Positional Analysis: Cornerbacks
VIKINGS CORNERBACKS—Antoine Winfield, Cedric Griffin, Ronyell Whitaker, Dovonte Edwards, Charles Gordon, Patrick Body, Mike Hawkins.
POSITION ANALYSIS—While there likely aren't too many fans lamenting the release of Fred Smoot, who proved incapable of covering speed receivers for the Vikings each of the last two years, there was a lot expected of him. Considering how routinely opposing teams scorched the Vikings in the passing game, this is an area of need. Antoine Winfield is one of the unsung stars of the NFL that is solid in pass defense and one of the best in the league in run support. Cedric Griffin made big strides last year, but the Vikings may look to address this position early in the draft, perhaps as early as Leon Hall in the first round if the draft falls in the right (or wrong) way. While the team has a collection of young corners with upside to go with Winfield, if a star player slides on the draft board, a corner could get grabbed by the Vikings at any time—they have visited with a number of them. Seemingly always a position of need, 19 corners went in last year's draft, including five in the first round and 11 on the first day. While those numbers clearly won't be matched in the first round, 10 or more corners could go off the board in the first day.
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
Leon Hall, Michigan, 5-11¼, 193—Fourth-year senior…Played quarterback, wide receiver and CB in high school…Started three games as a true freshman before becoming a full-time starter in 2004…In his final three seasons, he started 34 of 37 games and had 154 tackles, 37 passes broken up, nine interceptions, one forced fumble and five fumble recoveries…Has experience as a punt returner…Very good experience and football intelligence…Reads and reacts quickly…Physical in coverage…Good vs. the run…Makes the right reads on plays and doesn't get caught too often on double moves or play fakes…Times jumps well to break up passes or make picks…Doesn't have the same speed in pads as he does on the running track…Needs to refine his deep coverage because at times he looks a little tight and will lose his cushion flipping his hips…Can get beat over the top…Had a good Combine performance, running a 4.40 40 with 15 reps of 225 pounds, a 37½-inch vertical jump and a 10-5 broad jump.
PROJECTION: He's the best corner in the draft and has durability and experience on his side. In an era where CBs have become prima donnas, he has a great work ethic and will be a proud addition to any franchise, as early as the Vikings at No. 7 or as late as the middle of the first round.
Darrelle Revis, Pittsburgh, 5-11½, 196—Third-year junior…A jack of all trades in high school, playing running back, quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback and also served as a kick returner…His uncle is Sean Gilbert, a former first-round draft pick who played for the Rams, Redskins, Raiders and Panthers…Started 34 of the 35 college games in which he played, notching 129 tackles, 25 passes defensed, eight interceptions and two fumble recoveries…Big-play potential—both of his picks last year he returned for TDs…Very good footwork and speed to stay on a receiver's shoulder deep downfield…Reads and reacts quickly and jumps underneath routes well…Good closing speed and long arms to make up for mistakes…Solid tackler…Strong leaper who times jumps well…Has never shown the kind of numbers production one would expect from a player with his talent…Runs effortlessly but doesn't have the "zoom" step so many top corners possess…Gets called for quite a few penalties…Some think he might be a better NFL safety than cornerback, which could hurt his stock somewhat…Ran a 4.38 40 at the Combine with 16 reps, a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-5 broad jump.
PROJECTION: If you look at his Combine numbers and Hall's, they're virtually identical with Revis a little bit ahead in each category. He didn't face the type of competition Hall did and may not have the ideal speed for a shut-down type corner, but he does a lot of things well, is durable and brings a lot of positives—which should have him off the board in the second half of the first round.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Aaron Ross, Texas, 6-0½, 197—Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter who had 139 tackles, 28 passes broken up, nine interceptions, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in that span…Emerged from the shadow left by Vikings rookie Cedric Griffin with a huge '06 season, making 77 tackles with 19 pass breakups and six interceptions to his credit…Won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2006, given to college football's top defensive back…Often looks like the receiver on deep passes and has excellent hand skills and long arms to make picks or break up potential big plays…Has all the physical measurables coaches look for in a cornerback…Production numbers extremely good…Has great closing speed to the ball…Works hard and willing in run support…Has short legs and will struggle against top-end speed receivers…Will bite on pump fakes too often…Doesn't make a lot of big hits; prefers to wrap up runners…Has a limited time as a full-time starter and might need a little time to adapt…Ran a 4.46 40 at the Combine with 17 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Like Griffin, Ross could become a starter immediately. Last year, five CBs went on the first round and, while the Class of 2007 won't match that, Ross could be one of three or four to go and slide into a slot late in the first round.
