Positional Analysis: Cornerbacks

The Vikings have visited with a number of cornerbacks and there are a wide variety of flavors available in this year's draft.

Vikings Cornerbacks – Antoine Winfield, Cedric Griffin, Benny Sapp, Charles Gordon, Karl Paymah, Marcus McCauley, Marcus Walker, Derrick Roberson.

Vikings Draft Outlook – Despite being growing speculation that the Vikings will extend Winfield's contract, there is an equally high sentiment that the team may well look to the draft to improve the position. There is a pretty wide disparity among analyst as to the talent level of this year's class, but it is believed that quality players will be available in the second round, which could well be where the Vikings target taking a young CB.

The Class of 2009 – The only guaranteed first-rounder in this year's draft class is Malcolm Jenkins of Ohio State. He is the latest in a long line of impressive OSU cornerbacks (including Winfield) that have gone high in the draft and made a long-term impact in the pros. Beyond Jenkins, however, finding a consensus as to who the other top CBs are is not as easy as it might appear. Some really like Vontae Davis, while Alphonso Smith and Darius Butler are getting strong consideration from other scouts and draftniks. Look for the first two rounds to be littered with cornerbacks coming off the board, as the depth of the position may allow more teams to ignore need in the first round, much like wide receivers flew off the board in record numbers last year.


CREAM OF THE CROP

Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State, 6-0½, 204 –
Fourth-year senior … An accomplished high school athlete who won a New Jersey state title in the 400 meters and three state football championships … Started four games as a true freshman and all 39 games in his final three seasons … In three years as a full-time starter, he had 159 tackles, 15 passes broken up, 11 interceptions and four forced fumbles … Also blocked two kicks and returned punts on special teams … Won the 2008 Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to college football's top defensive back … Is big and strong for a cornerback … Has a great backpedal on the snap and rolls his hips in coverage without losing much, if anything, in the transition … Has a good jolt with his hands to slow receivers when in press coverage situations … Has good awareness and jumps routes when QBs try the short slant patterns … Will play with some toughness and support the run … Has good read-and-react skills … Has great agility – he posted the best time (6.59 seconds) in the three-cone drill at the Combine … Does not have top-end speed seen in shutdown cornerbacks … Will give away his cushion too easily at times and allow receivers to get some separation on their cuts … Doesn't make as many game-changing plays like interceptions that most players with his talent level … Drops too many potential interceptions … Ran a 4.51 40 at the Combine with 15 reps of 225 pounds, a 33-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: He doesn't have the top flight speed that many of the NFL's top corners possess, but he is big and has a lot of skills that will translate well to the next level. His most likely landing spot is to New Orleans with the 14th pick.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Vontae Davis, Illinois, 5-11¾, 201 –
Third-year junior … The brother of former first-round tight end Vernon Davis of the 49ers … Started 34 of the 36 games he played in college, making 206 tackles with 20 passes broken up, seven interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries … Was a standout special teamer who not only returned kicks, but blocked a couple of punts … Has very good upper-body strength (see below) … Can run with receivers with his speed and excels in just about all coverage situations … Has the makeup speed to compensate if he takes a misstep … Is very physical and had the type of body that could add another 10 pounds … Nearly impossible to beat deep because of his speed … Will shoot down the line and provide good help in run support … Is extremely cocky and will turn off some teams with his attitude … Needs some refinement in his backpedal and transition because he tends to turn the wrong way … Did not make as many interceptions as many thought he should – just seven in 36 career games … Is not a team leader who works hard on the practice field … Is inconsistent in his instincts and doesn't always bring the same intensity from series to series … Will take chances that get him burned occasionally … Ran a 4.40 40 at the Combine with an impressive 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 37½-inch vertical jump and a 10-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: He is a great athlete, but part of the problem is that he knows it and isn't shy about self-promotion and trash talk. He and head coach Ron Zook butted heads more than once and there will be some teams (quite possibly the Vikings included on that list) that won't take a chance on him in the first round. He likely will come off the board in Round One, but the team may find it has more headaches than it wants for a highly-compensated rookie.

