As the NFL has evolved into more of a wide open game with more passing, a larger premium has been placed on cornerbacks. It is no longer enough just having two starting caliber corners, but the nickel corner position has become as important as a starting position player as teams get more wide receivers and weapons in general on the field and are getting better at attacking weaknesses in the defense. In addition, the recent trend of the read option by quarterbacks is putting a larger premium on corners that can contribute against the running game and be able to attack the quarterback in addition to being proficient in coverage. Defensive schemes that are able to take advantage of bigger, more physical corners have appeared in the NFL and it will be interesting to see what kind of impact that has on the 2013 NFL Draft. Taking all of that into consideration, here are the top 10 corners in the upcoming draft:
1) Dee Milliner, Alabama
Milliner has everything teams want in a cornerback and he goes above and beyond the prototype. Not only does he have speed, quickness, and strength, but he also brings tremendous length. He looks like a safety playing cornerback. Milliner could be an excellent press man corner, zone corner, or some combination of both. What separates Milliner from being an elite corner at this point are his ball skills and his technique when it comes to a traditional backpedal. Teams were not afraid to throw at Milliner because while he could get his hands on passes and knock them down, he did not present a big threat to intercept passes, so there was not a big enough risk in attacking him. Alabama runs an orthodox defensive scheme that has corners shuffle laterally rather than a traditional backpedal, which is great for Alabama, but not as great for the NFL. He is still learning how to backpedal effectively and once he masters that and improves his ball skills, he can be an elite corner in the NFL. Milliner also needs to be more consistent as a run player and while he can make big plays in the backfield, he will also whiff on tackles and give up big plays.
2) Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
In terms of technique and understanding how to play the corner position, Banks is as good as there is in this draft. He is extremely versatile and offers the ability to play in any defensive scheme in addition to having great balls skills and instincts for the position. He has excellent length for the position but he needs to add bulk for the NFL and become a far more assertive run defender both in his attitude for playing it and how he approaches tackling. If he can do that, he could be a welcome addition to any team in the NFL as an immediate contributor. Banks is an extremely confident player who has a ton of experience against SEC competition.
3) Desmond Trufant, Washington
Trufant is the best pure man cover corner in the draft and is prototypical in his size, strength and speed. He is extremely confident, loves a challenge, and will make sure everyone in the stadium knows when he makes a play. Trufant has NFL bloodlines, production, and a ton of high level experience. Trufant needs to improve his ball skills because teams will test him knowing he is not a big threat to intercept passes. He has the ability to take on the opponent’s best receiver but until he punishes the opposing quarterback for throwing at him, they will keep going after him. Trufant also needs to do a better job against the run and while he periodically flashes great instincts, he rarely finishes the job. While Trufant has issues he can improve, a team looking for a pure cover corner can plug him and start him from day one.
4) Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
Rhodes is the best pure press corner in the draft right now. He is physically huge and plays that way, not afraid to show his strength and power on the football field. Rhodes excels near the line of scrimmage as long as he gets a good jam at the line and he has the speed to play vertically. Rhodes will have problems when it comes to dealing with quick cuts that require him to open his hips quickly. He is most vulnerable to routes in the 8-15 yard area of the field when his stiffness can be exposed. Rhodes can also contribute in zone coverage and takes up a ton of space and looks like a safety out there. He is also the best run defender of the corner class and really does a fantastic job of taking on blocks against receivers and even linemen. He will occasionally miss tackles he should not, but he can also hit with some power and is a great strong side corner prospect.
5) Robert Alford, Southeastern Louisiana
Alford is a tremendous cover corner who is also a tenacious player against the run. He displays excellent movement skills and can play in the opponent’s hip pocket. He also shows good ball skills and is a threat to intercept passes. Robert Alford has everything teams want in a cover corner, but he is older than most prospects as he will be a 25 year old rookie and he played against a lower level of competition in the Southland Conference. Still, every time Alford has been challenged by higher level competition, he has responded well and looked great. There is also a lingering question about Alford having Crohn’s disease and how much of an impact that will have if he in fact has it. Alford can get overpowered by blockers in the run game but he is always willing to attack and can make plays on running backs. Still, Alford is ready to contribute immediately and should be an excellent cover corner in the NFL that can also contribute on special teams.