Marcus McCauley, Fresno State, 6-0¾, 203—Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 132 tackles, 22 passes broken up, four interceptions and two forced fumbles in that span…Excellent size and very good speed for a CB his size…Good upper-body strength and solid at press coverage at the line…Adept at reading the quarterback and jumping routes…Has a good flip in his hips to run with receivers deep down the field and make plays…Has good hand jolt at the line that can force receivers outside the hash…Is willing in run support…Team leader with a good character that will fit in with most teams…Doesn't make nearly the interceptions he should—just one pick in 25 games over the last two years and none as a senior…Was benched briefly during his senior year because he was pressing too hard and made mistakes over the top…Doesn't have good lower-body strength…Tries to make the kill shot and too often misses and allows the opponent to get much bigger gains than they should…Ran a 4.40 40 at the Combine with 17 reps, a 36-inch vertical jump and a 10-9 broad jump (second best among CBs that jumped).
PROJECTION: You don't find many corners that are 6-1 and have the kind of speed he does. Coming off a senior year that was a disappointment and a shaky week at the Senior Bowl, some teams will de-value him, but, in the right situation, he could become a Pro Bowler. You can't teach height and speed, but you can teach technique, which could make McCauley a great value pick in the second round.
Tanard Jackson, Syracuse, 6-0, 200—Fourth-year senior who started the final 34 games of his college career…Missed the opener of the 2004 after being stabbed outside a frat party trying to break up a fight…In his three years as a starter, he had 162 tackles, 12 passes broken up, five interceptions, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries…Served as a gunner on punt coverage teams…Good size and very long arms…Has a mean streak and plays tough…Willing to give a bump to receivers and contribute in run support…Can take tall receivers out of their game…Uses the sidelines to force receivers to the outside and alter their routes…Very slow in terms of top NFL corners and doesn't have great upper body strength (see below)…Will have problems one-on-one with speed receivers…Has small hands and has never been viewed as a top interception corner…Appears willing to break up passes rather than go all out for a pick…Ran a slow 4.53 40 at the Combine, with just 12 reps, a sub-par 32½-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Jackson kind of flew under the radar because the Orangemen stunk in 2006, but scouts love his potential, especially in a Tampa-2 type of defense. Some scouts put him up at the top of the CB rankings, but his poor Combine numbers and lack of consistent performance numbers have him dropping into the second round in our books. But with his talent, he'll probably go ahead of at least one of the guys we rate in from of him.
Chris Houston, Arkansas, 5-10, 185—Fourth-year junior…Two-year full-time starter who had 65 tackles, 21 passes broken up, three interceptions and three forced fumbles in that span…Incredible upper-body strength (see below) and looks like he lives at Muscle Beach…Very strong in press coverage and completely shut down Dwayne Jarrett in their meeting last year…Has a great hand jolt/punch at the line to stop receivers in their tracks…Has excellent speed and can chase receivers stride for stride deep down the field…Good reaction on short underneath routes…Has never played consistently to his immense talent…Gets called for too many pass interference penalties…Isn't a hands guy who will make a lot of interceptions…Arrogant…Will get fooled and beaten over the top too easily…Made a big splash at the Combine, with the second-best 40 time among CBs (4.33 seconds), the most reps of 225 pounds by far (a whopping 27) and a 36-inch vertical jump and 10-2 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Houston's stock has been steadily on the rise since the Combine because he has such good intangibles of strength and speed. But so did guys like Ahmad Carroll, who never panned out as a pro. Had Houston stayed in college one more year, he would have been a lock for the first round in 2008. As it stands, somebody will fall in love with his numbers and take him as early as late in first round, but we're a little more leery of the refinement his game will need to match up with his physical gifts and high opinion of himself.
Eric Wright, UNLV, 5-10¾, 192—Fourth-year junior who began his college career at USC...Left the program after an incident in which he was accused of rape and, upon an investigation of his apartment, police found more than 100 pills of the designer drug Ecstasy…Has never been a full-time starter—in only season with USC he had 33 tackles, four passes broken up and two interceptions; in nine games with UNLV (six starts) he had 29 tackles, eight passes broken up and one interception…Excellent speed (see below) and ability to stay with receivers…Was a dangerous kickoff returner his final season…Has good hips and makea fluid change-of-direction moves in deep pass coverage…Good ball skill and timing of leaps…Has good upper-body strength and will get physical…A huge character concern considering the gravity of the charges that were lodged against him (rape, drugs)…Doesn't play with attention to detail or have on-field or off-field discipline…Raw talent who has never been a full-time starter…Has been dinged up quite a bit for limited playing time…Allows too many passes to be completed…Hasn't been very willing to drop his head in run support…Had the third-fastest 40 times among CBs at the Combine (4.36 seconds) with 17 reps, a 36½-inch vertical jump and a 10-3 broad jump.
PROJECTION: If not for his character issues, somebody would take a chance early on him. While we have him going in the middle of the second round based on talent and upside, with the new conduct policy, there's a chance he could be one of the players that slides a long way down the draft board if teams are playing the cautious role (Remember Randy Moss in the post-Lawrence Phillips era).
THE BEST OF THE REST
Josh Wilson, Maryland, 5-9¼, 189—Fourth-year senior…His father Timothy was the blocking fullback for Earl Campbell during his dominating hey-days of the late 1970s and early 1980s…Two-year starter who had 128 tackles, 20 passes broken up, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries…Played on special teams and blocked three punts in last two years…Good football field speed…Has fluid hip movements to turn on long routes and close on crossing routes…Aggressive at the point of jump ball plays…Has the explosiveness to double as a return man in the post-Devin Hester era…Very good upper body strength (see below)…Is seen as too short…Will get directed by big receivers off the snap who get their arms out on him…Is not a turnover-type CB—just two interceptions in 47 games and 27 starts…Will have some problems in run support against big running backs…Needs to refine tackling technique and be more consistent and effective…Ran a 4.40 40 at the Combine with 20 reps of 225 pounds, a 36½-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A small corner who isn't adept in run coverage and not known as an interceptor. His speed and physical ability will get him drafted in the second or early third rounds, but his biggest contribution to a team may be on special teams and nickel back—a high price to pay in the second round unless you're convinced you have Devin Hester potential.
Daymeion Hughes, California, 5-11¼, 192—Fourth-year senior…Became a starter late in his true freshman season and started 36 of his last 37 games for the Bears…In his final three seasons, he had 150 tackles, 29 passes broken up and 13 interceptions (five in 2005 and eight last year)…Physical corner who plays much faster than he times (see below)…Has fluid hips to turn and run on deep routes without losing a step…Reads zone defense schemes very well…Anticipates crossing routes well…Had good consistent numbers as a starter…Very experienced, having played in 51 college games and starting 41 games…Had a horrible 40 time at the Combine—third-worst among all corners—and his stock took a hit…Some have him pigeon-holed as only being able to play in the Cover-2 system (good news for the Vikings)…Has poor recovery skills and, when he bites on a fake, if the pass is complete it goes to the house…Came off at the Combine interviews as cocky and somewhat resentful of authority figures…Gets blocked out of running plays much too easily and willingly…Ran a 4.55 40 at the Combine to go with 16 reps of 225 pounds and opted not to jump.
PROJECTION: If you look at his production, you would rate him in the top four or five corners on the draft board. But his downsides (lack of recovery speed, attitude) are a dangerous mix and something that might drop him into the third round.
