2008 NFL draft/positional analysis: CB

The 49ers have a star at left cornerback in Nate Clements, but the team needs to start grooming a replacement for Walt Harris on the other side, and a good team can never have enough good cornerbacks. This draft has many flavors at the position, starting with all-around talents and working down to athletes who play cornerback. We review in-depth the top 10 cornerbacks available this weekend.

POSITION ANALYSIS: While this doesn't look like a position that 49ers would target with their first-round pick, the talent level at cornerback is very good this year and there are at least a couple of candidates that could make a big impact with the Niners. Because of the depth at the position, there could be two very different scenarios that play out. The first could be a run on corners in the first round that could see four or five go off the board. The other could be the belief of teams in the middle of the round that there is enough depth that they can wait until the second round to grab one. If that's the case and three of four teams do that, there could be a lot of trade activity in the early part of the second round as teams jump up to snag the player they have targeted as an immediate contributor.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Leodis McKelvin, Troy, 5-10¼, 190:
Fourth-year senior … Three-year starter who started the final 36 games of his college career … In his final two seasons, he had 126 tackles, 19 passes defensed, three interceptions and five forced fumbles … Good size and speed combination … Sound in most coverage responsibilities … Does not get fooled on play action or misdirection … Can play both man and off coverage well … A dynamic kick returner whose seven return TDs for his career was just one short of the all-time NCAA record … Excellent closing burst … Works hard to eliminate mistakes … Didn't face top competition in college … Had some problem times during the Senior Bowl against the best receivers in the college game … Does not have great hands – just four picks in 48 career games … Has a learning curve ahead of him … Ran a 4.39 40 at the Combine with 18 reps of 225 pounds, a 38½-inch vertical jump and a 10-5 broad jump.
Projection: A few years ago, being from Troy would downgrade a player on many draft boards. But since the success of players like DeMarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora, Troy isn't such a bad place to alma mater. McKelvin has all the intangibles you would want and is a willing student. He can only get better and should be the first corner to come off the board. He might not be, but we believe that, in the end when this draft is judged, he should be.

Mike Jenkins, South Florida, 5-10¼, 193: Fourth-year senior … Three-year starter who made starts in all 37 games he played in that span … In his final two seasons, he had 68 tackles, 27 passes defensed and four interceptions … Excellent combination of size, speed and strength … Has excellent closing and recovery speed and seems to have a second gear … Does not bite on play fakes and stays in position to make plays … Has a good backpedal and can flip in coverage without losing a step on receivers … Does not have ideal ball awareness and will have well-thrown balls fall in over his shoulder in deep coverage … Is not a great practice player and doesn't always give 100 percent in game situations … Tries to do too much at times and will miss tackles as a result – some of which have turned into touchdowns … Has balked at playing special teams, which has come across to some scouts as being arrogant and an unwilling teammate … Ran a 4.48 40 at the Combine with 19 reps, a 33½-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump.
Projection: He has all-around abilities that will compare to anyone in the draft, and a lot of scouts have him tabbed as the best corner in the draft. He needs to adjust his attitude somewhat and not come off as a player that is too full of himself, but he is unquestioned as one of the top man-cover corners in the draft and should go in the second half of the first round.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Tennessee State, 6-1½, 182: Fourth-year senior who started all 44 games of his college career … Cousin of former first-round draft pick Antonio Cromartie … In his final two seasons, he had 80 tackles, 17 passes broken up, five interceptions and two forced fumbles … Has one of the best combinations of size and speed of any corner in the last few years … Has all the physical tools to be a dominant CB at the NFL level … Has long arms … Has great closing speed to make up for mistakes or missteps … Has good hip movement and can flip and chase receivers without losing speed … Is very thin and some think he was have difficulty staying healthy in the NFL … Does not have great upper-body strength to jam receivers … He played against predominantly lesser competition … Will not provide too much help in run support … Is not always quick to react and respond to receivers changing their routes … Played in a very simplistic defense in college … Had an outstanding Combine performance with a 4.33 40, 16 reps of 225 pounds, a 38½-inch vertical jump and a 10-11 broad jump – best among CBs at the Combine.
Projection: After looking very good in the Senior Bowl and at the Combine, DRC is one of the fastest-rising prospects in the draft. He could be the first CB taken if a team is willing to look past his pedestrian competition and focus on his pure athleticism. He has all the tools to be a Pro Bowler and it wouldn't be a surprise if he goes as high as No. 10 to the Saints.

