POSITION ANALYSIS – The cornerback position is always one of need around the NFL and most teams use a pick to grab one during the course of draft weekend. It seems every year there are a couple of blue-chip CBs that get attention early and this year will be no exception. LSU's Patrick Peterson, in our view, could be the most valuable pick in the draft, since he can immediately improve a defense and, with his flashy return ability, improve the special teams as well. He and Prince Amukamara of Nebraska are the headliners and should be off the board by the top 10 or 12 picks. There isn't a lot of quality depth in this year's class, however, so teams have to force their own hand to get a CB if it is a position of glaring need and some lesser talents will be taken earlier than perhaps their talent would indicate.
VIKING CORNERBACKS – Asher Allen, Simeon Castille, Chris Cook, Cedric Griffin, Cord Parks, Lito Sheppard (FA), Marcus Sherels, Frank Walker (FA), Antoine Winfield, DeAndre Wright.
VIKINGS NEED – The Vikings used their top pick in last year's draft to take Cook. The team is hopeful that Griffin can return to 100 percent, but one has to wonder about the long-term potential for a corner with two surgically repaired knees. Antoine Winfield remains a team leader, but are his days as a full-time starter numbered? It's hard to ignore that his contract extension had provisions in it for what he would be paid if he became a nickel back. The only other veterans are both free agents – Lito Sheppard and Frank Walker – and they both could be gone. It will likely depend on what kind of contracts they're looking for. If they don't meet the Vikings' price, the team will look elsewhere. This is a weird draft-weekend scenario. The Vikings already had a couple of developmental types on their practice squad last year, so grabbing a CB late doesn't make too much sense unless it is a player they have ranked markedly higher than where he gets selected. The problem may be early, not late. Prince Amukamara of Nebraska is a blue-chip talent that, due to the needs of the teams at the top of the draft, could find himself slipping to the Vikings at No. 12. If the Vikings are in fact going to draft the best player available, if he's still there, the Vikings would be hard-pressed to have a player rated higher on the board. This one looks to be a closed-eyes swing for a home run. If the Fresh Prince of Lincoln is still on the board, the Vikings may hit the cornerback home-run ball. If he's not there, the team may not address the position at all on draft weekend.
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
Patrick Peterson, LSU, 6-1, 211 – Third-year junior who became a starter in the final month of his freshman season, starting 30 of 39 career games…In two years as a full-time starter, he had 94 tackles, 10 passes broken up and six interceptions…Cousin of Pittsburgh CB Bryant McFadden and wide receivers Santana and Sinorice Moss…Changed his last name from Johnson to Peterson in 2008…USA Today's Defensive Player of the Year as a high school senior…In 2010, was named both SEC Defensive Player of the Year and Special Teams Player of the Year…Won the 2010 Bednarik Award, given the best defensive player, and the Thorpe Award, given to the best defensive back…Excellent size/speed combo…Has the ability to shut down a team's top WR consistently…Plays his best against top competition…Physical corner…Good instincts…Excellent straight-line speed and ability to flip his hips and run…Has great body control and high-points passes to break them up…So good some teams wouldn't even throw his way…Very strong in run support…An electrifying return man…Will try to make plays and will get out of position as a result…Can be victimized by play fakes and double moves…Didn't use his hands often to jam receivers at the line…Didn't always play with the same level of intensity and would get lazy in coverage assignments…Ran a sparkling 4.31 40 at the Combine with 15 reps of 225 pounds a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-6 broad jump – all at or near the top of the CB grouping that worked out in Indianapolis.
PROJECTION: Cornerbacks almost never go first in the draft, but a case could be made for Peterson. He has all the components needed for a classic shutdown corner and Pro Bowler for years to come.
Prince Amukamara, Nebraska, 6-1, 205 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter who had 123 tackles, 24 passes defensed and five interceptions in that span…A high school track star who won Arizona State titles in the 100 and 200 meters…A Thorpe Award finalist in 2010…Has excellent combination of size, arm length and strength…Flips his hips and mirrors receivers deep down the field with relative ease…Is very good in press coverage and has a strong jam at the line…Very good instincts and knows when to jump routes…Willing and effective in run support…A face-up tackler who wraps up well…Excellent footwork…Great closing speed…Has good, but not great speed…Has short arms and very small hands, which will make it difficult to tear balls away in jump-ball situations…Will get caught looking into the backfield at times…All five of his career interceptions came in one season (2009)…Wasn't a student of the game until 2009…Ran a 4.38 40 at the Combine with 15 reps, a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-8 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A supremely talented cover corner who has all the component parts to be a solid pro. He will go in the first half of the first round and be a Day One starter.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Jimmy Smith, Colorado, 6-2½, 202 – Fifth-year senior…Two-year starter who had 140 tackles, 15 passes broken up, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in that span…One of five brothers in his family to play college football…Arrested twice for underage drinking in college…Very physical at the line and can consistently knock receivers off their route with a jam…Very tall and athletic…Has quick read-and-react skills…Has excellent make-up speed to combat double-moves…Has good explosion and closing speed…Has prototype size…Isn't a ball hawk and had just two picks in 27 career college starts…Is a willing tackler, but doesn't have great technique and doesn't always wrap up…Doesn't have elite speed to handle the NFL's top wide receivers…Doesn't play with ideal balance…A little slow to flip his hips and take a receiver deep…Ran a 4.42 40 at the Combine with an impressive 24 reps, a 36-inch vertical jump and a 10-3 broad jump.