Tarell Brown, Texas, 5-10¾, 189—Fourth-year senior…Tragic childhood in which his mother died when he was 10 years old and is now an unsolved cold case…Three-year starter who had 163 tackles, 20 passes defensed, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in that span…Suffered a broken arm in the National Championship Game vs. Ohio State his junior year…Suspended in 2006 for a game after being pulled over in a car in which drugs and a loaded 9mm handgun were found in the car…Has a nice combination of speed, agility and quick-twitch explosion…Excellent one-on-one cover skills…Made Dwayne Jarrett look bad in the Rose Bowl game before getting injured…Good closer who delivers a big hit…Will play through injuries…On the flip side, has had too many injuries—played almost all of last year with a broken bone in his foot…Character has to be a concern…Needs to work on flipping his hips and refine his backpedal…Too many passes get caught in front of him on crossing routes…Doesn't make interceptions…Ran a 4.42 40 at the Combine, with 17 reps, a 33-inch vertical jump and a position-worst 9-3 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Plenty of talent, but wasn't asked to be the main CB (Cedric Griffin until '05 and Aaron Ross last year). Has always seemed to find trouble and with the new conduct policy, teams fear another Pacman. That could drop him well below his value and push him into the third round or longer.
Jonathan Wade, Tennessee, 5-10, 188—Fifth-year senior…Granted a medical redshirt as a sophomore after having his season cut short by season-ending left shoulder surgery…An exceptional track athlete who set a Louisiana state high school record by running the 100 meters in 10.15 seconds and was a member of the 400 relay team at Tennessee that posted two of the top three times in school history…Didn't become a full-time starter until last year when he had 52 tackles, 13 passes broken up, four interceptions and one forced fumble…Has experience over time—playing in 49 games over four years, including 28 starts…Extremely good quickness…Really drops his body to make tackles in run support…Good closing speed, outstanding leap ability and solid footwork…Has almost no upper body strength (see below)…Doesn't have great size or extremely long arms…A converted receiver who is still learning the position on a full-time basis…Will struggle in man coverage…Doesn't wrap up well as tackler and lets too many plays keep going…A very up and down Combine, where this 4.36 40 time was tied for third-best, his 40½-inch vertical jump was second-best, his 10-6 broad jump was among the best, but his eight reps of 225 pounds was by far the worst of any defensive back who opted to lift.
PROJECTION: A solid player who needs a lot of development. He has the skills to be a starter at some point, but may never evolve into anything more than a track guy who played football. That alone could push him into the second day of the draft.
Fred Bennett, South Carolina, 6-1, 198—Fifth-year senior…Spent a year at Hargrave Military Prep School to get his grades up…Three-year starter who started 33 of 36 games in the span, registering 100 tackles, 24 passes broken up, and nine interceptions…Very good size at 6-1 and brings the big hit when driving on the ball…Gets in and out of his breaks fluidly and without losing much speed…Has good sustaining speed and will stay on a receiver's shoulder on bomb routes…Has long legs and takes time to make up ground if he's fooled…Doesn't react quickly on run support…Misses a lot of tackles because he doesn't have good wrap-up technique and tries to knock people down instead of bringing them down…Shies away from going head's up with big RBs…Doesn't locate the ball well and, when trying to make up ground, will get called for penalties…Needs to improve toughness…Ran a 4.47 40 at the Combine with 17 reps, a 38½-inch vertical jump and a 10-5 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A player with experience and skills, but one that hasn't taken advantage of them at the college level. Teams likely won't see him as a lock at the pro level as a result and he should be one of the first corners to come off the board on the second day.
OTHERS TO WATCH
David Irons, Auburn, 5-10¼, 190
Michael Coe, Alabama State, 6-0¾, 190
Ryan Smith, Florida, 5-10¼, 173
Anthony Arline, Baylor, 6-1¾, 198
Kenny Scott, Georgia Tech, 6-1, 183
DeAndre Jackson, Iowa State, 5-11¼, 189
Travarous Bain, Hampton, 6-0¼, 182
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