Positional draft analysis: Cornerbacks

A deep and skilled group, the cornerbacks should have a lasting impact in the next decade of the NFL passing game. We review the skills, strengths, weaknesses and production of the top dozen cornerback prospects.

VIKINGS CORNERBACKS – Xavier Rhodes, Josh Robinson, Captain Munnerlyn, Terence Newman, Marcus Sherels, Shaun Prater, Jabari Price, Jalil Carter, DeMarcus VanDyke.

VIKINGS POSITION NEED – The Vikings have attempted to shore up the cornerback position through free agency and the draft – bringing in Rhodes and Robinson with high draft picks and Munnerlyn and Newman via free agency. They’ve amassed a decent group, but that won’t preclude them from taking a cornerback with their first pick of the draft. Michigan State’s Trae Waynes continues to be a name being identified with the Vikings and, depending on how the draft falls, he could end up being the object of their first-round affection.

POSITION ANALYSIS – An above-average class, but not a dominating one. There will be four or five cornerbacks that will likely come off in the first round, but the first one likely won’t come in the top 10 picks because there isn’t a can’t-miss type of prospect in the Class of 2015. Waynes has emerged as the likely first corner off the board, but he will likely be available outside of the top 10 picks of the first round – an affordable price to pay for teams looking to trade up in the first round.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP
Trae Waynes, Michigan State, 6-0¼, 186 – Fourth-year junior…A two-year starter who had 96 tackles, 13 passes broken up, six interceptions and two fumble recoveries in that span…Excellent size and arm length, he fits the prototype for NFL cornerbacks…Has very fluid movement skills and can flip his hips without losing ground…Plays with very good leverage to force receivers to alter their routes when he has inside position…High points balls consistently and has good hands…Is skinny and will need to bulk up to handle physical receivers…Is not good in run support because he is too easily engulfed by larger blockers…Keeps his hands on receivers too much, which will lead to holding penalties in the NFL…Ran a lightning-fast 4.31 40 at the Combine with 19 reps of 225 pounds, a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-2 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A tall corner with the speed to mirror elite receivers, he has emerged as the top cornerback candidate in this year’s draft and will likely be off the board somewhere in the first dozen or so picks.

Marcus Peters, Washington, 5-11¾, 197 – Fourth-year junior who started 28 of 34 games, finishing with 129 tackles, 35 passes broken up, 11 interceptions, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries…Is a physical player who gets up in the face of receivers at the line and delivers a powerful jam…An impressive athlete who can translate to multiple schemes…Has very good ball skills to break up passes and get in position to intercept them…Is a strong tackler who doesn’t mind getting dirty in the run game…Has huge red flags for character issues because he was suspended twice and after constantly clashing with head coach Chris Petersen’s staff, he was dismissed from the team Nov. 6, 2014…Freelances too often and will miss tackles…Too often goes for the big hit, which could lead to penalties and fines at the next level…Ran a 4.53 40 at the Combine with 17 reps, a 37½-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump.
PROJECTION: He is rated this high based on his ability. He could easily be a starter for a decade in the NFL, but could see his stock drop like a stone on draft day because some teams likely won’t even rank him because he’s viewed as coach’s cancer. A boom-bust candidate who could be a Pro Bowler or a bitter man out of the league in a couple of years if he doesn’t get his head on right.

Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest, 6-0¼, 188 – A fifth-year senior who had to sit out the 2011 season after being ruled academically ineligible…He started 41 of 47 career games, finishing with 190 tackles, 35 passes broken up, seven interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…Has a lot of positive intangibles coaches and scouts look for and looks natural in coverage…Is tall with long arms and times his jumps very well to get the ball at its highest point to break up passes…Looks the part in man, press and zone coverages…Is very fluid when asked to flip his hips and mirror a receiver deep down the field…Can get caught peeking in the backfield and get scorched over the top with double moves…Is thin and will need to add some muscle and core strength to jam physical receivers at the line…Is not overly productive in run support…Chose not to lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.52 40 with a 41½-inch vertical jump and 10-10 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A durable four-year starter with a solid résumé. He needs to add a little bulk and musculature, but still has the skills to be a first-round pick with the potential of starting very early on.

