BBD Staff Writer: Joe Marino
Cornerback is emerging as one of the most important positions in football. With more and more NFL offenses putting four- and five-receiver sets on the field, it is imperative to have depth at the cornerback position.
I put more emphasis than many people do on cornerbacks’ run-stopping ability considering the need for defensive backs to be able to stop the run when playing against the spread. Physicality was also a trait that I looked for in my evaluations. It is important to be able to disrupt routes and timing of the offense with a good physical presence in press coverage.
This year’s senior class has a decent amount of depth, and more names will be certain to emerge as we go through the scouting process. For now, these are my top 20 senior cornerbacks for the 2014 NFL draft class.
Note: All statistics as of Nov. 2.
1. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State (6’, 200 lbs)
Gilbert is a proven performer as a corner and a special teams contributor who can come in and help a team instantly in both areas.
The first thing I notice about Gilbert is his tremendous footwork. He has extremely quick feet and the smoothest backpedal of any of the senior corners. His overall athleticism is very good and he combines that with good length. These traits allow him to mirror his opponents and make plays on the ball. He has good ball skills, as evidenced by his nine career interceptions and 29 passes defended.
Gilbert is a great kickoff returner who is tied for the most kickoff return touchdowns in Big 12 history with five. He also excels as a gunner in punt coverage and is consistently the first man to get to the opposing punt returner.
Gilbert brings a lot to the table as a prospect. His combination of special teams ability, length and athleticism have him looking like a potential first-round selection.
2. Jason Verrett, Texas Christian (5’10’’, 176 lbs)
After beginning his career in the junior college ranks, Verrett has transitioned nicely into a starting cornerback at Texas Christian. Across his past 22 games (junior and seniors), Verrett has eight interceptions and 36 total passes defensed.
Verrett plays tight coverage and doesn’t allow opposing receivers any separation. He is a very smooth athlete who can flip his hips and run with anybody very naturally. He has tremendous short-area burst and quickness to go along with excellent long speed.
At the catch point, Verrett is very competitive and aggressive to defend the ball. He utilizes excellent technique while doing so and tracks the ball very well.
Verett can be very good in run support and blitzing from the corner. He is a very solid tackler who tenaciously attacks ballcarriers. That said, Verett is easily blocked, and this is part of where his size concerns come into play. I have a difficult time envisioning him defending talented, big-bodied NFL receivers; he just doesn’t have the frame to adequately match up.
Even so, Verrett is an excellent football player overall with great instincts and superb athleticism.
3. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech (6’, 194 lbs)
Fuller, who has been a starting defensive back for the Hokies since his freshman season, is a versatile defensive back who I can envision playing either cornerback or safety, but I like him best at cornerback.
Fuller’s best trait is his exceptional ball skills. He has a great feel for breaking up passes, and utilizes his length well in this area while utilizing good technique. He has a good feel for undercutting routes and breaking on the ball, as he can track the ball very well. I love his competitiveness at the catch point.
In coverage, Fuller displays much better short-area burst than long speed. When he bites on double moves and allows separation from his man, he doesn’t have great recovery speed. Overall, he is inconsistent with his eye discipline.
Against the run, Fuller has shown his willingness to mix it up and make plays. Although he shows physicality against the run, I want to see that show up more in press coverage.
Fuller is an experienced and productive defender with good size and instincts. He should be among the first 50 to 75 selections in the 2014 draft.
4. E.J. Gaines, Missouri (5’11’’, 195 lbs)
Gaines is a three-year starter and four-year contributor for the Missouri defense, but he is coming into his own during his senior season with four interceptions in his last seven games.
Gaines plays the game with good physicality and an aggressive demeanor. Whether he is defending a screen or run play, Gaines will contribute nicely as a tackler. He is fluid in his motions and has solid quickness and long speed.
The Missouri defense plays a good mix of man and zone coverages, and Gaines excels in both schemes. He has good awareness and instincts in zone, while he can mirror and play tight coverage in man. This scheme diversity will help elevate his draft stock.
Gaines is ascending at the right time during his senior season. A good athlete with a lot of experience, he is a likely top-50 selection.
5. Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State (5’11’’, 197 lbs)
Having been a starter since his sophomore season, Dennard has been a productive player for the Spartans. Dennard looks like a solid fit for a Cover 2 scheme as he has shown the ability to press and contribute as a run defender.
Dennard’s physicality stands out. He is very aggressive early in routes and does not allow receivers to easily get into their routes, which throws off the timing of plays. He is stout at the point-of-attack when dealing with blockers and makes plays in run support.
The downside to his physicality is that it shows up too often down the field, as he is flagged frequently for holding and pass interference penalties. With a lack of long/recovery speed and tightness in the hips, he is often forced to resort to committing penalties. His instincts overcome some of this at the college level, but his limited athleticism and penalties are concerning projecting him to the NFL.
Dennard flashes good ball skills and closes on the ball well. He is a fierce competitor at the catch point, but he sometimes leaves too much cushion between him and the receiver for him to get to the catch point.
15 years ago, Dennard would have been more valuable. He is a good football player, but lack of athleticism will push him down the board.
See page 2 for the cornerbacks ranked 6-20.
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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Aaron Colvin, Alabama, Andre Hal, Bene Benwikere, Bennett Jackson, Carrington Byndom, Charles Sawyer, Cornerbacks, Darqueze Dennard, Deion Belue, Dontae Johnson, Draft Rankings, Duke, E.J. Gaines, Florida, Georgia Tech, Jason Verrett, Jaylen Watkins, Jemea Thomas, Justin Gilbert, Kyle Fuller, Lindenwood, Marcus Williams, Michigan State, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina State, North Dakota State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Pierre Desir, Positional Rankings, Rashaad Reynolds, Ross Cockrell, San Jose State, Seniors, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, TCU, Texas, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech