Position Analysis: Cornerbacks

Morris Claiborne (Marvin Gentry/US Presswire)

The Vikings have a need and the draft has some solutions at cornerback. The rankings will be in the eye of each NFL team in the draft (and specific for scheme), but we review the strengths and weaknesses of the top dozen cornerback prospects.

POSITION OVERVIEW: With the increased focus on the passing game in the NFL and the record-setting numbers that were established last year, the cornerback position has become as vital as it has ever been as defensive coordinators try to counteract the explosion of pass-happy offenses. This year's draft class is clearly led by LSU's Morris Claiborne, but the talent pool runs deep and, given the priority so many offenses are putting on the passing side of things, an equal and proportionate level of attention is going to be paid to those players best equipped to stop it. Teams that have questions at cornerback are going to have to jump on them, making this position one that will get attacked aggressively throughout the draft.

VIKINGS' CORNERBACKS: Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook, Asher Allen, Zach Bowman, Chris Carr, Brandon Burton, Marcus Sherels, Reggie Jones.
VIKINGS' NEED: The team is hoping to get another season out of Winfield, who is showing the signs of age. With Cook cleared of criminal charges, he has been welcomed back to the team with the hopes he can become the player the Vikings envisioned when they made him their first pick in the 2010 draft. The Vikings didn't do much in free agency, but two of their signings came at CB (Carr and Bowman). Given the numerous other needs the Vikings have, they may hold off on drafting a corner until Day 3, unless a player they really like falls to them earlier in the draft.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Morris Claiborne, LSU, 5-11, 188 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who had 88 tackles, 12 passes broken up and 11 interceptions…Won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2011 – given to the top defensive back in college football…Has good size and arm length…Emerged from Patrick Peterson's shadow to prove he can be just as good (if not better) as the go-to CB in the defense…Can flip his hips with ease to blanket receivers deep down the field…Has sprinter's speed…An elite playmaker with exceptional ball skills…Lockdown ability…Is a little thin and will need to increase strength to jam bigger receivers…Isn't a take-on tackler in run support…Gets lazy in his backpedal at times…Hasn't been used much in zone coverage…Didn't lift at the Combine with a left wrist injury, but ran a 4.50 40 with a 34½-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: He has a better skill set than Peterson, who went with the fifth pick of the 2011 draft. He is a lottery pick that will start from Day 1 and has the potential to be one of the best in the game in a short period of time. The Vikings say he is one of their three considerations with the No. 3 pick.

Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama, 6-2, 186 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who had 83 tackles, 16 passes broken up, three interceptions and three forced fumbles in that span…A first-team All-America in 2011…Had shoulder surgery following his freshman year…Arrested in January for marijuana possession, but charges were eventually dropped…Has incredible measurables and has long arms to bat away passes…Has good ball skills and fights for the ball…Named an All-American despite having no interceptions last year because teams simply didn't throw his way often…A big hitter for a CB…Has good closing speed…Has a bit of a diva attitude that may rub some the wrong way…Leaves his feet to make tackles and will whiff…Not a game-day playmaker…There are some durability concerns – aside from surgery, has suffered two concussions and hurt himself during the Combine workout…Takes chances and sometimes gets burned by it…Did not lift at the Combine with a shoulder injury, but ran a 4.50 40 with 35-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION:A huge corner with leaping ability and ball skills, he doesn't make a lot of interceptions, but has earned the respect of opposing coaches in the SEC. He is a first-round prospect, but his trash-talking and character concerns may drop him beyond the midway point of the round.

Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama, 5-10, 193 – Fourth-year senior…Started 48 of 51 career games…Spent his first three years at Florida before being dismissed from the team after two marijuana arrests in three months…Finished his college career with 174 tackles, 29 passes broken up, 10 interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…Has four children…Was arrested in 2009 for a fight and evading police – an incident for which he was tasered…Has right shoulder surgery for a torn labrum after 2010 season…Has excellent ball skills…Has excellent anticipation skills and seems to hit when he takes chances…Covers receivers like glue…A strong, willing tackler…Flips his hips easily and stays with receivers deep down the field…An electrifying return man who averaged almost 22 yards per punt return last year…Has enormous character issues…Has suffered multiple shoulder injuries…Will get burned jumping routes when players give him a double move…Needs to grow up and commit to his craft…Is an inconsistent tackler…Was granted a medical exclusion not to lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.41 40 with a 33½-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump. PROJECTION: If not for his massive off-field baggage, he would be a mid-first-round pick. However, in an era where the league is cleaning up its act and punishing those who are immature – much less recidivist drug offenders – he may fall well into the second round. He has mid-first round talent, but will likely get drafted later than we have him ranked.

Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina, 6-1, 190 – Third-year junior…Started all 39 games of his college career, finishing with 181 tackles. 17 passes defensed, eight interceptions, four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries…Has excellent size and long arms…Very assignment sound…A strong tackler who helps in run support…Has a very good work ethic…A strong blitzer who shoots gaps…An elusive return man…Didn't play much in man coverage… Slows up a bit when forced to flip his hips and run downfield…Takes false steps and gets caught peeking into the backfield…Ran a 4.38 40 at the Combine with 15 reps of 225 pounds, a 36-inch vertical jump and 10-3 broad jump. PROJECTION: A hard-working player who has improved over time, he has the skill set to be a first-round pick. He is gaining big-time momentum closer to the draft, but he will need to play in a zone system to reach his full potential and will struggle if asked to play a lot of pressing man coverage.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Trumaine Johnson, Montana, 6-2, 204 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who started 25 of his final 26 games…Finished his college career with 173 tackles, 35 passes defensed and 15 interceptions…A two-time FCS All-American…Came to Montana as a wide receiver, but switched to cornerback the first week of practice…Tore his right PCL as a freshman and missed time as a sophomore…Has excellent size and length…Has top athleticism and can stick with receivers deep down the field…Has strong hands and can re-direct receivers…Likes to deliver the big hit…Times his leaps well and will fight for the ball…Didn't play top competition and dominated lesser opponents…Was not viewed as a natural team leader…Doesn't have ideal speed…Gets called for too many penalties…Doesn't have elite quick-twitch reaction speed…Has some durability concerns due to small, nagging injuries that have bothered him with the Grizzlies…Ran a 4.50 40 at the Combine with 19 reps of 225 pounds, 35½-inch vertical jump and 10-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: A long-armed CB that has some prototype qualities, in the right system he could become a Pro Bowl talent. In the wrong system, he will be like a big safety. Like Jenkins, he has some character concerns and could be a second-round prospect with upside.

Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska, 5-10, 204 – Fourth-year senior…A three-year starter who had 92 tackles, 15 passes broken up and four interceptions in that span…A strong face-up man cover corner…Plays with good balance and body control…An impressive wrap-up tackler…Has good recovery speed…Doesn't have ideal size…Susceptible to double moves…Gets called for holding downfield too often…Wasn't asked to provide run support…There are some injury concerns…Ran a 4.48 40 at the Combine with a 37-inch vertical jump and 10-1 broad jump. He didn't lift because of right pectoral strain. PROJECTION: Dennard has many good qualities, but his lack of size and deep speed will likely force him to be a corner that lines up in the slot. Because of his limitations, he will likely drop to end of the second round or into the third.

Brandon Boykin, Georgia, 5-10, 182 – Fourth-year senior…Third-year starter who made starts in 38 of his last 40 games…As a starter, he had 153 tackles, 18 passes broken up, nine interceptions and two forced fumbles…Won the 2011 Paul Hornung Award, given to college football's most versatile player…Returned both kicks and punts and ranks second in SEC history for career kickoff return yards…Has a low center of gravity and a quick backpedal…Has excellent burst into and out of his breaks and closes quickly…Competes for every pass thrown his way…Very physical in run support…Undersized by NFL standards…Has short arms, which will make it difficult to jam bigger receivers…Gets pushed backward when blockers get in front of him…Is aggressive, but takes himself out of plays too often…Did not work out at the Combine because of a right fibula injury. PROJECTION: His versatility may get him drafted higher than we have him ranked, but he has limitations that will prevent him from being a man-to-man cover corner.