Aqib Talib, Kansas, 6-1, 197: Fourth-year junior who started 32 of the 34 games he played in college … In his final two seasons, he had 108 tackles, 40 passes broken up and 11 interceptions … Ideal size and very long arms … Plays well in both man and off coverage … Reads the QB well and is able to position himself to jump routes … Has a good backpedal, a smooth transition turn and excellent closing speed … Was used as a part-time wide receiver as a senior and averaged almost 23 yards per reception as well as a punt returner … Isn't overly tough or aggressive in jamming receivers or in run support … Has good straight-line speed but doesn't have top-end recovery speed … Viewed by a lot of scouts as being much too cocky … Has trouble sifting his way through traffic to help out on running plays and doesn't always give his best effort … One of two players cited following the Combine for testing positive for marijuana … Can get beaten over the top … Ran a 4.40 40 at the Combine with a position-worst 10 reps of 225 pounds, a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-11 broad jump that was the best among cornerbacks who tested.
Projection: Had he gone back for his senior season, he could have been a top five or six pick in 2009, but he has all the skills to get himself drafted in the first round. He is likely best suited for a zone coverage scheme that won't force him to go heads-up with receivers, but the recent revelation that he has tested positive more than once for pot could drop him significantly on some teams' boards. Even so, he shouldn't make it out of the first round.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Brandon Flowers, Virginia Tech, 5-10, 188:
Fourth-year junior who redshirted in his true freshman season after breaking his right fibula in the season opener … A two-year started who started all 27 games in his final two seasons … In two years as a full-time starter, he had 119 tackles, 22 passes broken up, and six interceptions … A big, physical corner who is very good at jamming receivers and tackling with some explosiveness … A good tackler one-on-one in the open field … Is strong in run support and will bring his best effort … Has the versatility to be viewed as either a cornerback or a safety for a team in need and has the skills to handle both positions if asked … Adept at knocking passes away at their highest point and preventing huge receptions … Does not have a fluid transition and is slow by NFL cornerback standards … Will get burned on double-moves by receivers and doesn't have the recovery speed to make up for it … Is not effective on corner blitzes and always seems to arrive a step slower than he needs to … Is not as tall as some teams would like … Had a brutal workout at the Combine – his 4.56 40 was third-worst among cornerbacks, he did 15 reps, his 30½-inch vertical jump was second-worst and his 9-7 broad jump was third-worst.
Projection: A solid game-playing corner who didn't help his stock at the Combine. He has great instincts and, like corners like Antoine Winfield and Nathan Vasher, he uses his skills to mask his deficiencies. Teams that put a lot of stock in Combine numbers will drop him considerably, but he has an outside chance of going late in the first round.

Reggie Smith, Oklahoma, 6-0¾, 197: Third-year junior … Started 36 of the 39 games he played in his college career … Put the NFL on notice as a junior, making 78 tackles, 14 passes broken up and three interceptions … Played both safety and cornerback in college and brings versatility to the draft … Very strong in run support … Reads and reacts well and doesn't bite on play-action or misdirection … Has good leaping ability and will knock away passes … A punt returner that made enough of a name for himself that it will be a plus on draft weekend … Bites on double-moves by receivers and doesn't have make-up speed … Does not have speed to keep up with top NFL wideouts deep downfield without help … Cocky player who has a sense of entitlement … Loses a step when asked to flip his hips in coverage … Misses too many tackles in the open field … Did not work out at the Combine due to a toe injury, but at his Pro Day he ran a 4.61 40 – the slowest among any of the top CB prospects.
Projection: A better player than athlete, Smith brings versatility to play both corner and safety. However, his skills are limited and he will never be a shut-down corner. He could work well in a Tampa-2 system like the Vikings operate, but, at a time when teams taking corners are looking for lock-down types, he doesn't fit that bill. As a result, he will drop well into the second round.