Darius Butler, Connecticut, 5-10½, 183 – Fifth-year senior … Is the nephew of former Saints and Dolphins safety Gene Adkins, who played from 1987-96, and is a cousin of Baltimore running back Willis McGahee … Started 43 of 45 college games in his career, making 180 tackles with 26 passes broken up, 10 interceptions and three forced fumbles … Played wide receiver as a senior and also returned punts on special teams … A team captain … Has good timing and leaping ability (see below) and breaks up a lot of passes deep down the field … Has a very good backpedal and doesn't lose anything when forced to flip his hips and run … Has good awareness and rarely bites on fakes and gets out of position … Is physical and will jam receivers at the line … Had a very good week of one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl … Gives good effort in run support and will make a big hit … Is very skinny and some question whether he can be physical at the next level … While he is willing to make plays vs. the run, his size makes him essentially a non-factor … If he takes a misstep, does not have top-end recovery skills … Did not have a good senior season – it was statistically the worst of his college career and included no interceptions … Is not an in-your-face type of corner … Ran a 4.41 at the Combine with an impressive 43-inch vertical jump and 11-2 broad jump, but chose not to lift. PROJECTION: He is an incredible athlete who brings versatility with his experience on the offensive side of the ball, but his lack of size and strength might drop him out of the first round.

Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest, 5-9, 193 – Fifth-year senior … A three-year starter who lost his starting job early in his sophomore season after starting all 11 games games he played as a redshirt freshman … In his final two seasons, he started all 26 games, compiling 81 tackles, 23 passes broken up, 15 interceptions and six forced fumbles … His eight interceptions in 2007 was the most of any player in Division I and he returned three of those picks for touchdowns … Is the all-time leader in career interceptions (21) in ACC history … Returned both kicks and punts … Has very good production and is constantly making plays, whether it be picks, breaking up deep passes or using a hard hand swipe to cause fumbles … Has extremely good footwork and technique … Has good closing speed on plays in front of him and has excellent awareness of where the quarterback is going to throw the ball … Goes after the ball like a wide receiver … Rarely bites on play-action or pump fakes … Gives his all in run support and likes to make the big hit … Is three inches too short for ideal NFL CB standards … Is a trash talker that will be undisciplined … Doesn't always show a lot of aggression in bringing ball carriers down and will allow some additional yardage … Does not have great upper-body strength … Does not have the kind of world-class speed teams look for in a No. 1 corner … Ran a 4.47 40 at the Combine, with 13 reps, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 10-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: If he was three inches taller, he would have all the prerequisites to be a first-round pick. In many ways, he is reminiscent of Antoine Winfield, a small man playing a big man's game. It took Winfield a long time to earn his due respect and the same may be true for Smith, who will likely fall out of the first round.

Jairus Byrd, Oregon, 5-10¼, 207 – Fourth-year junior … His father Gill Byrd played 10 years with the San Diego Chargers as a defensive back … As a high school senior, was named the Missouri Class 4A Offensive Player of the Year as a quarterback … Started 37 of his 39 career games, making 204 tackles with 36 passes broken up, 17 interceptions, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries … Was the Pac 10 Co-Freshman of the Year in 2006 and a two-time all-conference pick … Is very physical … Has great upper-body strength – has power-cleaned 330 pounds in the weight room … Is an intelligent player who is very instinctive … Is a good finisher who routinely delivers punishing tackles … Is a playmaker who has a knack for the ball and keeping wide receivers from making plays … Has good hand use to jolt receivers with a jam at the line … Has very good hands and goes up for a ball like a receiver … Does not have great speed and will struggle with speed receivers at the next level … Is not consistently quick off the line and can't lose a step because he doesn't have good make-up speed … Is blocked too easily in run support … May never be a No. 1 corner … Did not work out at the Combine because of a groin injury. PROJECTION: Byrd has a ton of good intangibles and has done nothing but make plays in his college career. However, his lack of explosion and distance speed will likely force him to be a No. 2 corner with whomever drafts him, which will make available into the second round.

