2011 Draft Preview: Cornerbacks

We continue our extensive preview of the 2011 NFL draft with a look at the top prospects at cornerback.

Defensively, the job of the cornerback has become more difficult than ever. It seems the National Football League becomes more pass-oriented with each season while at the same time, receivers continue to grow bigger, stronger and faster. It's become increasingly important to have quality players on the outside that can match up physically.

For that reason, two players stand head-and-shoulders above the rest of the cornerback group. Louisiana State's Patrick Peterson may very well be the best overall prospect in the entire 2011 class. The Jim Thorpe Award winner boasts a truly rare combination of size, speed and athletic ability and could be the highest-rated cornerback prospect of the last decade. Nebraska's Prince Amukamara displays a similar physical presence in the secondary and often earns comparisons to New York Jets' standout Darelle Revis for his style of play. Both players are a lock to be selected in the top half of the first round.

Peterson and Amukamara could be joined by two others in the first round. Colorado's Jimmy Smith possesses the ideal size and length combination to battle the league's behemoth receivers, but character concerns and off-field issues may cost him some money come draft day. Texas' Aaron Williams is another Big 12 corner that boasts exceptional size, however some teams may view him as a better fit at free safety due to his high backpedal and somewhat stiff hips.

Smith and Williams could potentially slip into the second round, where they will likely be joined by Miami's Brandon Harris. Unlike the previous four on the board, Harris doesn't have great size to matchup physically. Instead, he makes up for his stature with outstanding athleticism, displaying the quick feet, fluid hips and pure speed to stick to receivers like glue in man-coverage.

POSITION REPORT CARD: There is a slight drop-off after the first two players at the position, but that doesn't mean there aren't quality players to be had throughout the second and third day of the draft. This group is filled with intriguing depth from top to bottom, and don't sleep on some of the later-round small-school studs (not listed here, but watch out for The Citdel's Cortez Allen, Southern Illinois' Korey Lindsey and Northwest Missouri State's Ryan Jones). I've assigned this group a B-plus grade.

Patrick Peterson, Louisiana State
6:00.2-219-4.38


Good News: Rare combination of size, speed and athletic ability…Good instincts for the position…Elite man coverage defender…Displays the strength and physicality to put a jam on the receiver at the line of scrimmage…Fluid hips and great speed allow him to turn and run with any receiver…Gets head around to find the football…Strong enough to win jump-ball battles and come down with the INT…Great ball skills…Breaks on the ball with good burst and rarely five up yards after catch…Elite punt returner with fantastic speed.

Bad News: Very few weaknesses…Can get a little over aggressive on double-moves, but has the speed to recover…Does not always give fantastic effort in run support and is content letting a teammate make the tackle, although he will stick his nose in and take out a blocker at times when the run is coming at him.

2010 Statistics: Unanimous All-American and recipient of the Bednarik and Thorpe Awards…Named the SEC's Defensive and Special Teams Player of the Year…Registered 42 total tackles with 1.5 tackles-for-loss…Added four interceptions, six pass deflections and a quarterback hurry…Also gained 932 yards on 32 kickoff returns (29.13 avg) and 418 yards with two touchdowns on 26 punt returns (16.08 avg).

Prediction: Not only is Peterson the top cornerback available in 2011, but in my opinion (as well as many others), he's the top overall prospect. The Bednarik Award winner boasts rare natural ability. He's an elite cover corner "stuck" inside the body of a safety. If that's not enough, Peterson also emerged as a dynamic return specialist in 2011. He's undoubtedly a lock for a top-10 selection.

Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
6:00.0-206-4.48


Good News: Big and strong for the position with quick feet and fluid hips…Breaks on the ball very quickly…Exceptional at getting his arms in to knock away the ball…Excellent physicality – provides a nice jam on the receiver to re-route at the line of scrimmage…Very good awareness and instincts…Aggressive in run support.

Bad News: Very few weaknesses…Can be susceptible to double-moves and lacks elite recovery speed…Can get a little too physical downfield and draw flags…Questionable ball skills – intercepted just five passes in career (all came in 2009), although he also deflected 26 others.

2010 Statistics: Unanimous All-American and was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year…Registered 59 total tackles with one sack…Added 13 pass deflections.

Prediction: Like Peterson, Amukamara plays a physical brand of football. In fact, the former Nebraska standout often earns comparisons to Darelle Revis for his style of play. Amukamara brings a combination of size and strength to match up against today's behemoth wide receivers and won't last past Detroit at 13.

