Scouting the Draft: Cornerbacks

Size is everything for the Packers, who historically have shown zero interest in short cornerbacks. Perhaps six cornerbacks will go in the first round, with question marks surrounding most of them.

Peters photo by Steven Bisig/USA TODAY

In Part 15 of our Green Bay Packers draft preview, we examine the first-round cornerbacks.

PACKERS AREA OF NEED (1 TO 10)

Nine: Last season, the Packers had so much depth at cornerback that guys like Davon House and Casey Hayward had a hard time getting on the field for regular playing time. That’s no longer the case. House signed with Jacksonville and Tramon Williams signed with Cleveland. That leaves Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde at corner. That’s a pretty good trio, but the depth has gone out the door — which is a problem considering Shields and Hayward have had a hard time getting through a 16-game season. At this point, the fourth corner is former point guard Demetri Goodson.

It’s not just what happened in free agency that makes this a key position. Hayward, who finally has his chance to be a full-time starter, is entering the final year of his rookie deal. And Shields’ cap number rises $3 million to a whopping $12,125,000 for 2015 and 2016. At that price, Shields very well could be a cap casualty unless he goes from being a good cornerback to an elite one.

IT’S WORTH NOTING

Florida Atlantic’s D’Joun Smith intercepted seven passes and ranked second nationally with 20 passes defensed. Ronald Darby was a key defender on Florida State’s powerhouse defense. Ohio State’s Doran Grant picked off five passes as a senior. Oregon State’s Steven Nelson intercepted eight passes in his two seasons. Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is a two-time All-American. Mississippi’s Senquez Golson was a consensus first-team All-American after intercepting 10 passes. TCU’s Kevin White earned a decisive victory in his one-on-one matchup with West Virginia’s star receiver with the same name. Memphis’ Bobby McCain picked off five passes as a senior. Tulane’s Lorenzo Doss had 15 interceptions in his three seasons. Texas’ Quandre Diggs started 49 games and is the brother of Quentin Jammer.

And none of them will go to Green Bay.

The Packers haven’t drafted a short cornerback since Terrell Buckley in 1992. In recent years, House is 6-foot 1/2, Hayward 5-11 3/8, Hyde 5-11 7/8 and Goodson 5-11. Shields is the shortest corner on the roster at 5-10 3/4. All of the prospects listed above are 5-10 5/8 or shorter. As receivers continue to get bigger and taller every year, there’s little reason to believe the Packers will deviate from their history. That means nine of the top 21 corners in this draft (Smith is ninth, Darby is 12th, Grant is 13th, Nelson is 14th, Ekpre-Olomu is 15th, Golson is 16th, White is 17th, McClain is 19th and Doss is 21st, according to the league’s rankings) are out of bounds.

In our rankings, we include all cornerbacks standing 5-foot-10 3/4.

THOMPSON’S SUCCESS RATE

General manager Ted Thompson missed on second-rounder Pat Lee, did OK on fourth-rounder House and appears to have hit on second-rounder Hayward and fifth-rounder Hyde. But, as a general manager once told us a few years ago, “They all count” in regard to undrafted free agents. And Thompson struck gold with Williams and Shields.

ROUND 1

Trae Waynes, Michigan State (6-0, 186; 4.34): Waynes is the presumptive No. 1 corner in the draft. If he’s the first corner off the board and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is the No. 1 back selected, it would give Kenosha (Wis.) Bradford High School two top picks.

Waynes was first-team all-Big Ten as a junior in 2014 and earned some second-team All-American honors. He intercepted three passes and broke up five others, and opponents completed just 19.8 percent of the passes targeted into his area. He also intercepted three passes in 2013, his first year in the starting lineup.

“Trae Waynes is very comfortable in press coverage,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “He's got length. He jumps up there like all the Michigan State corners do. He understands the game. He's played through the field, he's played into the boundary. He tackles. I know when you get a Michigan State kid coming off that defense, he's going to be a tough kid that will tackle that's been well-coached. So that appeals to me, first and foremost. His length, his competitiveness, and the fact that he can play press and will tackle.”

His range and hips remind the NFL’s head scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas, of Richard Sherman. Waynes’ mother, father and brother competed in college track and field, which helps to explain his blazing 40 time.

“Waynes has superb recovery speed and burst,” reads Thomas’ scouting report, which he provided to Packer Report. “He explodes off the snap and can stay stride for stride with the receivers. He has the loose hips needed to quickly change direction and displays good explosion closing on the ball. He shows great acceleration when closing, but when he relies too much on his speed to help him recover, he will get outside his frame with his hands, resulting in several pass interference calls.”

Marcus Peters, Washington (6-0, 197; 4.53): On talent, Peters might be the best cornerback in the draft. There are major questions, though. He was kicked off the team in November, though he and the coaching staff mended enough fences for Peters to be allowed to compete at the school’s pro day.

“It humbled me a real lot,” Peters said at the Combine. “And what really has humbled me is me having a child. Me bringing a child into this world has really humbled me a whole lot because now I have to be able to provide for someone other than myself. I have someone that is looking up to me a lot so I have to be 100 percent mature.”