Patrick Lee, Auburn, 6-0¼, 196: Fifth-year senior … A state champion in the long jump as a high school senior in Florida (23 feet, 10 inches) … Did not become a full-time starter until his senior year, when he had 55 tackles, 10 passes broken up and four picks … A nice combination of size and strength … Very good in run support … A player who doesn't mind mixing it up and delivering the big hit … Has a good backpedal in coverage and doesn't lose much of an advantage when asked to cover a receiver deep … Can play effectively in both man coverage and off coverage … Pops receivers on a jam nicely and can force them off their routes … Has good timing to slap passes away when they are in front of him … Does not have a second gear to take receivers deep without losing his cushion … Does not have a burst on the snap or the ability to step-and-move when a receiver makes a sharp cut … Has just one year of full-time experience as a starter … Can't take on receivers one-on-one at the next level, especially if passes are launched deep … A very good college player whose strengths don't necessarily transfer to the pros … Ran a 4.53 40 at the Combine with 16 reps, a 35-inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump.
Projection: His toughness is his calling card. He will likely get taken in the second round because he can bring the big hit to receivers and be solid in run support. But, if asked to be the main man and cover a team's top receiver, he won't succeed. He could excel in a Cover-2 defense like the Vikings run, but for teams desperate for CB help, he is more of complementary type of corner, not the main man.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Antoine Cason, Arizona, 6-0½, 187:
Fourth-year senior … Started all 46 games of his college career, finishing with 253 tackles, 28 passes broken up, 15 interceptions and six forced fumbles … Cousin of 2001 draft picks Ken-Yon Rambo and Aveion Cason … Won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2007, given to the top defensive back in college football … Has very good upper-body strength (see below) … Plays his position like a wide receiver – doesn't look to knock away passes, he looks to pick them off … Doesn't bite too often on play-fakes or misdirection … Has the makeup speed to compensate for a misstep in coverage … Gets in the grill of the receiver he's locked up with and rarely lets him get the upper hand … Doesn't offer much in the way of run support and doesn't consistently give his best effort in that regard … Allows too many receptions in front of him when dropping in coverage … Viewed by some as a ‘tweener – not fast enough to be a top cover corner and not big enough to be a dominant safety … Doesn't de-cleat receivers, he tends to slide down the bodies of receivers to make tackles and will allow some extra yards after the catch as a result … Ran a 4.46 40 at the Combine with 20 reps (third-best among CBs that tested), a 36-inch vertical jump and a 10-8 broad jump.
Projection:A battle-tested college corner that has a lot of the skills needed to excel at the pro level. Because he is so physical, he would seem to be the best fit in a Cover-2 system like the Vikings run. He will never be a shutdown corner despite his strength at the snap, but could be a very good pro. He likely won't make it out of the second round, but will best be suited to be a No. 2 corner at the next level.

Tyvon Branch, Connecticut, 5-11½, 204: Fourth-year senior … Gatorade Track Athlete of the Year in New York as high school senior, winning the 100 and 200 meters at the state tournament … Two-year starter who had 168 tackles, 15 passes broken up and three forced fumbles in that span … Extremely good speed – his 4.32 40 at the Combine turned heads as one of the best times posted … Has good closing speed on passes in front of him … Makes hits with some ferocity and will force some receivers to have alligator arms as a result … Adds the bonus of being a solid kick returner … Doesn't have great instincts and will allow receivers to get enough separation on cuts and double-moves to make uncontested catches … Does not have ideal footwork … Is not a game-changer – in 48 career games, he has just three interceptions … Does not give 100 percent in run support … Ran a sparkling 4.32 40 at the Combine (second-best among corners) with 20 reps of 225 pounds, a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump.
Projection: His Combine performance put him on the map. He has many of the qualities scouts look for in cornerbacks and his special teams abilities as a kick returner and gunner on punt coverage will increase his cache on draft day. He likely will drop to the third round, but has all the makings of being a value pick that out-performs some of the players taken ahead of him.

Justin King, Penn State, 5-10¾, 189: Third-year junior … A Parade All-American and Gatorade Player of the Year in Pennsylvania as a high school senior … Played wide receiver as a freshman before moving to cornerback … A two-year, full-time starter at CB, making 79 tackles, breaking up 24 passes and making three interceptions … Has extremely good quickness … A very good jump off the snap … Has very good recovery speed when he flips into deep coverage or makes a misstep … Attacks the deep pass and goes up for balls like he is the offensive player … Will be physical and fight for position on short routes … Too skinny … Has little in the way of upper-body strength (see below) … Is viewed as a raw prospect that will need time to develop … Does not offer much help in run support … Slow to react to passes that are intentionally underthrown … A player who has more finesse than a killer instinct … His 4.30 40 at the Combine was the best among CBs and had 13 reps of 225 pounds (tied for third-worst), a 37½-inch vertical jump and a 10-6 broad jump.
Projection: His lights-out speed will get him drafted in the third or fourth round, but his lack of tangible game experience will drop him significantly in a class that has more polished players.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Charles Godfrey, Iowa, 6-0, 205
Jack Ikegwuonu, Kent State, 5-10¾, 193
Chevis Jackson, LSU, 6-0¼, 192
Tracy Porter, Indiana, 5-10¾, 187
Terrell Thomas, USC, 6-0¼, 187
DeJuan Tribble, Boston College, 5-8¾, 196


Niners Digest Top Stories