The top college prospects: Cornerback

A priority position come April, cornerbacks are selected early and often in the NFL draft. At least four cornerbacks have been chosen during the first round in every draft since 2001. Last April, 13 cornerbacks were selected before the second round ended. Since 2000, the 49ers have selected two cornerbacks in the first round and two in the second round, taking eight overall during that period, including two this year. It stands to reason they could be on the lookout for another next spring.

One could argue the top prospects at cornerback could come from the ranks of the underclassmen.  One thing is for sure: the saying "good things come in two's" is prevalent when analyzing this position.  

Four different schools each offer a pair of top-rated cornerbacks with great potential. 

Penn State seniors Alan Zemaitis and Anwar Phillips both grade out as top cornerback prospects.  Zemaitis is a terrific combination of size and speed.  A shutdown coverman, he possesses top ball skills and has opposing passers looking away from him.  As a result, Phillips gets a lot of action and holds his own.  Slightly smaller yet just as skilled, Phillips is higher rated by some scouting concerns and could make a move into the draft's initial 45 picks next April.  When all is said and done, Zemaitis could end up in the first round.

 As is usually the case, the Miami Hurricanes offer stud corners.  Senior Kelly Jennings is a natural coverman with outstanding skill.  Explosive, Jennings can be effectively used in a variety of defensive systems such as man-off coverage or zone.  Flashing skill, he is not a physical corner and plays a timid brand of football.  With the departure of Antrel Rolle, Jennings now has every opportunity to prove his worth and improve his draft ranking.  Teammate Devin Hester, a junior, is a star in the making.  A tremendous athlete who's also been used at receiver, Hester has shown he can be a dominant shutdown corner as well as a game-impacting return specialist.  And while he needs to fine-tune his game, Hester's upside for the next level is tremendous.  

The Georgia Bulldogs put safety Thomas Davis into the middle part of round one this year.  And though no UGA defensive back will go quite that high next April, corners Demario Minter and Tim Jennings have high grades coming into the '05 season.  Minter is a well-sized corner with top speed, clocking a fast 4.40 in the forty at 200 pounds.  Flashing skill, many in the program feel it is possible Minter can pull a "Carlos Rogers" this year -- making a huge move up draft boards with a terrific senior campaign.  Jennings is a full tenth faster in the forty yet almost four inches shorter.  For all his wonderful skill, size is a limiting factor and at 5-foot-8, Jennings projects as a nickel back at the next level. 

Texas is the final school with a pair of corners who will impact the '06 draft.  Michael Huff has been used at several positions in college, yet his man-to-man cover skills warrant a spot at cornerback in the NFL.  Possessing solid size and good speed, Huff has great instincts and is constantly around the ball making positive plays.  Cedric Griffin is a physical defensive back with excellent size as well as a solid special teams player.  A good athlete, Griffin offers a lot of upside for the next level. 

The ACC offers four more highly rated players at the cornerback position. 

Will Blackmon of Boston College has flashed skill the past two years and is a corner who makes the big play.  Switching to the offensive side of the ball this season, Blackmon will spend the year at wide receiver for the Eagles.  Expect him to make the move back to corner in the post season. 

Playing next to Justin Miller at Clemson last year, Tye Hill was the benefactor of many passes thrown in his direction as signal callers steered clear of Miller.  The results were good and Hill now enters his senior campaign with high marks.  Fast and a corner who likes to mix it up, a solid season will boost Hill into the draft's initial 40 selections. 

Reuben Houston of Georgia has been a physical yet steady force since his sophomore campaign, Houston presents himself as a potential press-cover corner for the next level.  For all his athletic and football abilities Houston's mental decisions pale in comparison.  Presently suspended by the university, Houston was arrested by authorities in June for trying to distribute more then 90 pounds of marijuana.   

Florida State's Antonio Cromartie, a junior, is another aggressive corner who physically beats down opponents.  Thought of as a potential top-32 pick after last season, Cromartie tore a ligament in his left knee the second week of July and will now miss the entire season. 

Juniors Ashton Youboty of Ohio State and Charles Gordon of Kansas are a pair of potential first-round selections if they enter the draft.  Both are shutdown corners with tremendous upside for the next level. 

Miami-Ohio's Darrell Hunter and Josh Lay of Pittsburgh are a pair of highly rated senior corners who could get first-day consideration with good senior campaigns.

After reading this many are wondering, where is Jimmy Williams of Virginia Tech?  The big, physical defensive back will be featured next week as one of the top safety prospects, the position we feel he is best suited for in the NFL.

# Name School
1 Devin Hester* Miami-Fl
2 Alan Zemaitis Penn State
3 Ashton Youboty* Ohio State
4 Will Blackmon Boston College
5 Charles Gordon* Kansas
6 Michael Huff Texas
7 Antonio Cromartie* Florida State
8 Tye Hill Clemson
9 Kelly Jennings Miami-Fl
10 Demario Minter Georgia
11 Reuben Houston Georgia Tech
12 Tim Jennings Georgia
13 Josh Lay Pittsburgh
14 Tim Mixon* California
15 Anwar Phillips Penn State
16 Cedric Griffin Texas
17 Travis Johnson Mississippi
18 Marcus Hamilton* Virginia
19 Darrell Hunter Miami-Oh
20 Antwan Allen Iowa


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