The Bucs enter 2011 with a bit of uncertainty at corner. Ronde Barber is getting a little long in the tooth and Aqib Talib can’t keep out of trouble. The Bucs seemed pretty set at the position just a couple of months ago, but today things don’t look so clear. If the Bucs weren’t considering drafting a corner this year before, they almost have to now. Regardless of what determination the team comes to on Aqib Talib this year, I don’t see them wanting to invest a lot in him long-term. Either this year or next the Bucs are going to need to target a top-tier corner.
This isn’t a bad class for corners, but in truth there are really only two or three clear-cut studs in the class and a lot of prospects with questions facing them. The Bucs, at 20, likely won’t get the top two corners in the class and will have to decide whether or not they want to roll the dice on another DB with potential character issues. Chances are Tampa will look front seven in round one, spend a mid-round pick on a corner and then revisit the position in free agency or again next year.
Here are the top corners in the 2011 NFL Draft:
1.) Patrick Peterson, LSU – Peterson is the unquestioned best player in the 2011 NFL Draft. How dominant was Peterson last year in college? He won the Bednarik Award as the nation’s best defender, the Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back and was named the SEC’s Defensive and Special Teams MVP’s. And he did it as a junior. Peterson is just 20 but he has the kind of athleticism and instincts that rarely come in one package, he combines ideal size for a corner with 4.31 speed and freakish athletic ability. There are little things here and there that Peterson can address to improve his game, but he is the most complete player with arguably the highest ceiling of anyone in the 2011 draft class. Peterson will be out-of-the-box ready for the NFL, he’ll contribute immediately on defense and special teams (he is an elite return-man) and should develop into an upper-echelon cover corner.
2.) Prince Amukamara, Nebraska - The only strike against Prince Amukamara is that he’s not Patrick Peterson, suffice it to say Prince is a stud. In this draft it’s Patrick and Prince, and then everybody else. Amukamara is a high-effort, high-character, shutdown cover corner with top 15 talent. I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes off the board in the top-ten. Amukamara doesn’t have the freakish athleticism of Peterson, but he’s still amongst the best athletes in the draft and has the instincts to be the an elite corner in the NFL. Amukamara is capable of covering any receiver in both man schemes and zone, he does occasionally fall victim to his own aggressiveness but has more than enough ability to recover against most receivers. Doesn’t have fantastic hands but will still reel in most potential interceptions.
3.) Jimmy Smith, Colorado – Smith is a classic big-body corner. He’s got about two inches and about 20 pounds on the other top corners and is capable of being a lot more physical because of it. Smith has a surprising amount of athleticism for his size and is more than capable of taking bigger receivers out of the picture while still having the flexibility and quickness to cover smaller, faster receivers as well. He does tend to take a ton of chances and NFL quarterbacks will exploit that at the next level. Amongst the best tacklers in the class at his position, seems to enjoy being physical unlike a lot of other corners. Was arrested a couple of times in Boulder, CO for possession and failed a drug test in 2007 but has been incident-free since that point.
4.) Brandon Harris, Miami (FL) - The best comparison I’ve heard with regard to Harris was former Hurricane (and Bucs) Phillip Buchanon. Harris is supremely athletic, a former track-star with a track-and-field pedigree, Harris has more than enough ability to be a successful NFL corner, he just needs coaching. Harris is an incomplete player, skating by in college largely on athleticism, he needs to improve his technique in order to reach his impressive potential. Is much better in man-to-man where he can just react, struggles to recognize the play on the field and react (something that will improve with better film study). Work ethic may be a bit of an issue, but Harris can be as good as he wants to be in the NFL.
5.) Aaron Williams, Texas - Williams is another big corner, he plays very smart, fundamental football but lacks the high-end athleticism of some of the other players at his position. Williams is never going to be overly fast or quick, but he’s adequate in the right situation. He lacks a ton of physicality despite his size, and needs to improve his tackling and press-coverage. Williams is not going to be an Alpha-corner in the NFL but could develop into a very good number two corner. May lack the quickness and speed to play in nickel sets and cover slot receivers, but could potentially move to safety at some point down the line with some success.
Best of the Rest:
6.) Chimdi Chekwa, Ohio State - Chekwa is a very athletic, physical corner but needs to improve his man coverage skills and tackling in order to be effective at the NFL level. Has impressive speed though, will likely contribute immediately on special teams and potentially in nickel sets.
7.) Ras-i Dowling, Virginia – A big, strong fast corner out of Virginia, lacks elite top-speed but is a solid all-around corner with great intangibles. High character kid was voted a team captain in 2010, but missed the majority of the season with injuries.
8.) Davon House, New Mexico State - Hard-working corner with good measurables from a mid-major school. Questions about competition and a lack of urgency as a tackler are concerns but has a great work ethic and instincts. Definite sleeper.
9.) Curtis Brown, Texas - Solid corner with fairly average speed and strength. Brown will need to improve his technique and strength at the next level in order to be successful.
10.) Buster Skrine, Chattanooga - Very talented corner from a small school, needs to improve his strength and discipline but is a sleeper-style player who could see the field and surprise some people as a rookie.