Joe Marino’s Senior Cornerback Rankings for the 2014 NFL Draft

Dontae Johnson has stepped up to fill the void of David Amerson’s departure in his senior season at NC State. (Photo: Jim Brown — USA Today Sports)

6. Dontae Johnson, North Carolina State (6’2’’, 195 lbs)

After having no interceptions in the first 43 games of his collegiate career, Johnson has intercepted three passes in his last four games as of Nov. 2. With former All-ACC cornerback David Amerson gone to the NFL after this season, Johnson has stepped up as the Wolfpack’s number one corner and has performed admirably.

Johnson has the length and size to matchup with the NFL’s bigger receivers. He plays with a physical, aggressive demeanor and competes well for the football. Overall, Johnson has solid athleticism, quickness, speed and agility.

Johnson tracks the ball very well in the air and effectively positions himself to make plays. It’s nice to see him coming down with more interceptions of late. He had several opportunities to intercept passes in the past, but was unable to secure catches.

Johnson is a very good tackler. He can break down in space and make tackles in the boundary, and he is a very willing defender in run support and playing against screens.

Johnson is flying a bit under the radar to this point, but he is a good prospect that warrants attention.

7. Andre Hal, Vanderbilt (6’, 186 lbs)

Hal brings a great deal of experience against high level competition and has been a productive player. He has improved steadily over his career: after breaking up only two passes in his first 25 games, he has broken up 24 passes in his last 21 games.

Hal is a good athlete with good size for his position. He has good footwork and a very smooth backpedal. Hal is competitive at the catch point and uses his length to his advantage.

Hal has some work to do with his eye discipline. In zone coverage, he will get in trouble by too frequently looking back at the quarterback and losing sight of his man. In man coverage, Hal does not mirror his opponents as closely as he should. Part of that is due to the amount of off-man coverage Vanderbilt plays, but he needs to be able to close the distance between himself and receivers with more quickness.

Hal may not be a good fit for every NFL defensive scheme, but he could provide quality depth to a roster as an outside corner.

Aaron Colvin is a cornerback at Oklahoma, but he may be best suited to switch to safety in the NFL. (Photo: Charles LeClaire — USA Today Sports)

8. Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma (6’, 192 lbs)

Colvin has played in every game since stepping foot on Oklahoma’s campus and has had a productive career. He has primarily played cornerback but has spent time at safety as well.

Colvin’s best trait is his instinctiveness as it pertains to football. He has a natural feel for the game and coverage concepts. Colvin plays with good technique and awareness. He has proven himself to be an effective blitzer and a willing run defender.

The knock on Colvin will be his limited athletic ability. He has slow feet and change-of-direction quickness. It takes him too long to get to his top speed and by the time he does, he has often allowed significant separation to his opponent. This may make him more of a safety prospect, as he is best when he can keep the play in front of him and read the quarterback’s eyes.

Although his best NFL fit may be safety, the vast majority of his time at Oklahoma has come at cornerback, so he is ranked as such.

9. Jaylen Watkins, Florida (6’, 188 lbs)

The senior member of the Florida secondary is Jaylen Watkins. Watkins is not as athletic as Florida’s highly-regarded junior cornerback prospects, Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, are, but Watkins is a good prospect in his own right.

Watkins is a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none. For teams looking for a man cover cornerback, Watkins could be their guy. He gets excellent jams at the line of scrimmage and makes it very difficult for receivers to get clean releases.

Watkins mirrors well and has good ability to break on the football. He plays with good technique and has quick feet, which allow him to easily change direction. Because he has good hips, Watkins can turn and run very well.

Watkins can be susceptible to opening his hips too quickly, and that can get him in trouble with receivers who are quick in and out of breaks. He can get his body completely twisted in the wrong direction when his hips open too soon, and he does not have top-end recovery speed when receivers get past him.

Watkins has added value due to his versatility, as he has also lined up at safety for the Gators defense. He could find a home in the middle rounds of the 2014 draft.

