By Mike Casazza
Oklahoma State senior Justin Gilbert will be one of the more exciting and effective special teams players in the 2014 draft. He'll also happen to be one of the best cornerbacks, and the combination can't hurt.
In three seasons with the Cowboys and all their talented skill-position players who could have taken away his reps, the 6-foot, 200-pound Gilbert has averaged 26.5 yards on 84 kickoff returns and scored five touchdowns, which is the second-highest total among active players.
He has also started 26 straight games at cornerback in a league that can trash secondaries. Gilbert has 20 career pass break-ups and five interceptions, but that comes with an asterisk.
All of the interceptions and half of the pass break-ups came as a sophomore, when he was named the defensive MVP of the Fiesta Bowl win against Stanford and eventual No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck. The 2012 season was just the third at cornerback for the high school quarterback, and he had some low moments. Teams were sometimes careful to stay away from him, but they took their shots, too, and Gilbert would feel a push from freshman cornerback Kevin Peterson.
Gilbert is the leader in the defensive backfield that has three seniors now and he still has the natural gifts for the position to complement his size and speed and deal with the Big 12 receivers. He'll need the will to get back to where he was in 2011.