Byron Jones, Connecticut, 6-0¾, 199 – Fourth-year senior who finished his career with 222 tackles, 3½ tackles for loss, 21 passes defensed, eight interceptions, one fumble recovery and scored two touchdowns…Excellent speed and leaping ability…Has prototype size and long arms…Has a good eye for the ball and is capable of making plays when he gets his hands on the ball…Played against inferior competition…Some view him as too much of a late riser given his crazy Combine performance…Struggles to jam big physical receivers at the line…He didn’t lift or run at the Combine because of a left shoulder injury but had a massive 44½ inch vertical jump and a 12-3 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Every year there are a handful of players that emerge in the months leading up to the draft that were flying under the radar during their playing career. Jones is one of those guys – a player who has vaulted from Day 3 projections all the way to the end of Day 1 or early Day 2. Jones will likely be looked at by a lot of teams because of his athleticism, but he may need more time than most of the other elite CB candidates to hit his stride and be a player that can make the jump to the NFL quickly.

THE NEXT LEVEL
Jalen Collins, LSU, 6-1½, 203 – Fourth-year junior…Started just 10 of 39 career games, finishing with 90 tackles, 20 passes broken up and three interceptions…Has prototype size in terms of height, arm length and muscle mass…Is excellent flipping his hips in transition…Is willing to get physical and make hits in run support…Very raw and inexperienced with only 10 career starts…Doesn’t have ideal upper-body strength and will miss on some jams and slide off of tackles…Very limited production in terms of tackles and interceptions…Chose not to lift at the Combine (which can be viewed as a red flag), but ran a 4.48 40 with a 36-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A player who clearly looks the part, if a team takes him before the middle of the second round, it will be due to his potential, not his résumé. He could develop into a very good NFL cornerback, but needs a lot of refinement to his game and likely won’t be an immediate starter.

P.J. Williams, Florida State, 6-0, 194 – Third-year junior…A two-year starter who had 109 tackles with 21 passes broken up, four interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery…Had his best season in 2014, earning first-team All-ACC honors…Has a very good blend of athleticism, physicality and natural agility…Is a hard-nosed tackler who is willing to bring the big hit in run support…Chases plays that don’t go his way and works his way effectively through blockers to get to the ball…His stock took a hit when he was arrested earlier this year on a DWI charge…Does not have elite speed…Tries to jump too many routes and will get burned over the top too often…Ran a 4.57 40 at the Combine with just 12 reps of 225 pounds, a 40-inch vertical jump and a 11-0 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A player with good football instincts and understanding of coverages, his lack of speed likely won’t ever make him a No. 1 cornerback in the NFL, but he has the skills to be a long-term starter for the team that drafts him.

Ronald Darby, Florida State, 5-10¾, 193 – Third-year junior…A two-year starter who had 57 tackles, 10 passes broken up, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in that span…Was a track star in high school who competed in international competitions as both an individual sprinter and in relays…Has excellent speed and can make up for missteps downfield…Has excellent hip-flip skills in transition and doesn’t lose a step…Doesn’t jam receivers often, but when he does he can deliver a pop…Doesn’t have ideal technique and has relied on his speed to this point…Isn’t a ball hawk, as evidenced by just two career interceptions…Allows too many receptions in front of him…Ran a 4.38 40 at the Combine with just 12 reps, a 41½-inch vertical jump and a 10-9 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A speedster with many of the qualities NFL decision-makers look for, he needs to refine his game and add a little more toughness and concentrate more on fundamentals. If he can put them all together, he could develop into a fine player in the right system.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon, 5-9¼, 192 – Fourth-year senior…A three-year starter who had 210 tackles, 40 passes broken up, nine interceptions, eight forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in that span…A two-time first team All-Pac 12 selection and an All-America in 2014…Suffered a torn left ACL during practice for the Rose Bowl that kept him out of the postseason all-star games and the Combine…Is very athletic into and out of his backpedal and can mirror receivers with ease…Has excellent tracking skills on deep passes…Despite being smaller than wanted, is strong in run support like an Antoine Winfield type…Is undersized and has to rely on fundamentals to be solid…Does not have ideal makeup speed and has trouble recovering when he takes a misstep…Doesn’t have elite speed or strength…Didn’t work out at the Combine while rehabbing from ACL surgery.
PROJECTION: A player who had a lot of momentum coming into the draft process, his knee injury could well mean he will be shelved his entire rookie season, which will turn off some teams and surely drop his stock. But if teams are convinced he can make a full recovery, he might end up being one of the steals of the draft.