6) Jordan Poyer, Oregon State
Poyer offers teams a tremendous cover corner who can contribute in man or zone. He does a fantastic job of mirroring routes, anticipating what receivers can do, and being physical with them. Poyer also shows tremendous ball skills and is a threat to cause turnovers. Poyer puts so much effort into how his coverage, but he is not an effective run defender or tackler. Some of this will improve if Poyer can continue to add strength to his frame, but he also needs to make it a priority in the NFL. If he can become an effective run player and tackler, he can be a complete corner, but at the very least, he should be able to contribute as a weak side corner immediately.
7) Jamar Taylor, Boise State
Taylor is an effective, pure man cover corner who can also contribute against the run and loves to hit people. Taylor seems to feed off of one on one competition in coverage and shows the ability to contribute in press or off man. He is an aggressive player and will attack the ball carrier and flashes the ability to make big time hits. The area Taylor needs to improve is how he takes on blocks as he tries to go around them too much and can sometimes put himself in worse position as a result. Taylor is not all that comfortable in zone, but man coverage teams are going to love this guy and the type of competitor he is.
8) Logan Ryan, Rutgers
Ryan is a classic jack-of-all trades type of player. He can contribute in man coverage, zone coverage, as well as in the slot. Ryan is also a willing run defender. He is bigger and stronger than he looks and shows tremendous awareness in coverage allowing him to cover a lot of ground, especially in zone. Ryan may never be a superstar but he is definitely someone who should be able to stick around in the NFL and will probably have a longer career than a few of the guys who are picked in front of him. Ryan should be able to start at some point but at the very least, he will be able to play in the slot.
9) Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Connecticut
Wilson is a good man cover corner who has a ton of length and extremely long arms which work to make up for any deficiency in speed he might have. Wilson makes the most of his length and does a fantastic job high pointing passes and deflecting them which works to allow him to make up a large amount of ground. Wilson needs to keep working on his ball skills to make the most of his opportunities and his impressive length. He is also a fearless contributor in the running game and will not only make tackles on ball carriers but he knows how to take on receivers who block him. In addition, he will sell out and trip up offensive linemen to allow teammates to make plays. He is the definition of a team player in the running game. Wilson profiles as a tremendous press corner, but he does not have a ton of experience while at Connecticut. He should put a ton of effort into making this a viable part of his game. With work, Wilson could be a viable starter as a strong side corner in the NFL in a man-based system.
10) Darius Slay, Mississippi State
Slay is an incredible athlete who made his presence felt this season and is at his best in man coverage. Slay has prototypical size and speed and plays physically. He needs to gain more experience and do a better job of reducing the space he allows receivers to operate. It appears as though he is not quite comfortable playing in the receiver’s hip pocket yet. Slay has taken advantage of opportunities to intercept passes but needs to be more comfortable when opportunities arise to make plays. It can sometimes look like he is freezing up in the moment. Slay is an aggressive and willing run defender who thrives on contact. Slay has a tremendous amount of tools for the NFL and his athletic ability combined with his size is going to have teams interested in him on draft day. He may not be quite ready to contribute in the NFL, but he has the long term potential to be at least a starter and he could be a star.
Tags: Alabama Crimson Tide Football Blidi Wreh-Wilson Boise State Broncos Football Connecticut Huskies Football Cornerbacks Darius Slay Dee Milliner Desmond Trufant Florida State Seminoles Football Jamar Taylor Johnthan Banks Jordan Poyer Logan Ryan Mississippi State Bulldogs Football NFL NFL Draft 2013 Oregon State Beavers Football Robert Alford Rutgers Scarlet Knights Football Southeastern Louisiana University Lions Football Washington Huskies Football Xavier Rhodes