Big Board: Cornerbacks
By Patrik Nohe
The Buccaneers still have plenty of need at cornerback and are likely to select one with their first pick. But even with a high pick to potentially spend on a corner and the acquisition of Eric Wright, the Bucs still may double down on the position and use middle or late round picks to add depth.
Who knows, maybe draft economics will drive teams to make offers to move up and select Ryan Tannehill in the top five and the Bucs will move back. Or maybe the Vikings will take Morris Claiborne at three and the Bucs will have to go away from the position and draft best available at another spot.
Nobody knows what’s going to happen, so it’s good to have a thorough idea of what’s going on.
For instance, there are potentially as many as four elite corners in this year’s draft (it isn’t just one LSU CB), or that if Tampa keeps Aqib Talib a solid number two corner will be around on the second day of the draft (rounds two and three).
There are a lot of good DB’s in this year’s draft. Here are our top 10.
1.) Morris Claiborne, LSU, Jr.
Claiborne is the alpha corner in this draft, a solid tactician with great athleticism and good ball skills, but everything is relative. In other classes, Claiborne falls behind a bit, he would probably a mid-late round corner last year. I don’t think he’s better than Prince Amukumara (who missed the season with an injury) as of his entrance into the draft and his own coaches admit aside from technique he’s no Patrick Peterson. But he is a fantastic corner who comes from a great program and is used to big time football games. He’s also still learning the position so his ceiling is extremely high. I really do love Claiborne, but it is worth mentioning a lot of his stock is based in potential on an already impressive product. If you pick him, you’re putting a lot credence in what he could develop into as opposed to where he is at this exact moment. Make no mistake about it though, even where he is now he’ll still be able to start on almost any team in the NFL ad he’s still the best corner in this class.
2.) Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama, Jr.
I love Dre Kirkpatrick but not necessarily for the Bucs, him and (a little bit more even) Janoris Jenkins remind me of Aqib Talib and could potentially bring off-the-field issues and character problems to Tampa. To Kirkpatrick’s credit, he is extremely well-liked by teammates and doesn’t have an extensive history of issues though. Kirkpatrick has the kind of body I like in a corner, a big long, flexible player with agility and above average ball skills, he does have a tendency to try and guess routes from time to time and get burned, but with coaching I truly believe Kilpatrick may even have a higher ceiling than Claiborne. He will be better on the outside locked up on an island against alpha receivers who can utilize size over smaller corners. at 6-2, with an impressive vertical and good physicality, Kilpatrick could be elite. He also comes from a program with a good pedigree for creating NFL defensive backs. Nick Saban has a fantastic eye for talent in the secondary, develops players well and Kilpatrick looks to be another very good corner in that line of players.
3.) Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama, Sr.
I don’t think Jenkins fits well in Tampa at all. He’s had an extensive history of off-the-field issues and it ultimately resulted in his dismissal from Florida. Do you know how hard it is to get kicked out of Gainesville? There are also issues about the number of children Jenkins currently has. Regardless of character issues though, Jenkins is a stud. In terms of coverage, he’s arguably the best corner in the draft, he’s great in man sets and has good instincts to play in zone schemes to boot. His ball skills are above-average to good and he has the size and athleticism to cover almost anyone. The only legitimate complaint is his tackling, which can improve with coaching and effort. But off the field issues will push Jenkins to the back half of the first, maybe even early second. If he’s there at the top of round two he will represent a dilemma for the Bucs, but even then he’s probably too big a gamble. While he could arguably be the steal of the draft at the top of the second round, he could be more of Aqib Talib too, and the Bucs still haven’t determined what to do about the original.
4.) Chase Minnifield, Virginia, Sr.
Minnifield is the fourth potential top-grade corner in the 2012 draft. A lot of people will think this is high for him but having watched Minnifield, I can honestly say he’s the real deal. Minnifield is blue collar in every sense of the word, he’s a technically superior corner that is an exceptional tackler and rarely plays out of position. While he isn’t the best athlete in this class of corners, he may be the most polished corner in terms of technique and experience. In the right system he’s an alpha corner, but at the very least he’s a competent number two with plenty of room to grow. I like Minnifield because he comes from a program that turned their fortunes around his senior year and nearly won the ACC. As I mentioned I like guys that get results and Minnifield was one of the leaders on that 2011 Cavaliers defense. Just like his team, Minnifield also gets every last ounce out of his God-given ability and he has a little bit of swagger to go with it. I like Minnifield, this may be higher than a lot of other boards have him, but I think he’ll translate extremely well into the NFL.
5.) Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska, Sr.
A lot of people are down a little on Alfonzo Dennard because of his postseason workouts, but if you look at the product on the field you see a physical corner that brings great athleticism despite being a little undersized. He reminds me vaguely of Vontae Davis although Davis was a better tackler coming out of school. Dennard has never been asked to factor into run support as much though so he’s less proven, but he is good at the line on the jam. Dennard is more of a zone scheme corner than a man guy, where he can occasionally get exposed. The former Husker corner has above average ball skills and could factor on special teams if needed. The downside to Dennard is his lack of height, he’s got good jumping ability but he lacks great recovery speed and could be victimized down the field by bigger NFL receivers. I think Dennard would be a good nickel or maybe a two corner in a zone scheme, he’s not a first round guy, but could be a good pick on the second day.
Best of the Rest
6.) Trumaine Johnson, Montana
Johnson is an extremely intriguing prospect, he’s got prototype size with good athleticism and he may be amongst the best pure cover corners in the draft. While he’s not the top-end athlete some of the corners at the top of the list are, Johnson has ideal size and athleticism to be a lockdown NFL corner. Needs to learn to be more physical, but could develop into something special.
7.) Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech, Jr.
Aside from elite top speed, Hosley is one of the better athletes in this class. That comes at the expense of his technique though. If Hosley gets the right coaching in the NFL he’s got a level of potential that competes with Kirkpatrick and Claiborne. Hosley may be smarter than both though in terms of football IQ too, having shown a knack for learning from opposing receivers’ and quarterbacks’ cues and getting stronger in coverage as games continue.
8.) Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina, Jr.
I’ve come to really like Gilmore, he’s not a great candidate to play man in the NFL but in a zone scheme he could be excellent. He’s very knowledgeable and has great anticipation jumping routes. Gilmore would be a good grab for Tampa if they plan on using a zone and he’s there late in two or in early three.
9.) Mike Harris, FSU, Sr.
Harris is an underrated corner with good size and instincts. He needs a little bit of work in terms of diagnosing some plays and can be caught out of position from time to time but he had the recovery speed and athleticism to get away with it at Florida State. He will need to get better in the pro’s, but his physicality and willingness to play the run make him an attractive developmental prospect.
10.) Josh Robinson, UCF, Jr.
I frankly thought Josh Robinson should have stayed in school because he has plenty to develop and could have maybe earned a first round grade had he returned for his senior year. But as it stands Robinson has very good coverage skills and instincts, even if he needs to work on becoming more physical and learning to be more fundamentally sound in his back pedal and his technique on the jam.