Position Analysis: Cornerbacks

Xavier Rhodes (Stacy Revere/Getty)

The Vikings are almost certain to draft a cornerback in the first three rounds and there are plenty of intriguing candidates available. Some are more highly rated but don't fit their system. See the strengths and weakness, scouting reports, measurables and projections for the top dozen.

POSITION OVERVIEW: The pass-happy nature of the NFL has brought about a lot of changes in the league. Quarterbacks are as powerful as ever as the major force in the game. Wide receivers and tight ends have become more valuable. But, just as the role of those offensive positions has become more prominent, one of the other aspects that has changed is the need for athletic cover cornerbacks because of the nature of how the game has changed. It used to be that a team needed one dominant cornerback and a couple of decent cover corners. The new norm is to have two, if not three, dominant cover cornerbacks. Obviously not every team can have that, but the need for cornerbacks that can cover three different receivers has become the modus operandi around the NFL. As such, the need for the position never ends with any of the 32 NFL teams. Even if a team has a couple of strong veteran starters, they're still looking for more talent. This year's draft class isn't as deep as some have been in recent years, but there isn't any question that the talent level is deep enough that half the teams in the league will grab a cornerback before the end of the fourth round.

VIKINGS CORNERBACKS – Chris Cook, Josh Robinson, Marcus Sherels, Brandon Burton, Nick Taylor, Bobby Felder, Roderick Williams.

VIKINGS NEED – It's hard to believe that 19 months ago the starters were Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin – both of whom are no longer Vikings. The team currently sits with oft-injured Chris Cook and relatively inexperienced men like Josh Robinson and Marcus Sherels atop the depth chart. It's clear the Vikings are going to draft at least one cornerback, but depending on how the draft falls the only question seems to be whether that pick will come in the first, second or third round. Still, you can safely bet it will come at some point before the end of the second day of the draft.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Dee Milliner, Alabama, 6-0, 201 – Third-year junior who started 29 of 39 career games…In two years as a full-time starter, he had 109 tackles, 277 passes broken up and three interceptions…Was a high school All-American and a Freshman All-American at Alabama…Was an All-American in 2012 and a finalist for the Nagurski Award (best defensive player) and the Thorpe Award (best defensive back)…Had surgery in March to repair a torn labrum…Has prototype size and arm length…Has very smooth hips and flips with ease in deep coverage,…Challenges for the ball and consistently wins contested passes…Very good field awareness and reads quarterbacks well…Can play whatever role is called of him…Is strong in press coverage and has the strength to jam effectively…Doesn't have elite game speed that most top cornerbacks do…While good at bump-and-run coverage, his defensive scheme didn't call for him to do it all that often…Will get too aggressive and get himself out of position…Doesn't have quick-twitch ability to consistently take on slot receivers…Struggles when receivers lock on him when blocking…Did not lift at the NFL Scouting Combine, but ran a 4.31 40 with a 36-inch vertical jump and a 10-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: He has many of the traits needed to be a dominant cornerback and likely won't last on the board beyond the top five picks.