THE BEST OF THE REST
Steven Nelson, Oregon State, 5-10¼, 197 – Fourth-year senior who spent two seasons at the College of the Sequoias in California…Started all 25 games he played at OSU, recording 122 tackles, 24 passes broken up and eight interceptions…Is aggressive at the line and uses his hands extremely well to jam and slap away passes…Good interception production for a two-year player…A very strong tackler who likes to get dirty and make plays in the pass and run game…Is a little undersized for the position and may struggle against big receivers at the next level…Does not have elite straight-line speed…Can be a little too aggressive downfield, which will lead to penalties at the next level…Ran a 4.49 40 at the Combine with 19 reps of 225 pounds, a 34½-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Because of his size limitations, he likely projects as a nickel corner, but he has a lot of tenacity, and when you watch him on tape he jumps out at you. That will likely get him drafted a little higher than we have him rated. He may have made himself a lot of money at the Senior Bowl, where he consistently stood out in practice.

Charles Gaines, Louisville, 5-10, 180 – Fourth-year junior who spent his first season with the Cardinals as a wide receiver…A two-year starter who had 58 tackles, 19 passes broken up, seven interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery…A natural playmaker who scored touchdowns as a receiver, on an interception return, on a kickoff return and on a blocked punt…Has very good footwork and transitions from his backpedal fluidly without losing a step…Can play in just about any defensive scheme…Has excellent ball skills and often looks like the wide receiver on deep balls…Has a thin build and it will be difficult to add much in the way of core strength or additional muscle…Limited experience at corner and isn’t technically sound in his tackling…Didn’t miss any time in college, but his narrow frame will have some scouts questioning his long-term durability…Chose not to lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.44 40 with a 34½ inch vertical jump and a 10-3 broad jump.
PROJECTION: He is a raw prospect who has some tantalizing intangibles to him, but his lack of size will likely limit him to playing nickel unless he can add some bulk and muscle. That being said, he is a Day 3 prospect who could surprise if given the chance to develop with a patient coaching staff.

Quinten Rollins, Miami (Ohio), 5-11¼, 195 – Fourth-year senior who spent his first three seasons playing basketball…In his only season playing football, he started all 12 games, making 72 tackles with nine passes broken up, seven interceptions and one forced fumble…Named the MAC Defensive Player of the Year and earned a spot on the Senior Bowl roster…Has extremely good footwork and effortlessly flips his hips in transition…Rare ball skills, he had almost as many interceptions as he had pass breakups…Is a tough tackler who can deliver the big hit…A one-year football player with a ton of learning to be done…Never played cornerback until last year…Needs a lot of refinement because he allows too much cushion at the line and pro wide receivers will exploit that…Ran a 4.57 40 with just 14 reps of 225 pounds, a 36½-inch vertical jump and a 10-2 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A very raw prospect who will need time to develop, but is blessed with a ton of natural ability and some team will find a spot on their roster for him to develop and potentially become the player he has all the ability to be.

Senquez Golson, Ole Miss, 5-8¾, 176 – Fourth-year senior…Started 33 of 49 career games, finishing with 136 tackles, 15 passes broken up and 16 interceptions…Was an eighth-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in the 2011 MLB draft and turned down a $1.4 million contract to play football…A true ball hawk whose 10 interceptions in 2014 was second among FBS players…Times his leaps very well and consistently high-points the ball…Is extremely competitive with the ball in the air and rarely loses a one-on-one battle…Is extremely small by NFL standards in terms of height, weight and arm length…Is not strong in run support because he is easily pushed around by blockers he is giving up 100 pounds or more to…Viewed by a lot of scouts as a red zone liability…Ran a 4.46 40 at the Combine with 15 reps, a 33½-inch vertical jump and 10-0 broad jump.
PROJECTION: You can’t teach the kind of ball skills he possesses, but his lack of size and limited growth potential will likely have some teams ignoring him on draft day. But if a team is willing to give him an opportunity, he could be a pleasant surprise for a team with patience and a game plan designed to showcase his strengths.

OTHERS TO WATCH
Alex Carter, Stanford, 6-0¼, 196
Imoan Claiborne, Northwestern State, 5-10, 189
Quandre Diggs, Texas, 5-9¼, 196
Lorenzo Doss, Tulane, 5-10½, 182
Jacoby Glenn, Central Florida, 6-0, 179
Doran Grant, Ohio State, 5-10¼, 200
Ladarius Gunter, Miami, 6-1½, 202
Craig Mager, Texas State, 5-11½, 201
Cody Riggs, Notre Dame, 5-9, 185
Josh Shaw, USC, 6-0½, 201
D'Joun Smith, Florida Atlantic, 5-10, 187
Kevin White, TCU, 5-9¼, 183

SCOUT.COM DRAFT RANKINGS

Prospects by: OVERALL RANK | Position | College | Home State | Name
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