Second Tier Corners
April 2, 2012
We know a fair amount, at this point, about the guys that are likely first round draft choices as defensive backs. In fact, it appears that Morris Claiborne of LSU, Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick, Janoris Jenkins of North Alabama and South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore will be first round picks at the 2012 draft. It also appears that the drop off between the top three or four defensive backs may not be as wide as it has been in the past. Let’s take a look at some of the perhaps lesser known DBs at both the corner and safety spots, in the 2012 NFL Draft class.
One prospect that catches my eye in terms of measurable and production is Trumaine Johnson from Montana of the Big Sky Conference. At 6-1 and 204 pounds, Johnson has the size that you want to be able to matchup against the big, long, athletic, and overpowering WR in the NFL. He has outstanding ball skills in terms of identifying the route and taking the proper angle to get to the pass in the air. His tackling is a bit suspect, but that isn’t where the red flags are with Johnson. Some off field issues including an arrest, as well as a devastating season ending injury in 2009 give NFL people pause, for certain. On the field, as well as unfortunately off of it, Johnson reminds me of an Antonio Cromartie type of corner. I believe he will be in the league for a long time as, at worst, a productive corner on good teams. Probably not a true number one, however. Represents the best value corner towards the middle or end of round three, in my opinion.
Another corner that I think has a chance to catch on and, given the opportunity to develop, be a good NFL player is Dwight Bentley from Louisiana-Lafayette. A bit undersized at 5-10 and 180 pounds, what does worry me is that his speed is not what would be considered elite. Is it adequate? Certainly. Is it probably good enough to be on a roster as a nickel corner? Probably. But if you are a corner coming in at 5-10 and under 190 pounds, I need you to be explosive, help in the return game, excel in zone coverages, and be a threat to take it to the house on an interception. Not a true playmaker, but I do feel like he can be a solid number three corner in the league for a spell if he gets stronger. Good enough ball skills, and more quick than fast. That can make up for a lot of speed and other deficiencies and we’ve seen that with Bentley. In terms of being able to play bigger than his size and stronger than his weight, he may be second to none in this second tier of corner prospects.
I almost feel funny saying this, but I think that Cliff Harris from Oregon has as good of a chance to be a high end NFL corner as anyone in this second tier. Football fans forget the ceiling that this kid had before his suspension for off the field issues prior to this past NCAA season. A dynamic and explosive athlete with elite level speed and quickness, Harris may take some time to develop as a legit cover corner on an every down basis, but I feel like he can contribute there in spells from day one. His explosion in the kick and punt return game will allow him to see the field and NFL speed quickly, which may aid in his transition. Exceptional ball skills, and a natural ability to understand angles in coverage will allow Harris to compete for playing time right away, and likely flash some brilliance in his rookie season. His height is excellent at just a hair under six foot tall. His bulk is a bit worrisome. The last credible number I have on Cliff is a gaunt 173 pounds. With today’s physical WR, he will surely need to add a good 17-20 pounds without losing too much of that top end speed I talked about. I think his frame lends itself well to adding some pounds while retaining his skillset. His lower body has room to carry some more weight, and this will improve his strength on the line of scrimmage.
Are these guys the sexy, flashy “name” picks that some of the top tier guys are? No .However, in terms of representing a value for their draft slot, these three guys may well prove to by day two steals for NFL teams with strong locker rooms, strong coaching and veteran presences, and the time allowed to be a developmental player.
Here is a quick look at a few other guys that are under the radar at this point in the process but I think could make an impact:
1. FS Phillip Thomas, Syracuse. Size worries me and not elite speed. Plus, he played at Syracuse.
2. CB Brandon Boykin, Georgia. Underrated athlete, but size worries me at less than 5-11. Plays strong, however.
3. CB Josh Norman, Coastal Carolina. Ideal size for a corner. Inconsistent and level of competition is worrisome.
4. FS George Iloka, Boise State. A huge safety at almost 6-4 and over 200 pounds. Plays about that size, however. Not great in coverage. Adequate. Major developmental guy.