PROJECTION: The NFL loves big cover corners, which should propel Smith a little higher than perhaps he should be drafted. He will likely come off the board in the second half of the first round.
Brandon Harris, Miami, 5-10½, 195 – Third-year junior who started 32 of 39 career games…In his career, he has 132 tackles, 28 passes broken up, four interceptions and five forced fumbles…Named Florida's Gatorade Player of the Year as a high school senior…An elite athlete who has very good speed and instincts…Has good hip-flip to turn and run with wide receivers…Handles man coverage well…Has very good recovery speed…Is strong in run support…Has versatility to play outside the hash marks or over a receiver in the slot…Has good field awareness…Doesn't have great size or length…Isn't a ballhawk – just four picks in 39 career games…Not an overly aggressive or effective tackler, tends to wrap himself around players rather than try to pop their helmets off…Doesn't have great growth potential to add muscle or bulk…Doesn't play with a lot of intensity and, if plays aren't coming in his direction, he doesn't always give top effort…Ran a 4.46 40 at the Combine with 13 reps, a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 9-5 broad jump.
PROJECTION: He's a bit undersized, but is intelligent and a significant force. His lack of size may drop him into the second round, but he has the talent to be a long-term starter in the NFL.
Aaron Williams, Texas, 6-0½, 195 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who had 90 tackles, 21 passes broken up, three interceptions and five forced fumbles…High school All-American in Texas…Is well-built and has the physicality to get in a receiver's face at the snap…Has a strong hammer at the line and likes to hit…Has efficient, quick change of direction to run deep with receivers…Matched up against an opponent's top receiving threat…Gets to top speed very quickly…Intelligent player who reads and reacts quickly…Incredible special-teams player who blocked four punts in one season and served as a part-time punt returner…Not a physical intimidator…Not a technically-sound tackler…Is still a little raw in terms of CB fundamentals…Isn't great in run support and will get washed out once a blocker gets his hands on him…Didn't have any interceptions last year…Ran a disappointing 4.55 40 at the Combine with 18 reps, a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 10-7 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A player with the talent to become an immediate starter, but, unlike those rated ahead of him, he doesn't have the technique polish that the others have. He will need a little time to develop, which will drop him well into the second round before he comes off the board.
Ras-I Dowling, Virginia, 6-1¾, 200 – Fourth-year senior who was limited to just five games (two starts) in 2010…In two years as a full-time starter, he had 101 tackles, 19 passes broken up and six interceptions…Prototype height and arm length…Adept at man coverage and can stay with a team's top receiver an entire game…Rarely bites on play action or double moves from receivers…Has good body control…Solid production throughout his career…Great closing speed on plays in front of him…Strong in run support and as a situational blitzer…Intelligent player who has good field vision…Runs with long steps and takes time to reach full speed…Doesn't have great recovery speed if beaten at the line…Doesn't have a jolting hand punch to jam receivers effectively…Had a horrible 2010 season, starting only two games due to injuries and broke his left ankle in November…Gets caught peeking in the backfield and losing contact with his man…Has a skinny frame that may not be able to add much muscle or bulk…Has a long history of injuries dating back to high school…Sprained his right hamstring at the Combine and the only portion of the workout he completed was 19 reps of 225 pounds.
PROJECTION: Was on the fast track to push his way into the first round, but an injury-plagued senior season will have teams questioning his durability. He should come off the board in the second round, but those concerns about his knees and ankles could drop him into the third round.