Xavier Rhodes, Florida State, 6-1½, 210 – Fourth-year junior…Started 39 of 43 games, registering 140 tackles, 23 passes broken up, eight interceptions and three fumble recoveries…Has all the prototype dimensions of an NFL cornerback…Has great arm length and good musculature…Is stiff with a jolting hand punch at the line of scrimmage that can redirect receivers…Can run with big receivers and keep them covered…A durable athlete who is experienced on the biggest stage…Isn't a big-time turnover machine…At times is too physical and will draw penalties…Doesn't have elite field speed and will struggle to stay with the top speed receivers in the NFL…Gets sucked in on play fakes and misdirection too often…Isn't always assignment-sound against the run…Ran a 4.41 40 at the combine with 14 reps of 225 pounds, a 40½-inch vertical jump and an 11-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: A classic long-armed cornerback who can get physical and run deep with receivers, he is an elite player with a lot of upside who is a first-round talent and will come off the board somewhere in the middle third of the first round and be a starter for years to come – starting on Day One.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Desmond Trufant, Washington, 5-11¾, 190 – Fourth-year senior…Started 47 of 50 games, finishing with 195 tackles, 35 passes broken up, six interceptions, three forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries…Has two brothers in the NFL – Marcus with Seattle and Isaiah with the Jets…Has very quick feet and good speed…Has great agility and can move with ease…Very instinctive and has the field smarts to read quarterbacks well and jump routes…Has good redirection skills in space…A tremendous leaper who wins most jump balls, as proved by his 35 pass breakups…Thin frame that can't add a lot more muscle or bulk…Has small hands and it showed in his lack of interception production during his college career…Technique is questionable and will need some significant coaching up…Has had multiple back injuries that will scare away some teams…Is not always a secure tackler…Ran a 4.31 40 at the combine with 16 reps, a 37½-inch vertical jump and a 10-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: A player that exudes talent and will be an immediate starter. He needs to improve his ball skills and run support, but he is an elite player who shouldn't make it out of the end of the first round before his name is called.

D.J. Hayden, Houston, 5-11¼, 191 – Fourth-year senior who spent his first two seasons at Navarro (Texas) Junior College…Started 21 of 22 career games, making 127 tackles with 19 passes broken up, six interceptions and six forced fumbles…Has good size and long arms…Has excellent hip fluidity and doesn't lose a step when he has to turn and run…Is a willing and physical run supporter…Is solid in zone coverage and reads the quarterback very well…Has excellent toughness and is a hard-nosed player…Had his senior season cut short with emergency heart surgery after suffering a tear in his vena cava…Has short arms, which makes it difficult for him to jam big receivers…Doesn't have a natural-looking backpedal and is slow to react on passes in front of him…Faced marginal competition…Picks up penalties because he plays a little bit too out of control…Did not work out at the combine. PROJECTION: He has a lot of ability, but the heart surgery he had could scare some teams because he plays with a physical style that lends itself to potentially suffering a similar injury. As such, he has been labeled as a first-round talent that might slide into the second round.

Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State, 6-2, 185 – Fourth-year senior…Started 45 of 51 career games, notching 221 tackles, 26 passes defensed, 16 interceptions and five forced fumbles…Has a son…Won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2012, given to country's top defensive back…Has excellent body length and long arms…Has very good footwork and can flip his hops in deep coverage…Locates the ball quickly in the air and makes plays…Outstanding production – tied school record for interceptions…Competes for jump balls and usually wins…Is a little on the skinny side and needs to improve his play strength…Has difficulty escaping for blockers when they get their hands on him…Gets caught looking into the backfield and will lose his receiver and can get burned…Doesn't enjoy hitting and tends to tackle without a lot of violence…Is not a wrap-up tackler and allows too many yards after the catch…Ran a 4.59 40 at the combine with 10 reps, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 10-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: A productive award-winning corner who has some size limitations, but makes plays so consistently that he will be an NFL starter. He will still be on the board in the second round, but shouldn't last for long once Day 2 of the draft begins.

Jamar Taylor, Boise State, 5-10¾, 192 – Fifth-year senior who was granted a medical redshirt in 2009 with a right knee injury…A three-year starter who had 113 tackles, 17 passes broken up, six interceptions and six forced fumbles…Missed the final four games of the 2011 season with a broken left tibia…Sticks like glue to receivers and can stay with them deep down the field…Has a good combination of athleticism and size…Can handle slot receivers because he has good quick-twitch ability…Has good straight line speed and gets to top-end speed quickly…Was praised for his work ethic in the classroom, the weight room and the practice field…Has very short arms…Doesn't have great upper body strength to jam receivers at the line…Wasn't asked to play press coverage very often…Gets suckered in by pump fakes and double moves…Durability will be a concern given a pair of serious leg injuries…Ran a 4.32 40 at the combine with 22 reps of 225 pounds, a 35-inch vertical jump and a 10-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: A corner with enough quick burst and agility to cover a slot receiver, as well as go deep with speed receivers, he has limitations that will potentially push him to late in the second round or even into the third round, but he is a finesse corner that will have a long and productive NFL career.

Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Connecticut, 6-0¾, 195 – Fifth-year senior…Started 39 of 44 career games, posting 181 tackles, 27 passes broken up and eight interceptions…A two-time team captain…Has excellent size and arm length…Has good technique and footwork…Can stick with receivers deep down the field…Very instinctive…Is strong in zone coverage…Known as a player who breaks up passes, but doesn't intercept many…Is not strong in run support…Needs to add more muscle to his frame to handle big, physical receivers…Didn't look overly strong at the Senior Bowl practices…Is not a consistent wrap-up tackler…Did not work out at the combine. PROJECTION: Arguably the most intriguing CB prospect in the draft. He possesses some of the top intangibles of any corner in the draft, but lacked elite competition and has downsides that are pronounced (tackling, a thin frame, etc.). He is a player who may have the biggest upside of any cornerback in this year's class. We rate him as a third-round talent based on his body of work, but wouldn't be surprising at all if he gets selected in the middle portion of the second round because all it takes it one team to take him off the board and there will be several that like what they see.

Darius Slay, Mississippi State, 6-0, 192 – A fourth-year senior who spent two years at Itawamba Junior College in Mississippi…A one-year starter who had 40 tackles, six passes defensed and five interceptions in 2012…Tore his right MCL his senior year of high school, which took away all scholarship offers…Has very good size…Consistently fights for jump balls and times his leaps extremely well…Has good straight-line speed to mirror receivers deep down the field…Has excellent hands for a defensive back and showed it with five interceptions last year….Has good closing burst when the ball is in the air or when he is chasing a ball carrier…Very raw – just one year as a full-time starter…Is a much better pass defender than run defender…Doesn't have great anticipation and often-needed pure athleticism to keep from getting burned for big plays…Doesn't have great football intelligence or instincts…Isn't an aggressive tackler and will occasionally slide off and allow YAC…Ran a 4.31 40 at the combine with 14 reps, a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: He is definitely a work in progress, Slay has a lot of refining needed to his game. However, he has excellent intangibles and could develop into a very formidable NFL cornerback with a chance to be a starter for years to come. The team that takes him ideally won't push him out on the field too early because he isn't ready at the moment, but a patient team might get themselves a steal in the third round range.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Logan Ryan, Rutgers, 5-11¼, 191 – Fourth-year junior…Two-year starter who had 163 tackles, 30 passes broken up, seven interceptions, two forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries…Has good size, strength and body length…A solid face-up tackler…Consistently makes plays on the ball – whether it is breaking up passes or making interceptions – and always seems to high-point the ball…Plays a physical style and can stick with receivers down the field…Can play in either a man or zone system…Brings the added bonus of being a special teams standout…Doesn't have elite speed and will likely have to play in a primarily zone system in the NFL…Bites too often on fakes and double moves…Has some technical flaws when it comes to containing a receiver at the line and doesn't have make-up speed…Gets pushed off his mark by receivers with size…Loses a half-step when he flips his hips…Ran a 4.50 40 at the combine with 14 reps, a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: A talented, productive college corner who has physical limitations that will force him to be a No. 2 corner in a zone scheme, which should drop him late into the second day of the draft.