D.J. Moore, Vanderbilt, 5-9, 184 – Third-year junior … A versatile athlete who won three state championships as a basketball player in South Carolina, as well as the state high jump champion as a senior … Became a starter three games into his true freshman season and started all 34 games he played after that … Returned both punts and kickoffs on special teams … In three years, he had 178 tackles with 19 passes broken up, 13 interceptions and four fumble recoveries … Is very good in his backpedal and times his turn right to stay with receivers down the field … Has very good natural instincts and can jump routes effectively … Played wide receiver in 2008 and averaged more than 20 yards on his seven receptions … Is an excellent leaper (see below) and high points the ball on deep passes … Has good closing speed on plays in front of him … Is too short by NFL standards … Will take chances and occasionally allow a big play … Is a drag-down tackler who doesn't always seal the deal … Played in a defense that didn't ask him to press receivers at the line very often … His footwork gets a little sloppy at times … Is thin and doesn't have the kind of body that will add weight easily … Ran a 4.56 40 at the Combine with 17 reps, a 39½-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: The NFL loves size and blazing speed in its cornerbacks and Moore has neither. However, he has tremendous instincts and has a bright future ahead of him. He could be on the Vikings' radar in the second round.

BEST OF THE REST

Sean Smith, Utah, 6-3½, 209 –
Fourth-year junior … Recruited as a running back and played wide receiver during his redshirt freshman season … Moved to cornerback as a sophomore and started 21 of the 26 games he played … In that span, he had 79 tackles, 16 passes broken up and nine interceptions … Is enormous at 6-3½ – by far the tallest corner in the draft … Has long arms and a good jolt in his press punch … Is a willing tackler in run support … Is a playmaker who uses his size and body control to prevent receivers from getting a good chance on contested passes … Did not consistently play against top competition … Has very little to provide in the way of upper-body strength (see below) … Does not have top-end speed and loses a step when he has to flip his hips and mirror a receiver deep downfield … Plays a little too high in his backpedal and it hinders his ability to cut quickly … Ran a 4.47 40 at the Combine with just 10 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: A raw project with a ton of upside, Smith has a lot to learn. Given the struggles many tall corners have had transitioning to the NFL, he is a risk/reward pick that will likely be on the board into the third round.

Sherrod Martin, Troy, 6-1, 199 – Fifth-year senior … Graduated in 2003 and didn't play until the 2004 season … Started 37 of the 46 games he played in his college career … Had injuries to both shoulders as a true sophomore, but played through the rest of the season … Required surgery on both shoulders to repair torn labrums – one in December 2005 and the other in February 2006 … Got a medical redshirt for the 2006 season … Did little in 2007 as a nickel back due to a broken hand … Came on as a senior, starting all 13 games and making 94 tackles with seven passes broken up and four interceptions … Looks the part and has excellent football intelligence … Has the ability to stay with receivers deep down the field … Doesn't lose any speed or momentum when forced to turn and run … Has excellent closing speed on plays in front of him … Is big and could project to safety later in his career or in a pinch early … Is still not accomplished in technique … Will be 25 years old as a rookie, which will drop him in the eyes of many teams … Is a drag-down tackler who will let receivers get away from him … Durability will be a big concern, especially in light of having surgery on both shoulders … Ran a 4.43 40 at the Combine with 12 reps and a 34½-inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: His injury history will be a red flag for the first two rounds, but after showing his ability and fluid movements at both the Senior Bowl and Combine, he will become a value pick by the third round.