Johnny Patrick, Louisville, 5-10½, 185 – Fifth-year senior who started 40 of 46 career games…Three-year full-time starter who had 152 tackles, 21 passes for a loss and eight interceptions…Was charged with assault against a woman in June 2010 over an argument concerning text messages and threw her to the ground – he settled to lesser charges and entered a diversion program…Played under four different defensive coordinators in four years…Is muscular and aggressive…Has very good instincts and reads the rest of the field well…Excellent closing and recovery speed to make up for missteps…Has long arms and uses them well on deep passes to bat balls away…Productive player who had five interceptions last season…Has good hand use to jam receivers and provide a physical presence in run support…A tough, durable three-year starter…Needs a lot of work to improve his technique, which is inconsistent at times…Very aggressive and will lose a step biting on ball fakes and double moves…Has good foot quickness, but doesn't look natural in his backpedal…Inconsistent effort in run support…Not a solid wrap-up tackler and will whiff too often on plays in front of him…Didn't play man press coverage very often…Ran a plodding 4.59 40 at the Combine with 13 reps, a 32-inch vertical jump and a 9-2 board jump – all among the worst of those tested.
PROJECTION: A durable CB with speed will always have a place on draft day, but he will need a lot of refinement to be a good pro, which will likely drop him into the third round before a team takes the plunge on him.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Curtis Brown, Texas, 5-11¾, 180 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter who had 79 tackles, 22 passes defensed and two interceptions…Very good speed, burst and quickness…Has good balance and change-of-direction skills…Has the ability to stop and start and reach full speed almost instantly…Can flip his hips to run deep with a receiver without losing much in the transition…A strong cover corner…Didn't play much in the way of man or press coverage…Typically didn't line up against an opponent's top receiver…Will try to steal a look in the backfield too often and will lose contact with his man…Not overly impressive in run support…Not a polished tackler, he tends to dive at a receiver's legs rather than consistently trying to wrap up…Needs to get more physical…Ran a 4.51 40 at the Combine with just 10 reps of 225 pounds, a 39½-inch vertical jump and a 10-8 broad jump.
PROJECTION: His speed is his calling card, but there are some holes in his game that will keep him on the board well into Day 2 of the draft.
Rashad Carmichael, Virginia Tech, 5-9¾, 185 – Fifth-year senior…Two-year starter who had 95 tackles, 13 passes broken up and 10 interceptions in that span…Has excellent speed with explosion and good acceleration…Has very good hands and was a playmaker – 10 interceptions the last two seasons…Has a well-muscled body and long arms…Throws himself around the field and is a powerful tackler…A hard-working, coachable player…Has a strong jam at the line of scrimmage to re-direct receivers…Has a second gear when he closes in on the ball…Isn't a good tackler in the open field and will miss too often…Doesn't have a good transition when forced to flip his hips and will lose a step…Gives a surprisingly big cushion to receivers in zone coverage and passes get completed in front of him…Too short…Needs to work on his technique and footwork…Gets hung up too long on blocks in run support…Ran a 4.53 40 at the Combine with 13 reps, a 31-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump.
PROJECTION: An undersized player who worked in a zone system. His speed and playmaking ability will get him drafted, but it may not come until Day 3, where he will become a value pick.
Brandon Burton, Utah, 5-11½, 185 – Fourth-year junior…Two year starter who had 98 tackles, 18 passes broken up and three interceptions in that span…A physical corner well-versed in man coverage…Very aggressive and flies to the ball on passes in front of him and in run support…A good leaper with long arms, which makes him play taller than he actually is…Has good transition technique to take receivers deep down the field…Has good read-and-react skills and closing speed…Makes blockers miss to make plays in run support and blitz packages…Will make mistakes and missteps due to his own aggressiveness…Isn't overly strong or physical…Doesn't have great recovery speed…Stops his feet on contact when blocked…Doesn't have great hands – had just three interceptions in 37 career games…Ran a 4.50 40 at the Combine with 18 reps, a 32-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A finesse corner who has experience and durability, but the lack of quality opponents on a week-to-week basis and the lack of elite physical ability will drop him into the fourth-round range.
Chris Rucker, Michigan State, 6-2, 195 – Fourth-year senior who started 34 of 42 career games…Finished college career with 191 tackles, 19 passes broken up, six interceptions and five forced fumbles…Suspended twice by the team for alcohol and fighting…Prototype size and arm length…Stays in good contact with receivers down the field and rarely gets burned over the top…Flashes a strong jam with his hands in press coverage…Uses his hands to sift through traffic in run support to get to the ball…Has played both zone and man coverage…Has significant technique issues that will need refining…Some teams may view him as a safety, which will drop his draft stock…Doesn't have explosive closing speed or a second gear…Doesn't react well to the ball in the air…Not a natural ball hawk, never having more than two picks in any season…Did not work out at the Combine.
