decided that he will focus on football and leave baseball behind. Riley has been drawing a lot of attention at the Senior Bowl, running fluid routes and working all areas of the field.
Another player with receiving talent generating buzz in Mobile also comes in the smallest package. Ole Miss running back/wide receiver Dexter McCluster might only be 5-foot-'8, but has been a star at Senior Bowl practices, showing versatility by lining up at both positions. An absolutely explosive player, McCluster produced over 1,700 yards of total offense and 11 touchdowns in a tough SEC conference.
Dexter might be small, but he doesn't shy away from contact. McCluster ran the ball well in practices this week, including between the tackles. Dexter also flashed huge potential as a slot receiver, leaving defensive backs Perrish Cox and Javier Arenas trailing behind him while running routes. McCluster might have also had the play of the day on Tuesday, making a diving catch on a deep pass from Tebow.
"I'll say this, I like the ball in my hands early," McCluster said. "I feel like I can make some good decisions with it in my hands early."
When asked about questions surrounding his size, Dexter showed that he wasn't concerned at all.
"A lot of people come to me all the time and say, 'You're 165 pounds, how do you do it?' And I look at them and tell them, 'You know what? I've got the heart of a lion. I'm not scared of nobody. I'm gonna compete and stand toe to toe with you, and we'll see what happens."
The Ravens still have three more days of practice to watch as well as the game on Saturday to further evaluate the receivers at the Senior Bowl. With the possibility of Derrick Mason retiring and several other Ravens receivers possibly leaving in free agency, the wide receivers in Mobile will be closely examined. A talented wide receiver could mean the difference in another playoff run and a losing season.
Will Spencer is the lead writer at Draft Breakdown (www.draftbreakdown.com) and a draft contributor for BaltmoreRavens.com.