Josh Robinson, Central Florida, 5-10, 199 – Third-year junior…Started 36 of 38 career games, recording 176 tackles, 36 passes broken up, 10 interceptions and two fumble recoveries…Has incredible speed to stick with receivers deep downfield…Good read-and-react skills…Has good reaction and burst on plays in front of him…A solid return man…Doesn't have good height or long arms…Didn't face elite competition very often…Needs to improve upper-body strength…Will get fooled by play action, misdirection and double moves…Ran an incredible 4.29 40 at the Combine with 17 reps of 225 pounds, a 38½-inch vertical jump and an 11-1 broad jump. PROJECTION: Robinson has a skill set that translates to the NFL, but his lack of size and inconsistent play will drop him until the end of Day 2 or early into Day 3.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech, 5-10, 178 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who had 98 tackles, 20 passes broken up and 11 interceptions in that span…Has the Little Man Complex and brings the wood…Has good timed speed and closing burst…Smooth taking receivers deep down the field with good hip flip and acceleration…Willing and effective in run support…High points the ball and had exceptional production in his two years as a starter…In very undersized by NFL standards…Has marginal upper-body strength and needs improvement (see below)…Gets caught looking into the backfield and will lose track of his assignment…Comes out high in his backpedal and struggles to change direction…Ran a 4.38 40 at the Combine, but had just 11 reps at 225 pounds on the bench and didn't take part in the vertical jump or broad jump after cramping up. PROJECTION: A highly productive but undersized college cornerback, he likely will need to be in a read-and-react Cover-2 system to succeed. Because there aren't many teams that run it, he will likely get pushed into Day 3 of the draft.

Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt, 5-11, 192 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 190 tackles, 28 passes broken up, 15 interceptions and two forced fumbles in that span…First-team All-America in 2011…Excellent footwork and balance…Has good awareness of his coverage assignments and rarely blows a read…Has very good closing speed and will deliver the big hit…Excellent production – 13 INTs over his last two seasons…Has short arms and will struggle to jam NFL WRs…Loses a step when he has to flip his hips and mirror a receiver deep…Has decent speed, but isn't elite or explosive…Not a strong run defender…Ran a 4.47 40 at the Combine with 19 reps, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: A skinny, undersized corner who will need to refine his game. He may be able to develop into a solid No. 2 corner, but it will take time, which will drop him into the fourth or fifth round of the draft.

Bill Bentley, Louisiana-Lafayette, 5-10, 182 – Fifth-year senior who spent 2007 at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College…Started 45 of 48 career games…In his career, he had 232 tackles, 20 passes broken up, seven interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…Has very good speed and instincts…Has loose hips and can turn and run with receivers…Is strong in run support…Special teams standout…Played marginal competition where he was a big fish…Undersized by NFL standards…Doesn't have great playing strength…Gets too aggressive and misses too many tackles…Ran a 4.42 40 at the Combine with 13 reps, a 31½-inch vertical jump and a 9-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: A small-school prospect who showed well at the Senior Bowl and looks like a solid fit in a zone scheme. His lack of size or experience against elite competition will drop him into the third day of the draft.

Leonard Johnson, Iowa State, 5-10, 196 – Fourth-year senior…Started 43 of 50 career games, recording 247 tackles, 26 passes broken up, six interceptions, six forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries…A two-time All-Big 12 selection…Is very muscular and plays bigger than his measurables…Has good leaping ability and high-points the ball well…Is a strong wrap-up tackler…Held up well against elite competition…Has a mean streak and toughness…Plays very physical and draws too many penalties…Is shorter than scouts want and has problems with big receivers…Doesn't have elite ball skills…Doesn't have good recovery speed…Not a student of the game and has difficulty reading plays as they unfold…Ran a 4.62 40 at the Combine with 15 reps, a 32-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: A four-year starter in the Big 12 will always have value, but his lack of height and inability to take on big receivers one-on-one will likely drop him into the fourth or fifth round.

OTHERS TO WATCH
Omar Bolden, Arizona State, 5-10, 202
Ron Brooks, LSU, 5-10, 190
Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma, 5-11, 206
Mike Harris, Florida State, 5-10, 188
Ace Jackson, Cal Poly State, 5-10, 191
Chase Minnifield, Virginia, 5-10, 183
Josh Norman, Coastal Carolina, 6-0, 197
Shaun Prater, Iowa, 5-10, 190
Ryan Steed, Furman, 5-11, 195
Keith Tandy, West Virginia, 5-10, 202
Trevin Wade, Arizona, 5-10, 192


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.


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