Jimmy Smith, Colorado
6:02.2-211-4.47


Good News: Excellent combination of size and length…Physical in press-coverage and uses length to re-route receivers…Also uses length to turn and run up the sideline while staying on his man…Good instincts and awareness to undercut underneath routes and uses length to get his hands in and knock the ball away…Aggressive in run support.

Bad News: High in his backpedal and too often allows receivers to eat up cushion in off-coverage…Can take too many wasted steps when planting and breaking…Helps out in run support, but isn't overly effective at getting off of blocks…Character concerns and off-field issues.

2010 Statistics: All-Big 12 Conference first-team selection…Registered 68 total tackles with 2.5 tackles-for-loss…Added five pass deflections and a fumble recovery.

Prediction: Smith owns a size and length combination that makes defensive backs coaches salivate. He's physical in coverage and can compete with the league's bigger receivers. However, strong character concerns and off-field issues (we won't get into specifics) continue to follow him throughout the draft process and may end up pushing him into the second round. Still, it seems unlikely that Smith will fall out of the first round, as several teams in the second half of the first round have a need at corner.


Aaron Williams, Texas
5:11.7-204-4.62


Good News: Excellent size…Good instincts and awareness…Solid speed and good ball skills…Gets head around on deeper routes and can adjust to come down with the interception…Displays the ability to win jump ball situations thanks to his size…Aggressive in run support and flashes a bit of explosiveness as a tackler.

Bad News: Stays high in his backpedal and can have trouble in transition…A bit stiff in the hips…Isn't overly strong or physical in his jam despite size…Lacks elite recovery speed…Can be overly aggressive and susceptible to double-moves and play-action.

2010 Statistics: All-Big 12 Conference second-team selection…Registered 46 total tackles with five tackles-for-loss and one sack…Added 10 pass deflections, three forced fumbles and a blocked kick.

Prediction: Williams possesses good size and was most often matched up against the opponent's biggest receiver during his tenure at Texas. However, he looks high in his backpedal and has some trouble dropping his hips. His solid ball skills and tackling ability make him a prime candidate to move to free safety at the next level. Williams should warrant late first-round or early second-round consideration.

Brandon Harris, Miami (FL)
5:09.4-191-4.52


Good News: Possesses quick feet and loose hips…Can turn and run with most receivers…Can plant and break on the ball in a hurry…Excellent game speed…Displays solid overall ball skills, although he doesn't intercept many passes…Great intangibles – feisty competitor who provides a leader in the secondary.

Bad News: Average size…Lacks strength to offer a great jam and can be beat off the line on occasion, although he does have sufficient recovery speed…Won't win many jump-ball battles against bigger receivers and can be outmuscled for the football…Good effort in run support but has to resort to less-than-ideal technique to bring down ball carriers.

2010 Statistics: All-ACC second-team selection…Registered 45 total tackles with two tackles-for-loss…Added 10 pass deflections, two forced fumbles and an interception.

Prediction: Unlike the previous four in the group, Harris lacks elite size and relies more on his outstanding athleticism. He displays the speed, quick feet and fluid hips to run with most receivers and is exceptional in man coverage. However, I'm still not sold on his ability to handle some of the league's massive and physical receivers as a starter on the outside. He could warrant some early playing time as a nickel defender and should be chosen in the second round.

BEST OF THE REST

Davon House, New Mexico State
6:00.4-200-4.49

Notes: Great size and physicality make him especially effective in press coverage.
Projection: 2nd round

Curtis Brown, Texas
5:11.5-185-4.54

Notes: Offers great value in the second day and could develop into a quality starter thanks to good length, quick feet and loose hips.
Projection: 2nd-3rd round

Brandon Burton, Utah
5:11.5-190-4.52

Notes: Loves to challenge receivers in press coverage and could develop into a starter in that kind of scheme due to his height, length, speed and quick feet.
Projection: 2nd-3rd round

Chimdi Chekwa, Ohio State
5:11.6-191-4.38

Notes: Possesses a very slight frame and doesn't have great strength, but is a fluid athlete with fantastic straight-line speed.
Projection: 2nd-3rd round
Ras-I Dowling, Virginia
6:01.3-198-4.56

Notes: Possesses outstanding size and first-round talent, but struggles to stay healthy and durability has knocked his stock into the second day.
Projection: 2nd-3rd round


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