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
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
Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
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
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
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
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
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)
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
BEST OF THE REST
Davon House, New Mexico State
Notes: Great size and physicality make him especially effective in
Projection: 2nd round
Curtis Brown, Texas
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
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
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
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
NFL Scouting XI: Cornerbacks
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