Assessing the first-round cornerbacks

The release of Antoine Winfield would appear to create a need at cornerback in the draft. How do the top cornerbacks stack up when comparing their burn rates, including those in critical situations?

The release of veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield reportedly came as a shock to him. Although he had to know it was a possibility with a $7.25 million contract scheduled for 2013 and an early request to restructure, the Vikings made the "business move" in swift fashion when the free agent market was scheduled to open.

On the business side, the move made some sense: The Vikings wanted to re-sign many of their own unrestricted free agents and have flexibility in pursuing other outside free agents like receiver Greg Jennings and backup quarterback Matt Cassel. From the standpoint of the depth chart, however, it created a glaring hole.

Chris Cook will return as the only incumbent starting cornerback. Opposite him competing to replace Winfield will be a cast that includes second-year corner Josh Robison, A.J. Jefferson (acquired before the start of the 2012 season), and likely a rookie or two.

If the Vikings decide to strike by selecting a cornerback early in the draft, there are options that figure to match value with need with one of their first-round picks at No. 23 or No. 25. Alabama CB Dee Milliner is certain to be gone in the first half of the first round, but after that all bets are off.

Johnthan Banks (Mississippi State), Xavier Rhodes (Florida State) and Desmond Trufant (Washington) are all possibilities later in the first round. Their statistics from last year are fairly similar in pass coverage, according to the metrics logged by STATS LLC.

Banks led the trio with 11 passes defensed, including four on third or fourth down. Rhodes was next with 10 passes defensed, but only two on third or fourth down, followed by Trufant, with nine passes defensed and three on third or fourth down. Banks had only one pass defensed inside the 20-yard line, while Rhodes and Trufant each had two.

What fans notice most, however, when it comes to cornerbacks in coverage is their "burn rate," the number of times they are beaten in coverage. In that category, Rhodes is the best, but raw numbers can be a little deceiving.

Rhodes was burned only 20 times in 2012, with Trufant second at 23 times. Even Banks, who was burned 26 times, kept pace with Milliner, considered easily the best cornerback prospect in the draft. But what should matter more is the burn percentage for those cornerbacks. Rhodes was still best at 40.8 percent and Milliner was second at 42.6. Trufant was third at 44.2 and Banks was last in the group at 50 percent.

Where Banks fell behind the others is when it came to the number of times he has been burned for touchdowns. In his case, that's four times; Milliner was burned for touchdowns twice last year, when Rhodes and Trufant were burned for scores only once. Trufant wasn't burned at all in the red zone, while Milliner was burned once and Rhodes and Banks twice each.

They were all pretty even when it came to being burned on third or fourth down – Milliner, Trufant and Banks eight times and Rhodes five times.

What does it all mean? While Milliner is clearly the top choice of draft analysts, he isn't the best in every category. He was the top dog in passes defensed overall and on third and fourth down, but others were just as good or better in avoiding getting burned, meaning there could be a few good prospects for the Vikings' first-round picks.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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