It’s a day football players imagine and dream of from youth leagues to high school to college, and many never achieve. For Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling, it’s a “blessed opportunity.”
Dowling is projected to be a second- or third-round pick in this year’s NFL draft, which begins Thursday night, and is more than ready to take his talent to the next level.
“I think my skills will translate well to the NFL,” he said. “I’m a big cornerback, I can run and I have good ball skills. I think of myself as a competitor who plays tough. I’ll compete on every down.”
Listed at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Dowling could have gone as early as the first round after a stellar junior season, when he was selected as second-team All-ACC. But he was hampered for most of his senior year with hamstring, ankle, and knee injuries, including an ankle fracture that ended his season.
Despite that setback, he remains confident about what he’ll bring to an NFL team.
“Injuries happen. I don’t know anyone who finished his college career without injuries,” Dowling said. “I have a lot of passion for this game. I’m a hard worker, and think I have a great work ethic. I’m someone who can be a leader. I have good leadership skills, and I care about others.”
Cavaliers coach Mike London praised his former player and believes that whatever team drafts him will be getting an outstanding person as well.
“He performed well at the tasks he was assigned. He has a great vertical leap and has the mentality that he can play in one-on-one or cover-two situations,” London said. “He had a freakish injury this year, but he had an excellent pro day. He’s a tall corner, and a lot of teams want that.”
London spent a year coaching in the NFL, as a defensive line coach for the Houston Texans in 2005, and believes that Dowling has that “It” factor that will make him a success in the NFL.
“The draft gurus took him off the board when he got injured, but I’ve seen him up close and personal,” London said. “He has had visits with nine or 10 teams. All it takes is one of 32 teams, and he can sneak up on someone’s board.”
In his first three seasons at Virginia, Dowling recorded 145 tackles, eight interceptions and broke up 28 passes, according to stats kept by the UVA Sports Information Department. He ran a 4.4 in the only 40-yard dash he was able to complete at the combine.
NFLDraftscout.com described Dowling as “an experienced corner who has seen all the tricks. He’s rarely out of position, even against double moves, due to his instincts and vision.”
CBS and NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly projects Dowling as a third-round talent but believes he could be taken in the second round.
“The guy missed time this year, so you have to go back and look at tape on him from 2009,” said Casserly, who spent 23 years as an executive for the Redskins, followed by a four year stint with the Texans, before becoming a television analyst.
“He’s a physical player who plays well in the press coverage or cover-two,” Casserly said. “You don’t see much of him playing man-to-man coverage. He’s kind of leggy; you have to work him out and put him through the drills to see him play in man-to-man situations. He does have good size and speed.”
London believes that in addition to his physical skills, Dowling has the right attitude and the maturity needed to make the successful leap to the NFL.
“At the NFL life skills summit, they talk about how players make the transition to the NFL life, and one of the new mantras is that sometimes good people will outlast good players,” London said. “Ras-I is a terrific person. He is a better person than he is a player, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay to anyone.”
Dowling said he has no idea where he’ll be drafted, but it’s not something he’s concerned about. Wherever he goes, Dowling said, he plans to take a little something from each veteran player he works with, and become a student of the game.
And despite the uncertainty due to the lockout, Dowling also plans to stay as prepared as possible.
“You just have to train, keep working out and be ready to go,” he said. “This is not an opportunity everyone gets, to play in the NFL. God gave us this talent - we should use it in the right way.”
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