Ranking The CBs
By David Seigerman
Every week leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft, we will focus on one specific position. This week, the spotlight is on CBs.
Over the last five years, more cornerbacks have been drafted than prospects at any other position. All this expansion of the passing game has created a demand from defenses trying to cover all the multiple-receiver packages being thrown at them.
The cornerback Class of 2014 is a good one and a deep one, though not particularly a great one. There's not a Patrick Peterson or Joe Haden in the group, a step-right-in corner worthy of selection in the first half of the first round.
More likely, teams will be searching for the next Richard Sherman, who has become the prototype most teams would like to find: a big cornerback with great upside available on the second or third day.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 corners will be drafted. Probably closer to 40. And that will turn out to be a good thing, because the position deepest in both quality and quantity of prospects this year is wide receiver.
Top 10 Cornerback Prospects
1. Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State: He is not the flashiest corner, the most athletic corner, the biggest or the most brash. But Dennard is the cornerback most ready to step in and contribute as a rookie. He is a fit for pretty much any coverage scheme, though he may be best in press man. He might lack the agility to stick on the speediest of slot receivers. But he can be physical with big receivers, smooth enough to mirror the elusive ones, and will come up and lay a hit in the run game. Plus, he might be the best potential blitzer of the bunch. The one knock on Dennard -- and it's a legitimate one -- is his inability to stay healthy; he missed time almost every year, due to different injuries. We've seen how that's hampered the development of Dee Milliner at the next level, and it could be a tiebreaker in the eyes of team deciding whether to take Dennard in the top 20 picks.
2. Marcus Roberson, Florida: Potentially the one pure lockdown corner in this year's class, Roberson has everything you'd want in your prototype man corner: long arms, quick feet and hips, upper body strength to disrupt a receiver's release, confidence, an aggressive approach to the position. He didn't progress in 2013 the way he was expected to (there was a lot of that going around the Gators' secondary). He is limited -- Roberson hasn't show much effectiveness against the run, and isn't much of a candidate to blitz. And he's still raw in man coverage, relying perhaps too much on his instincts in college and not enough on technique. Still, a team looking for a corner who eventually could thrive on an island in a man scheme should give Roberson a long look early.
3. Bradley Roby, Ohio State: Roby struggled with some of the same challenges in 2013 that Jadeveon Clowney did. He couldn't live up to the lofty expectations everyone had for him -- his own, most of all. There's a big difference between a press cornerback and a pressing one, and Roby was pressing, taking himself out of position too often, trying to deliver highlight-reel hits rather than simply make the plays he is more than qualified to make. From a draft stock perspective, Roby is leaving school a year too late. From a maturing prospect perspective, he is entering the NFL at the right time. There is no doubting his athleticism, his instincts or his skills with the ball in his hands. If he's ready to go to work on his technique, he may yet become the best corner in this bunch.
4. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State: Gilbert is the best zone corner in the draft, and he is a gifted athlete whose role as a return specialist is a dimension most other cornerback prospects don't have. He's big (6-foot, 200 pounds) and has the potential to be active in run support. I just don't see the skills around the ball that others seem confident are there. He's rocketing up draft boards, primarily because of the promise of the overall package. But looking at him purely as a cornerback, he's a notch below the best of this draft class.
5. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State: There may be no one in the draft pool at any position who gets more out of less than the 5-8, 190-pound Joyner -- whose measureables might even become less favorable after his trip to the Combine later this month. There isn't a coach at any level who wouldn't want a pure playmaker like Joyner. But where to put him? His skills in coverage would be wasted at free safety, but he might just be too short to be a boundary corner. He'll probably wind up playing slot corner, which is not a demotion. Most teams play three corners in their base defense these days. Joyner might not be able to match up against the Demaryius Thomas- or Eric Decker-sized receivers, but he's exactly who you'd want on the Wes Welkers of the world.
6. Jason Verrett, TCU: Like Joyner, Verrett is a talented college corner who lacks the ideal size for the NFL. He's as skilled in coverage as just about anyone in this draft; but at a skinny 5-10, 176, he could get manhandled by the outsized outside receivers he'll see at the next level. He projects as a slot corner who could see occasional snaps on the boundary, and he should be a reliable contributor from Day 1.
7. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech: Watching Fuller, there are times I see a guy who might be a more natural fit as a safety. He likes to keep the play in front of him, and seems to be at his best when coming up to support the run. That would make him a fine fit as a corner in a zone scheme, but even then, I wonder if his game speed is a bit of a limiting factor.
8. Keith McGill, Utah: The NFL is a copycat league. Something works for one team, everyone gives it a try, from the Tampa 2 to the Wildcat to the Read Option. The Next Big Thing in the NFL is sure to be the next big thing -- as in big cornerbacks. Teams saw what Seattle's cornerbacks did to Denver's unstoppable receivers and think, "Where can I found one of those guys?" McGill might never be at the level of Richard Sherman (himself a fifth-round draft pick) or Brandon Browner, but someone's is going to take a shot on a long-armed corner with developing ball skills.
9. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska: If you like McGill's size (6-3, 205), you're gonna flip for Jean-Baptiste, the biggest corner out there. At 6-3, 220, Jean-Baptiste is bigger than Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith, who likely will have to switch to safety to stick in the NFL. Jean-Baptiste made only 19 starts at Nebraska, so there's still some growing to do -- as a cornerback, that is. He's raw, particularly in mirroring receivers and anticipating routes. Does that sound like a certain Stanford corner who didn't blossom at the position until he'd reached the NFL?
10. Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida: Let's not dither here. Purifoy is not the corner he should be. He was a non-factor far too often in 2013, and, at times, was Florida's fourth-best corner, behind Roberson, freshman Vernon Hargreaves III and Jaylen Watkins, who had moved to safety. Purifoy is all potential at this point. It would require a secondary coach with the patience to maximize the athleticism and instincts, and not all NFL coaching staffs are filled with effective teachers. I don't quibble with anyone who prefers Pierre Desir (Lindenwood), E.J. Gaines (Missouri) or even Watkins over Purifoy at this point. But there are few players in this draft with Purifoy's potential ceiling.