Draft top 5: Cornerbacks

In the NFL, it’s easy to find out which positions are very important to clubs. How? Just look at the amount of money that clubs spend in free agency to acquire talented veteran at certain positions. Almost every year, the position at or near the top of the list is corner. It has become a very expensive proposition to “buy” a corner in the free agent market.

We can use just a couple of the contracts signed this year to illustrate that point. Within days of Tampa Bay cutting Derrelle Revis, he signed a two-year, 32 million dollar deal with the New England Patriots. Former New England corner Aqib Talib signed a deal in Denver worth a reported 57 million. To replace Revis, Tampa Bay gave Alterraun Verner a four year 25.5 million dollar deal.

With veterans getting this kind of money, it is far less expensive to draft and develop your own corners. That way you have four years minimum to find out about the player before he becomes a free agent himself. If a club finds they like and want to keep the player, they can restructure his contract after his third season.
That being said, this year’s draft class has some quality players at the top as well as good depth. Like the quarterback position, because every team needs at least three, the position can be over drafted. In most years, 12 to 15 corners will be drafted in the first three rounds of the draft. This year because of the depth of the position, we may see a few more.

1) Justin Gilbert – Oklahoma State

Gilbert has been at the top of my corner board for months. At 6001 – 202 with 4.37 speed and 33” arms, Gilbert has the tools to excel at the NFL level. He is not only fast, but he has excellent hip flexibility and overall body control. He can stay low in his pedal, turns quickly and has no wasted steps in transition.
He is best in press coverage, where he shows he can mirror his opponent through moves, but he is also very good in off and zone. He plays the ball well in the air and has very good hands to make the interception.
Gilbert is consistent in run support, but I would like to see him attack more instead of waiting for the play to come to him. He is a hitter as a tackler but needs to wrap better.

Gilbert has added value as a kickoff returner. He career average on kick returns is about 26 yards per return, and he has scored five times. Overall, Gilbert is a complete corner and should come in and start right away. He has a chance to go in the top 10 picks this year.

2) Darqueze Dennard – Michigan State

At 5107 – 191, Dennard does not have the size that Gilbert has, but he is a fierce competitor and play maker. His speed at the combine was average (4.51), but at his pro day he showed excellent leaping ability (11’2” long jump) and agility (6.90 three-cone). He has loose hips to turn to go along with very quick feet.

Dennard excels in press coverage. He has a strong jam and the suddenness needed to mirror receivers through moves. He is an excellent zone and man-off cover guy. He seldom gives his opponent much room to work. He also has top ball skills.

Dennard is at the top of the charts in run support. He just may be the best run support corner in this draft. He is aggressive, can shed, and is a fierce tackler. Like Gilbert, Dennard will come in and start right away.

3) Kyle Fuller – Virginia Tech

A couple of months ago, you would have been hard pressed to find Fuller's name at the top of the corner charts of many draft analysts. That wasn’t the case with NFL scouts. After only two tapes I was sold! You won’t find many NFL clubs that don’t have him listed as one of their top three corners.

Fuller has size (5116 – 190) to go along with speed (4.47) and length (33” arms). He also has excellent feet and quickness. He lines up on the short side of the field and can play press, off and zone. He is very aware and instinctive, with very good closing and ball skills. He is an aggressive player who plays the run almost as well as Dennard. He is a consistent tackler and has been a valuable special teams' player throughout his career.

Like Gilbert and Dennard, Fuller is ready to come in and start right away. His special teams' play only enhances his value.

4) Jason Verrett – TCU

The only thing Verrett lacks is good height. At 5096, he is too short for some teams to consider. When you watch tape, Verrett may be the most talented corner in the draft. If he was 5110, I would venture to say that he would be a top 10 pick.

Verrett has speed and quickness (4.38) to go along with loose hips to turn and no wasted motion in transition. He is an aggressive press man cover guy who can mirror receivers through moves. He shows excellent anticipation in off and is aware and rangey in zone.

While he may be short, he is a top competitor and plays a very aggressive game. He reacts quickly in run support and is a sure tackler. When the ball is in the air, he consistently makes plays and has good hands.
Because he is shorter than 5’10", there are some clubs who will not have Verrett on their board. They have size rules in their grading system and adhere to them. Still, it would not surprise me if he gets drafted late in the first round or early in the second. He will probably play as a club's third corner as a rookie and ascend to a number two corner by year two.

5) Bradley Roby – Ohio State

Roby is a fourth-year junior and a three-year starter who is entering the draft early. At 5112 – 194 with 4.39 speed, Roby has the athletic traits to be a top NFL corner. His long arms allow him to play taller than he measures.

Ohio State doesn’t play as much press as some other schools, but when asked, Roby shows a good jam and good mirror skills. He has the quickness and suddenness needed to excel in this coverage. He is a very good off and zone player showing awareness and anticipation. He is seldom out of position when in zone. Roby tracks the ball well in the air and has good hands.

Like the others, Roby is a good run support player. He can be a big hitter when tackling but needs to wrap up more consistently. While it wouldn’t surprise me if Roby went in the first round, I see him more likely to go in the early second.

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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