Leading up to the draft, I will be posting positional ranking from my best player's available board, with justifications for each pick. The earliest posts will be centered around positions the team will probably address early in the draft. Today, I begin with cornerbacks.
Why is the cornerback a key position the team could target as early as Round One? While Terell Brown and Chris Culliver played pretty well last season, neither is considered at this point a top level cornerback, and would be nickelbacks on some teams' rosters. In addition, while Carlos Rogers played at a high level last year, will he play at a Pro-Bowl level again, or revert back to be a functional starter, as we saw in his previous years with the Redskins? He truly was a Renaissance Man in 2011.
Finally, as Niners' fans saw this past year, teams like the Rams could have used six or seven solid corners going into last season, as they fell like flies during preseason and early into 2011. Hopefully, the Niners will not suffer the same fate, but vets will remember the team from a handful of years ago that had similar bizarre circumstances around injuries to our CB's.
This is not a final grade, as I am still manipulating players around, but for now, this is how I would rank them.
Here is the list
Rank Player School
1 Morris Claiborne LSU- Forget the 4 score on the Wonderlic. Claiborne is a corner, not an accountant. He is almost as elite as Patrick Peterson at the corner position (minus the return skills and blinding straightline speed), While a sub 6' player (5'11 1/8", 188), Claiborne makes up for it with a excellent balance, terrific change of direction abilities, and one of the best abilities to find and snatch the ball we have seen in college ball in a long time. I have him going a bit later than most, at number eight, due to other team's needs, but this is a quality player who should make a run at a Pro-Bowl in the first three years.
2 Janoris Jenkins North Alabama- In my opinion, there are only two elite corners in this draft, and Jenkins is a risk-reward pick. He has the best short area footwork of any corner in the draft, able to stop and change direction effortlessly. Just like Claiborne, he doesn't have elite straightline speed like Patrick Peterson (Peterson- 4.31; Jenkins- 4.46; Claiborne- 4.50), nor the height of Peterson or Claiborne (at 5'9 3/4") but covers WR's like a blanket. His technique is far superior to Claiborne, as he sits down better than any corner in the draft. The risk: a team has to be worried about the off the field issues. However, Jenkins may have alleviated some of those fears with his candidness at the combine. Smart PR move.
3 Stephon Gilmore South Carolina- Maybe the most intriguing corner in the draft, as he could end up elite, or a bargain bin free agent at the end of his first contract. Has the height that teams prefer to both Claiborne and Jenkins (at 6' 1/2") and better straightline speed than either (4.40), but does not change direction as well, and doesn't have the same ball skills. So, while his measurables are superior to the top two guys in most catagories, we are dealing with a product that may or may not end up being a difference-maker.
4 Brandon Boykin Georgia- Another of the smurf-like corners at 5' 9 1/2", Boykin is a second round player who could end up becoming first round value. What is a team getting? First, a guy that can stop on a dime and run with anyone. Second, a fiesty player who will fight for the ball, even with the potential of height differential issues. Finally, a guy who is a return specialist who will create nightmares for opposing special teams' coaches. Now, the team that drafts Boykin may need to put him as a nickel for the first year or two. But, in the end, they are getting a quality starter and a guy that influences field position (one of the reasons I believe Patrick Peterson was greatly underrated this past season).
5 Josh Robinson Central Florida- Robinson is another intriguing guy. Is he a legit 4.33 player? I don't see that game speed. Is he dominant like Claiborne or Jenkins? Not to this point. Could he emerge as a player who warrants a second round final draft status? More than likely. Apologizing for what appears to be a measurement stuck in the same position, Robinson is 5' 9 1/2". Here is the kicker: He is probably the most elite athlete of any of the corners. He ran the fastest, jumped higher than almost everyone at the combine, ran a blinding 3-cone drill. So, you are getting a great athlete. But, instincts are huge for corners, and this is what Robinson lacks compared to the top level guys. After 6 INT's high freshman year, only two in 2010 and two in 2011.
6 Dre Kirkpatrick Alabama - The worst value pick of the corner class in this draft is Dre Kirkpatrick. While teams love his height, at 6' 1 1/2", and length, I think the league will see a guy who will struggle to change directions at a top level in the NFL. Players like Patrick Peterson, at this 6'1" height, are rare in their ability to flip and maintain speed and balance. Kirkpatrick does not have this elite ability. So, separation will be an issue he will need to confront, and he doesn't have elite closing speed to make up this difference. Best served in press coverage, where he can get his hands on a player and slow their progress down the field. Solid tackler.
7 Josh Norman Coastal Carolina- Norman must have GM's scratching their heads. After completing dominating competition at the East-West Shrine Game week, along with Brandon Brooks, Norman then goes and runs a mid 4.6 time at the combine. Yikes!!! So, what does a team get with this tall corner who is 6' 3/8"? Not an elite athlete (his athletic measurables were sub-par with the corner group at the combine), but a guy with excellent instincts. Also, a guy who closes quickly, and is active using his hands to deflect the ball. This kid is a scrapper, and while he probably begins his NFL career as a nickel, could be a starter within a year.
8 Jayron Hosley Virginia Tech- Hosley is another of the fine line of Hokies' CB, but is one of the smallest in the NFL. At 5'9 3/4", he weighs in less than 180 pounds. So, you are not getting a thickly built 195 corner who will be sturdy in run support. At the same time, a team will get a smooth corner who can transition well, and shadow receivers across the field. He is not as aggressive as Boykin, nor does he have the special teams skills, but Hosley is a second rounder who should be a starter by year 3. The guy is a legitimate cover corner.
9 Alfonzo Dennard Nebraska- One of the highest graded corners entering into the post-season was severely exposed at the Senior Bowl. Dennard was penciled in as a sure fire first rounder, but he might not even be a second rounder when draft weekend appears. While tough and fiesty at the line of scrimmage, where his energies are best focused, he struggled in off-man coverage. Change of direction skills are severely lacking for a top 75 pick. He is rocked up at 5'10", 204, and will be excellent in run support, but a 4.55 time was disappointing when he desperately needed a huge comeback.
10 Jamell Fleming Oklahoma- Similarly sized as Dennard, Fleming is wild card in this CB class. Could be a starter with fantastic upside, or a guy who never does more than play the nickel. Not a very proficient tackler, but is a solid cover corner. Can change directions well, and has decent instincts. He is a fighter on the field, scrapping to deflect balls in the air, and strip WR's. I see some similarities to Cortland Finnegan in his game (Fleming is the same height and about 10 pounds heavier). Could be a real steal for someone in the third round, but he is a prospect that will take at least two years to play significant minutes.
I'm sure some will disagree with my assessments in some of the players. That is OK. Every GM has a different value placed upon players, and may see different skills or deficiencies than others. I do appreciate your input.
[ Edited by MadDog49er on Apr 4, 2012 at 1:04 PM ]