Positional analysis: Cornerbacks

The 2014 draft is loaded with cornerbacks with a wide variety of sizes and skills. Which one will suit the Vikings? We examine the production, strengths, weaknesses and projections of the top 11 prospects.

VIKINGS CORNERBACKS – Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn, Josh Robinson, Derek Cox, Marcus Sherels, Shaun Prater, Robert Steeples, Kip Edwards.

TEAM NEED – What has always seemingly been a team need, if looked at realistically, it may be one of the positions of least need. Rhodes and Munnerlyn are under contract for the next three seasons and, if they stay healthy and play anywhere near to expectations, unless the Vikings draft a corner in the first couple of rounds, the first six players listed above may be the six that end up on the final roster.

POSITION OVERVIEW: An impressive group, but not one that includes a lead-pipe lock "island" player. It likely won't be until the middle of the first round when the Class of 2014 cornerbacks get involved, but, once they do, they're going to start coming off the board quickly. There is talent throughout that will get picked like fruit. Some will be ripe. Some will be green. But, with the lack of a couple of bona fide blue-chip players at the top, it has to be viewed as an average draft class.

THE CREAM THE OF THE CROP

Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State, 6-0¼, 202 –
Fourth-year senior…Started all 39 games over the final three years of his college career, recording 164 tackles, 12 interceptions and 32 passes defensed…All-Big 12 as a senior in 2013…Has a long frame and outstanding straight-line speed to stay glued to receivers deep down the field…Very adept at tracking the ball over his shoulder and making plays…Has excellent recovery speed when he makes a misstep…Does everything fluidly with very little wasted motion…Didn't have any picks in 2012 and admitted he got complacent, which doesn't bode well…Inconsistent in run support…Need to polish his technique a little at the next level…Will make some mistakes because he can get overaggressive at times and leave the option open for big plays…Ran a 4.37 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine with 20 reps of 225 pounds, a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 10-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: A finished product who dominated the college game, he will be one of the first two CBs to come off the board, likely anywhere from Detroit at No. 10 on.

Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State, 5-11, 199 – Fourth-year senior…Started all 38 games he played his final three seasons, making 156 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, 10 interceptions, 26 passes defensed and three forced fumbles in that span…All-America as a senior and the 2013 winner of the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the country's top defensive back…In 2012, he played much of the season with a sports hernia injury that required two surgeries after the season and missed five games in 2010 with a knee injury…Has good strength to jam receivers and keep them off their route and get physical with them…A student of the game who works hard in film and is starting to improve his game…A competitive and willing contributor in run defense…Has good ball skills and leaping ability to make plays deep down the field…Injury history has proven his toughness, but is a significant red flag for some teams…Doesn't have elite recovery speed and can get burned if he makes a misstep…Didn't face many elite QBs in the Big Ten…Has a tendency to grab and hold receivers as they run downfield, which will get called for penalties in the NFL…Didn't jump at the Combine after suffering a tweak of his left hamstring, but ran 4.51 40 with 15 reps of 225 pounds. PROJECTION: A playmaker who doesn't have blinding speed, but is the most physical cover corner in the league. He should be gone by the middle of the first round and a case can be made that he should be the first CB off the board.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Jason Verrett, TCU, 5-9½, 189 –
Third-year junior…Started 34 of 27 career games, making 160 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and nine interceptions in that span…Suffered a torn meniscus in 2012 and played with it the final three games before having surgery, and played much of 2013 with a torn right labrum and waited to have surgery until after his March 21 pro day…Has a very strong work ethic and it's clear he loves the game and will play through pain to stay on the field…Consistently plays with good leverage and is aggressive in his approach to the position…Has fluid hips and can flip and run with a receiver without losing a step…Has the confidence and the ability to play on an island…Is undersized by NFL standards…Has a thin frame that can add much more muscle or bulk…Has proved his toughness, but his significant injuries and surgery scars will give pause to some teams…Draws far too many penalties because of his style…Did not lift at the Combine with a right shoulder medical exclusion, but ran a 4.38 40 with a 39-inch vertical jump and a 10-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: An undersized tough guy who reminds some scouts of a young Antoine Winfield, he will get dirty to make plays. His size limitations will impact his stock, but he still looks to be a first-round pick, likely later in the round for a Super Bowl contender looking to add a critical component piece.