PROJECTION: A durable veteran player who faced top competition, but he is clearly a work in progress. May never develop into a full-time starter, but his size will be tantalizing, which could have him coming off the board earlier than we have him projected.
Brandon Hogan, West Virginia, 5-10, 191 – Fourth-year senior who played his first season at WVU at wide receiver…Started 33 of 36 games at cornerback, recording 171 tackles, 24 passes broken up, seven interceptions and four fumble recoveries…Tore his left ACL in October 2010 and was suspended by the team after being arrested for DWI…Has good straight-line speed…Has good body control and can make his transition smoothly on deep patterns…Played in zone coverage and was an aggressive, secure tackler on plays in front of him…Very smooth-looking athlete who is technically sound…Strong in run support and effective at getting around blockers…Doesn't always keep his feet moving and will lunge and get out of position…Big character questions surround him…Is overaggressive at times and will put the defense in position to get burned by a big play…Very undisciplined in his assignments…Doesn't have ideal upper-body playing strength…Wasn't asked to be a jammer at the line very often….Didn't work out at the Combine while recovering from his torn ACL.
PROJECTION: Character issues can affect the draft status of the top prospects. When you're a Day 2 or 3 prospect, those red flags get even bigger. He has the talent to be Day 2 selection, but more likely won't come off the board until the fourth or fifth round.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Kendric Burney, North Carolina, 5-9, 181 – Fifth-year senior…Started all 44 games of his college career, posting 210 tackles, 14 passes broken up and 11 interceptions…Missed the first seven games of the 2010 season due to an NCAA investigation related to academic fraud and dealings with a sports agent…Is quick and aggressive…Has excellent read-and-react skills…The most experienced starter in the draft class…Strong in run support and effective and getting past blockers…Has good interception production and times jumps like a receiver…Has good change-of-direction skills and gets back to full speed quickly…Doesn't have ideal height or weight…Is more quick than fast…Doesn't have a jolting jam at the line and will struggle to redirect receivers…Doesn't have great upper-body strength…An undersized prospect that will likely never be more than a nickel corner in the slot and a special-teams contributor. Those types of prospects usually remain on the board until the late rounds.
Chimdi Chekwa, Ohio State, 5-10, 180 – Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 115 tackles, 20 passes defensed, five interceptions and two forced fumbles…Dislocated his right wrist in January's Sugar Bowl and required surgery…Ideal speed…Good read-and-react skills…Can play tight man coverage and stick to his man…Has good change-of-direction skills and can get back to top speed quickly…Solid in run support…Willing and effective special teamer…Has a small frame and likely won't be able to add much more in the way of muscle or bulk…Bites too often on pump fakes, play action and double moves and finds himself trailing on too many plays…Doesn't have great upper- or lower-body strength…A prospect that will be a project, he didn't help his case by breaking his wrist in the Sugar Bowl, turning him into a late-round prospect with injury questions.
Davon House, New Mexico State, 6-0½, 187 – Fourth-year senior…Four-year starter who had 202 tackles, 19 passes broken up, one interception, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…Was unable to participate in the Senior Bowl after suffering an ankle injury in the 2010 season finale…Good size and arm length…Has very good closing speed and hits hard…Very good in man coverage…An experienced player who started 44 of 50 career games…Played in a system that asked him to play a lot of man coverage…Had 11 career interceptions…Doesn't have top-end speed…Isn't adept at reading and reacting quickly…Will make missteps and bites on play-fakes, pumps and double moves…Doesn't have a smooth transition flipping his hips…Not overly tough…A prospect with the size and strength teams look for, but average in many facets of his game, which should drop him into the final round or two of the draft.
Shareece Wright, USC, 5-11, 182 – Fifth-year senior who was granted a medical redshirt in 2008 due to a neck injury and was academically ineligible in 2009…Only a one-year starter who had 73 tackles, 10 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…Suffered a neck fracture in 2007…Was arrested in 2008 for disobeying the command of a police officer that got physical – a felony assault charge was reduced to a misdemeanor and he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year probation and 200 hours of community service…A smart player with good instincts…Has good balance and body control and can stick with receivers deep…Very physical and strong in run support…Has good speed and closes quickly…Has a good hand punch at the line…Only one full season as a starter in five years…Had just one interception in 40 career games…Doesn't have ideal technique and will get burned at pro level…Has character concerns…Doesn't always play with intensity and will get lazy in his assignments if plays aren't coming his way…A veteran from a top college program, he will end up on an NFL roster, but has too many holes in his game to be considered before the middle or end of Day 3 of the draft.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Position Analysis: Cornerbacks
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