Charles Sawyer may be best suited to play slot cornerback at the next level. (Photo: Daniel Shirey — USA Today Sports)

10. Charles Sawyer, Mississippi (5’11’’, 178 lbs)

Sawyer has played in 43 career games for the Rebels defense as of Nov. 2, and has been a productive and versatile player. He has started games at safety and corner, but projects best a nickel cornerback in the NFL.

Sawyer has the foot speed, agility and change-of-direction skills needed to defend the NFL’s speedy slot receivers. He can drive off his back foot to break up passes, and is excellent at high-pointing the football when it’s in the air. He has a physical demeanor that shows up in press coverage and when defending the run.

Two areas of concerns with Sawyer are his slender frame and off-field issues. He was arrested for DUI and running a stop sign earlier this season.

With the amount of four- and five-receiver sets that NFL offenses are running, it is vital to have a stable of corners who can come in and defend a variety of opponents. Sawyer’s athletic ability and experience give reason to believe he can come in and compete for a nickel cornerback job.

11. Pierre Desir, Lindenwood (6’2’’, 206 lbs)

Desir is a small school prospect with terrific size and athleticism. He has a knack for making big plays with 25 career interceptions. He has some tackling issues to tighten up, but looks like he could be a sleeper.

12. Rashaad Reynolds, Oregon State (5’11’’, 187 lbs)

Reynolds is a physical press corner with some upside. He competes for the ball well but has some technique issues, as he tends to get flat-footed in his backpedal.

13. Marcus Williams, North Dakota State (5’11’’, 192 lbs)

Williams is a smooth, fluid athlete with good hips and change of directions skills. He plays with good physicality and a competitive nature. Williams is very productive at the small school level but needs a bit more attention to detail, as he tends to get lazy with his technique and give up some easy catches.

14. Deion Belue, Alabama (5’ 11’’, 183 lbs)

Belue has transitioned nicely from the junior college ranks into a starter on an elite Alabama defense. Belue plays with good technique and body positioning. He has good closing speed and awareness. His ball skills and change-of-direction skills are below-average, however, and he needs to show more physicality.

15. Carrington Byndom, Texas (6’, 180 lbs)

Byndom is the next solid defensive back prospect out of Texas. He is a squatty corner who loves to drive off his back foot and disrupt passes. He has a ton of experience, but his lack of great athleticism pushes him down the rankings.

16. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska (6’3’’, 220 lbs)

Jean-Baptiste is a former wide receiver who transitioned to cornerback for the Cornhuskers during the middle of the 2011 season. He is still learning the nuances of the position, but has flashed coverage instincts. He has good hips and change-of-direction skills. I have major concerns about his tackling ability, but he has plenty of upside as a prospect.

17. Ross Cockrell, Duke (6’, 190 lbs)

Cockrell plays with good awareness and a competitive demeanor that makes him an interesting prospect. He has good size for the cornerback position, but lacks the change-of-direction quickness and ball skills to be considered more than a late-round pick.

18. Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech (5’10’’, 195 lbs)

Thomas is an extremely physical cornerback who has also played safety for the Yellow Jackets. He plays with good instincts and competes well for the ball. Thomas doesn’t have ideal burst or athleticism, but is worth late-round consideration.

19. Bene Benwikere, San Jose State (6’, 192 lbs)

Benwikere has a plethora of experience and terrific size for the cornerback position. He flashes coverage ability but is inconsistent overall. He tends to allow too much cushion and struggles to locate the ball in pass defense.

20. Bennett Jackson, Notre Dame (6’, 195 lbs)

Now in his second season as a starting cornerback for the Irish, Jackson has flashed coverage ability and instincts but has a lot to improve upon. His fluidity and athleticism are below average and he can be overly hesitant in his reactions, which leads to easy completions, but his size and physicality warrant late-round consideration.


To see Joe’s senior class rankings for other positions, check out our prospect rankings page.

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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

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