That all sounds good but, “You just don’t know,” a scout said. “Look at Johnny Manziel. He said all the right things last year, then went to Cleveland and acted like his old self.” The Packers met with Peters at the Scouting Combine, hoping to see inside of him during the 15-minute interview.

Speaking generally and not about Peters specifically, Thompson said: “We’re not trying to say that we’re soothsayers or we can look inside somebody’s mind. I like to try to figure out, if we can in 15 minutes, if this guy’s is a good fit for your team.”

As a collegian, Peters saw 198 passes targeted into his area. Those passers managed to complete 59 of those attempts (29.8 percent) with Peters grabbing 11 interceptions. Quarterbacks were 6-of-32 against him 2014 and 18-of-80 in 2013.

“Scouts liken his pass defense skills to Denver’s Aqib Talib,” read Thomas’ scouting report, “but see his draft path heading down the same path Talib’s took – a blue chip first-round talent who has GM’s afraid to use their opening pick on an athlete who definitely has anger. management and maturity issues. ... The thing that you see on game film is the suddenness he displays in distinguishing between run and pass plays. He is so quick to identify his keys and react to the play, that receivers barely have time to get out of their stance before he is all over them.

Eric Rowe, Utah (6-1, 205; 4.45): Rowe started 45 games during his four years at Utah. A lot of those starts came at safety. As a senior, he moved to corner and was an honorable mention on the all-Pac-12 team with one interception and a total of 14 passes defensed. He intercepted three passes in his career.

Among the 55 defensive backs participating at the Combine, Rowe placed in the top 10 performers in every agility test, except the 60-yard shuttle (13th at 11.48). He ranked second among defensive backs and sixth overall in the three-cone drill (6.70), taking the fifth spot in the 20-yard shuttle (3.97), seventh in the vertical jump (39 inches) and eighth in both the bench press (19 reps) and 40-yard dash.

“Along with that very impressive athletic performance, Rowe offers his future employer a player with excellent versatility to play in any defensive scheme and the skill-set to develop into an elite playmaker. He has great body length, range and athleticism to handle the bigger receivers in man coverage and has shown marked improvement with his footwork and technique.”


CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL SCOUTING REPORTS from the NFL’s head scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas.


Byron Jones, Connecticut (6-1, 199; 4.43): Jones’ senior season ended in October with a shoulder injury. He started 37 games in his four seasons. After playing safety as a freshman and sophomore, Jones picked off five passes at corner as a junior and senior. As a senior, he allowed 12 completions in 48 passes thrown his way. While he didn’t run a 40 at the Combine, he put on a show with a 44.5-inch vertical jump and a 12-3 broad jump that set a world record.

“You can see his alertness eyeing the quarterback's eyes, as scouts that have seen him agree that he was the best player within his conference in anticipating routes, closing quickly to jump underneath routes and getting into the flat in a hurry to attack screen plays and outside runs. He’s too savvy to be fooled by misdirection, double moves and pump fakes and, even though he plays with aggression, he’s not the type that will give up any room to receivers when playing the deep ball or when squatting on routes.”

Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest (6-0, 188; 4.52): Johnson was second-team all-ACC as a senior with one interception and six passes defensed. He was an honorable mention in his previous two seasons after sitting out 2011 due to academic issues. He finished his career with seven interceptions another 35 passes defensed. Not only does he have good size and speed but he flashed a 41.5-inch vertical. As a senior, Johnson was targeted 59 times, but those receivers managed to grab just 19 of those attempts (18.6 percent).

“Johnson shows the body control, flexibility and change-of-direction skills to be effective coming out of his breaks. He does a good job of timing his leaps and reaching around the receiver to deliver the pass deflection. He is aggressive with his hands combating for the jump ball and takes good angles out of his breaks in order to get position and defend the ball, doing it with good consistency. When he gets an early start on the play, he will usually make the pass deflection.”

Jalen Collins, LSU (6-2, 203; 4.48): Collins turned pro despite having just 10 starts to his credit. Seven of them came as a junior in 2014, when he intercepted a pass and broke up nine. He started the first four games and the final three; a scout said a failed drug test is why he was demoted.

“Collins s really intriguing,” Mayock said. “He's a press corner, not afraid to play in your face, will tackle, understands how to play the game, has some physicality about him. I think he's going to be a first-round pick.”

While Collins has the size, speed and length that make scouts drool, especially with more big receivers entering the league every year, his tepid tackling skills and in his ability to put it all together are reasons for concern. Collins is Thomas’ 10th-ranked cornerback. Of seven scouts surveyed by Packer Report, only one said he’d consider drafting Collins if he were calling the shots with Green Bay’s pick at No. 30.

“While Collins does display natural instincts vs. the ball in flight, he is too much the type that will perform in just certain situations,” reads his scouting report. “He seems to be a quarter-count late diagnosing quick-hitting routes (slants, outs) when playing off the line, but then, he does the right thing when it comes to transitioning eyes from the receiver to the quarterback when handling zone assignments.”

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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