Donald Washington, Ohio State, 6-0¼, 199 – Fourth-year junior … A star high school track athlete who won the long jump championship in Indiana as both a junior and a senior … A two-year starter as a redshirt freshman and sophomore who lost his starting job as a senior to Chimdi Chekwa … In his three seasons, he had 102 tackles, three passes broken up and two interceptions … Lost his starting job after sitting out a two-game suspension for violating team rules … Has good size and strength … Has very fluid movement skills and can turn and run with receivers deep downfield … Has good short-area quickness and burst … Is an incredible leaper (see below) … Has good versatility having played on both sides as well as the slot … Has good football I.Q … .Is not a physical player who can consistently be counted on in run support … Has had some run-ins with the coaching staff that led to a couple of benchings … Is still viewed as raw, since he was teammates with first-rounder Malcolm Jenkins and never had to take on another team's top receiver for an entire 60 minutes … Gets blocked out too easily and once he is blocked, he tends to stay blocked … Has very limited upper-body strength (see below) … Ran a 4.52 40 at the Combine with a position-worst nine reps of 225 pounds, but a position-best 45-inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: Character will be a big concern that will likely drop him into and perhaps out of the third round. But he has a lot of upside and could be a developmental prospect that becomes a full-time NFL starter in a couple of years.

Coye Francies, San Jose State, 6-0½, 185 – Fifth-year senior … Spent two years at American Rivers Community College in California … Transferred to Oregon State and started four games – three at right cornerback and one at left corner … Was arrested in June 2007 and charged with possession of a loaded handgun, which led to his dismissal from the team … Sat out the 2007 season before joining San Jose State last season … He started all 12 games and had 63 tackles, three passes broken up and three interceptions … Has very good ball skills and can be a playmaker … Has very good upper-body strength (see below) … Has decent playing speed … Gives a jolting jam at the line that will force receivers to re-route … Is aggressive in run support and will consistently deliver a hard hit … Is a dedicated weight room man and practice player … Is very thin and may not be able to get too much bigger … Is very raw in his technique … The gun issue alone will have some teams red flag him completely … He struggles at time to change directions … Had a brutal 40 time at the Combine (see below) … Always tries to make the big hit and will miss too many tackles … Ran a 4.64 40 at the Combine, with 24 reps, a 36-inch vertical jump and a 10-3 broad jump. PROJECTION: He is an aggressive corner that some have ranked considerably higher than we do here. Entering the NFL with a gun arrest on your record, even though many believe it was an isolated incident, will be enough to drop him into the middle rounds – even though his talent would warrant selection in the third round.

Asher Allen, Georgia, 5-9½, 194 – Third-year junior … Was an outstanding return specialist in high school, scoring nine touchdowns on returns – seven punts and two kickoffs … A two-year starter who had 117 tackles, 12 passes broken up and three interceptions in that span … Set a school record for both kickoff return yards and average per return in 2008 … Has a very good backpedal and can flip and run deep down the field with receivers … Is strong in run support and has very good upper-body strength (see below) … Is quick to read and react and rarely gets caught out of position … Is able to avoid blockers and consistently make tackles … Played both on the outside and in the slot … Is a good open-field tackler … Has very small hands and has difficulty making interceptions – he had none in 2008 … Will allow receivers to eat up his cushion too quickly and has trouble forcing them off their routes … Has good, but not elite, speed to hang with NFL wide receivers for long distances … Doesn't shed blockers once they get into his body … Ran a 4.48 40 at the Combine with 22 reps of 225 pounds, a 35-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: An ideal fit in the Tampa-2 defense the Vikings run, if they get shut out in the first three rounds at cornerback he may still be available early in the fourth round. But with no fourth-round pick after the Sage Rosenfels trade, if the Vikings like what they see, they will have to make a move in the third.

OTHERS TO WATCH
Bradley Fletcher, Iowa, 6-0½, 198
Cary Harris, USC, 5-11½, 187
Victor Harris, Virginia Tech, 5-11¼, 199
Keenan Lewis, Orgeon State, 6-1, 206
Mike Mickens, Cincinnati, 5-11¾, 186
Ryan Mouton, Hawaai, 5-9, 187
Jerraud Powers, Auburn, 5-9, 188
DeAngelo Smith, Cincinnati, 5-10¾, 194
Greg Toler, St. Paul's, 5-11½, 185


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