Is Prince Amukamara worth a top-ten pick?

Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara has been in the spotlight all season. He was ranked as one of the nation’s top senior prospects coming into the year and had a strong, yet not dominant, 2010 campaign. Therefore, the question that arises is: Is Amukamara worthy of a top-ten pick in the 2011 NFL draft?

My answer: No, and here’s why…

Amukamara is a talented defensive back. He’s got a good feel for the game, possesses natural balance and body control when asked to redirect and closes well on the football on passes in front of him without much wasted motion. He exhibits good coordination when asked to adjust to the throw, displays solid ball skills on all areas of the field and will tackle inside the box and in space. He looks comfortable in zone/off coverages as well and isn’t afraid to even play in the slot. Pretty much you have a versatile defensive back who can play all over the field, in just about any scheme and be a productive defensive back, which is exactly what I project him as at the next level.

However, that doesn’t mean he warrants a top-ten pick. Because if I am using a top-ten pick on a prospect, especially at the cornerback position, he better have some elite athletic qualities to his game and have the kind of ability to mature into a potential shutdown guy on the outside in the NFL. And in all honesty I can’t say I see any real exceptionally dynamic qualities to Amukamara’s game. He can be technically sound, but he isn’t overly physical off the line of scrimmage when asked to re-route in press. And the biggest concern is that he really has only average straight-line speed. He struggles to make up for a false step and too often will allow receivers to get behind him vertically down the field, failing to quickly get back up to speed and close out of his transition.

When watching tape of Nebraska this season I got the feeling that opposing receivers and offenses were more confident at times throwing the football at Amukamara than they were at his counterpart, CB Alfonzo Dennard, who was far and away the more physical of the two in press coverage. And my theory took on even more traction when talking with Nebraska wideout Niles Paul at the Senior Bowl and he confirmed what I saw on tape, commenting that is was Dennard who was the tougher corner to match up against in practice compared to Amukamara.

Now, this is in no way an article to say Amukamara can’t play at the next level. I just don’t think he’s worthy of the kind of pick a lot of media members assume he deserves and in my view he isn’t an elite level cornerback prospect because of his lacking straight-line speed.

There have been cornerback prospects in the past — Miami’s Antrel Rolle and Ohio State’s Malcolm Jenkins, for example — who both had slight straight-line speed concerns coming out, which kept them from ever developing into shutdown corners in the NFL. However, much like Amukamara, they were both natural, fluid football players with good ball skills, tackled well in all areas of the game and made the move to free safety, carving out very successful careers there.

Therefore, I do like the idea of a team looking at making the move for Amukamara as a potential safety prospect, since he may not have the straight-line speed to ever be an elite level corner. However, he’s got a very similar skill set to both Rolle and Jenkins and could add a lot of value to a defense with his versatility, as he would be able to play in centerfield, could line up over the slot and in the pass-first NFL and could end up being a more valuable player to his team as a versatile ball-hawking safety than as just a solid starting NFL corner, which is all I think he would be if he were to stay there.

Follow me on twitter: @WesBunting

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