Bradley Roby, Ohio State, 5-11¼, 194 – Fourth-year junior…Started 26 of 35 career games, making 179 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss and eight interceptions in that span – returning two of them for touchdowns…Was suspended for the 2013 season opener for his involvement in a bar fight in July 2013…Was a first-team All-America in 2012…An explosive player who has an excellent combination of arm length, burst, smooth movement and straight-line speed…Has excellent footwork and can flip and run with receivers without giving a cushion…Is a physical player who will get in the face of a receiver…Has one of the best back-pedals in the Class of 2014…Will bite too often on play fakes and double moves and gets caught sneaking a look in the backfield…Doesn't have ideal size by NFL standards…Takes some bad angles at times and will get out of position…Played mostly off-man coverage in college and will have to refine his game…Ran a 4.39 40 at the Combine with 17 reps, a 38½-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: Ohio State has a rich history of developing NFL cornerbacks and Roby is the latest in that line. He is a bit undersized, which will play against him on draft day, but he is definitely a first-round talent.

Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech, 5-11¾, 190 – Fourth-year senior…Started 41 of 50 career games, finishing with 173 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, six interceptions and four forced fumbles…Played through shoulder and groin injuries in 2012, but missed six games after suffering an abdominal injury that required surgery in 2013…Team captain…Three-time All-ACC recipient…An eminently coachable player who has a strong work ethic and a player who leads by example…Has excellent technique and plays with confidence…Plays with toughness and is willing to mix it up at the line with receivers…Has a good vertical leap and timing to attack balls down the field…Will take chances and occasionally will get burned…Loses a step when he flips his hips to take a receiver deep downfield…Is skinny and doesn't have the kind of frame that can add much in the way of muscle…Undisciplined in tackling and will make mistakes…Ran a 4.49 40 at the Combine with just 12 reps of 225 pounds, a 38½-inch vertical jump and a 10-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: He isn't an elite athlete, but Fuller is technically sound and an aggressive playmaker who, if he makes it into the second round, won't last long.

Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State, 5-8, 184 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 174 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss, seven interceptions, 17 passes defensed and three forced fumbles in that span…All-America and first-team All-ACC in 2013…Played 2011-12 at strong safety…Is a physical player despite his size limitations who is willing in run support and will jam receivers at the line…Has long arms to help compensate for his lack of height…Has an explosive first step and excellent closing speed…Has versatility as a defensive back and a kick returner…Can get too aggressive at times and lose leverage, opening up the potential for big plays…Isn't viewed as a threat in the run game at the next level…Is very undersized for the NFL…May be pigeon-holed as a zone-primary cornerback…Ran a 4.55 40 at the Combine with 14 reps, a 37½-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: Essentially like a defensive version of Percy Harvin, he struggles to pass the eyeball test because of his lack of height and weight, but he is the toughest dog in the fight. The perception that he will likely be a slot nickel corner will lower his value, but anyone who has seen him play knows he won't make it out of the second round if he isn't taken late in the first.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Marcus Roberson, Florida, 6-0¼, 191 –
Third-year junior…Started all 10 games as a true freshman, but started just eight of the 20 games he played in his final two seasons…Finished his three-year career with 56 tackles, 20 passes defensed and three interceptions…Fractured the C6 vertebra in his neck in 2011 and missed four games in 2013 with knee and ankle injuries…An athlete with prototypical size and foot quickness…Has very good tracking skills and times his jump well on the deep ball…Has excellent balance and body control and rarely falls off routes…Has very modest production and doesn't jump off the page at you…Is inconsistent at times, being extremely aggressive at times and overly passive at others…An inconsistent tackler who lacks upper-body strength and doesn't bring a lot in run support….Ran a 4.61 40 at the Combine with just eight reps of 225 pounds, a 37½-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: He clearly passes the eyeball test and has the skill set to be a strong NFL player, but his lack of production in college and his poor Combine performance could drop him much farther than we have him ranked.

Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska, 6-2¾, 218 – Fourth-year junior…Came to Nebraska as a wide receiver and spent two years there before moving to cornerback…A one-year full-time starter who had 41 tackles, three tackles for a loss, 12 passes defensed and four interceptions in 2013…Second-team All-Big Ten in 2013…Has impressive height and long arms and leaping ability to create downfield matchup nightmares…Has strong hands and shoots out a jolting punch…Explodes out of his breaks and erases a cushion quickly…Doesn't have great technique because he is raw and still learning the position…Bites on fakes and double moves too often and doesn't have the speed to make up for his mistakes…Is inconsistent in run support and doesn't always give his best effort…Ran a 4.61 40 at the Combine with 13 reps, a 41½-inch vertical jump and a 10-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: Some scouts see him as the next Richard Sherman because he has the physical attributes that are impressive, but he is still a raw prospect who will take a couple of years to reach what is believed to be his full potential. He is a risk/reward pick who likely will be worthy of the risk in the third round.

Keith McGill, Utah, 6-3½, 211 – Fourth-year senior who spent two years at Cerritos (Calif.) Junior College…A one-year starter who had 37 tackles and one interception in 2013…Ideal size and wingspan…Has excellent body control, balance and acceleration at the point of attack…Has the size, ball skills and instincts to play cornerback or safety…Extremely raw in terms of playing the position at a high level, since he played just one full season against marginal competition…Grabs and holds receivers too often and will get called for penalties…Doesn't have great hands to high point and pluck potential interceptions…Chose not to lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.51 40 with a 39-inch vertical jump and a 10-9 broad jump. PROJECTION: An enticing project player who could develop into something special, but his lack of experience and his lack of elite skills will likely drop him late in the second day of the draft, if not Day 3.

Bashaud Breeland, Clemson, 5-11½, 197 – Fourth-year senior…Saw significant action in all three seasons with the Tigers, but didn't become a full-time starter until 2013, when he had 56 tackles, five tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles, four interceptions and 10 passes defensed…A strong worker who is a coach's dream in terms of his willingness to give everything he has for the good of the team…Has good read-and-react skills…Tracks the ball well downfield and makes plays consistently on deep balls thrown his way…Doesn't explode when flipping his hips out of his backpedal and will lose a step…A long-strider who needs time to get to full speed and can't make quick-twitch adjustments…Doesn't consistently high point passes and looks to try to break up passes rather than attack the ball…Ran a 4.62 40 at the Combine with 11 reps of 225 pounds, a 34½-inch vertical jump and a 10-3 broad jump. PROJECTION: He has a lot of positives, but his negatives will weigh heavily on decision-makers on draft day. He doesn't have elite burst and may have to play in a zone scheme to thrive, which will keep him on the board until late in Day 2 or early in Day 3.

Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida, 5-11½, 190 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter (19 starts in 24 games) and had 75 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, four forced fumbles, 12 passes defensed and two interceptions in that span…Has had a pair of marijuana-related incidents that have tainted his public perception…Plays with excellent instincts and times his stop-and-start skills extremely well…Plays well in press coverage and will stick with receivers…Has good acceleration to eliminate a cushion he gives a receiver and sticks like glue…Very limited production and his numbers took a backward step in 2013…Some scouts will lower him badly given his association with marijuana…Will overextend in blocking at the line due to a lack of pure upper-body strength at the point of attack (see below) and doesn't have ideal makeup speed when he's caught…Ran a 4.61 40 at the Combine with just six reps of 225 pounds, a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: Entering 2013, he looked to be a player that could be a first- or second-round choice. Combining his off-field incidents with a drop in production and a bad week at the Combine – both in drills and interviews – it won't be surprising if he's still on the board when the final day of the draft begins.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Victor Hampton, South Carolina, 5-9, 197
Kendall James, Maine, 5-10½, 180
Phillip Gaines, Rice, 6-0½, 193
Terrance Mitchell, Oregon, 5-11¼, 192
Jaylen Watkins, Florida, 5-11½, 194
E.J. Gaines, Missouri, 5-9¾, 190
Pierre Desir, Lindenwood, 6-1, 198
Ross Cockrell, Duke, 6-0, 191
Rashaad Reynolds, Oregon State, 5-10, 189
Chris Davis, Auburn, 5-10, 202
Nevo Lawson, Utah State, 5-9½, 190
Ricardo Allen, Purdue, 5-9¼, 187
Bennett Jackson, Notre Dame, 6-0, 195
Deion Belue, Alabama, 5-10¾, 182


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.

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