Tyrann Mathieu, LSU, 5-8¾, 186 – Played two seasons at LSU before being thrown off the team for several failed drug tests…In 26 career games (14 starts), he had 133 tackles, 16 passes broken up, four interceptions, 11 forced fumbled and eight fumble recoveries…As a sophomore, was named first-team All-America, the Bednarik Award winner (college football's best defensive player), the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy…Is aggressive and supremely confident…Is an electric punt returner…An incredible playmaker who was adept at ripping the ball loose and forcing fumbles…Is a willing tackler who led LSU in tackles as a sophomore…Can play outside and inside and can cover slot receivers with ease…Plays his best on the biggest stage…Has a ton of red flags, not the least of which being admitting to a half dozen or more failed drug tests and an arrest last October for marijuana possession…Is undersized and, given his style, could be liable to get injured…Given his size limitations, he likely can only be a slot corner who plays inside the hash marks…Has horrible upper body strength by NFL standards (see below)…Doesn't have ideal recovery speed…Is still quite raw in terms of technique…Ran a 4.43 40 at the Combine with just four reps of 225 pounds with a 34-inch vertical jump and a 9-9 broad jump. PROJECTION: There is no more divisive player in the draft than the Honey Badger. When he has his head right, he is dominant – like Antoine Winfield with more playmaking ability. But he has so many obvious red flags that, despite having first- or second-round talent, he may still be available when the final day of the draft begins.

David Amerson, North Carolina State, 6-1, 205 – Third-year junior…Started 35 of 39 career games, recording 177 tackles, 17 passes broken up, 18 interceptions and one forced fumble…Had a whopping 13 interceptions in 2011, winning the Jack Tatum Award and being a finalist for the Nagurski Award…Has incredible height and wingspan for a cornerback…Has excellent movement skills…Highly productive player who goes after the ball like a quarterback is throwing to him…Plays with a ton of intensity and enthusiasm…Has great ball instincts and a comprehension of where passes are going before they're thrown…Had a brutal 2012 season in which he was burned repeatedly throughout the season…Sucks in on double moves and fakes and doesn't have the recovery speed to make up for them…Undisciplined and takes too many chances…Is not impressive in run support…Doesn't have ideal NFL speed for a cornerback…Gets down on himself and makes bad situations worse…Ran a 4.38 40 at the combine with 15 reps, a 35½ inch vertical jump and a 10-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: Had he come out in the 2012 draft, he would have been a first-round pick and quite possibly a top-10 pick. He was that good. But he got scorched so often in 2012, especially in the biggest games, that his stock has dropped as much as just about any player in this year's draft. If a team thinks it can bring back the Amerson of 2011, he could go on the second day of the draft. We don't think anyone will because what he has done lately isn't worthy of selection any higher.

Jordan Poyer, Oregon State, 6-0, 191 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter who had 108 tackles, 19 passes broken up and 11 interceptions…Was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the 2009 Major League Baseball draft…Has good speed and excellent closing burst…Has prototype height for an NFL cornerback…Has a lot of desire and plays with a tough, hard-nosed style…Makes plays on the ball and high-points throws…Very experienced playing in zone coverage…Doesn't have top-end speed and agility…Has a thin build, that, while muscular, is lean and likely incapable of adding much more in the way of strength or power…Is not a hard tackler and too often doesn't finish plays…He gives speed receivers much too big a cushion because of his speed limitations…When receivers get close to him, he tends to grab, which will draw penalties in the NFL…Ran a 4.46 40 at the combine with eight reps, a 30½-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: A technically sound player who brings a lot of positives to the table, but doesn't have the elite attributes (speed, short-area burst, arm length, etc.) that make the top players who they are. As such, he will likely be on the board well into the final day of the draft.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Robert Alford, Southeast Louisiana, 5-10¼, 188
Marc Anthony, Cal, 5-11½, 196
Sanders Commings, Georgia, 6-0¼, 216
Will Davis, Utah State, 5-11¼, 186
Micah Hyde, Iowa, 5-11¾, 197
Leon McFadden, San Diego State, 5-9¾, 193
Nickell Robey, USC, 5-7¼, 169
Tharold Simon, LSU, 6-2, 202
B.W. Webb, William & Mary, 5-10¼, 184
Duke Williams, Nevada, 5-11, 203


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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