The corner class has a lot of talent and depth, but it also features a lot of different flavors for teams, so fit will be big. As with most things, defensive backs generally come down to taste when it comes to rankings. Pure cover ability compared to being willing to tackle and help against the run can produce vastly different rankings. Here are my 2014 corner rankings:
1. Bradley Roby, Ohio State - Roby should have declared last year, because he ended up playing it safe this year to protect himself, especially when it came to contact. He stopped using his arms to tackle for example. Nevertheless, he was still a great corner this year and has an incredible amount of physical talent. Man, zone, whatever, playing the run. He has the tools to do the job and make an impact.
2. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech - Fuller has a well-rounded skill set. He is a savvy cover corner that can make plays on the football, but he is also a physical corner that can go up and be an active run defender. Fuller has played well against some top competition and it is just a shame that he and his teammate Antone Exum missed so much time this due to injury.
3. Jason Verrett, TCU - Verrett is the premier zone corner in this draft. For all of his physical talent, his best trait is his vision and just how much of the field he can see and react to when the play is in front of him. Verrett can certainly play man coverage as well, is an aggressive run defender and is just a playmaker despite having prototypical size. In addition to his height, which is a non-starter for some teams, there are concerns over injuries he has had in his career and shoulder surgery he had after the season.
4. Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State - Dennard is the best Cover-2 corner in the draft. He is tremendous when he can play press, be physical with a receiver and has safety help over the top. Dennard is an aggressive run defender that can hit like a linebacker. His ball skills are less than ideal, so he does not make opponents afraid to throw at him. And his hips are average, so if left on an island, he is vulnerable, especially deep.
5. Pierre Desir, Lindenwood - Desir has a ton of length and can be physical, but needs to fully embrace it. Despite playing in the FCS for just his final year of college, Desir was extremely impressive at the Reese’s Senior Bowl and did not just look like he belonged, but was one of the best defensive backs there. His speed is not ideal, but he does a good job of rerouting opponents, can close distance in part because he does have great length, and he can make plays on the football, attacking it like a receiver. Desir is scheme versatile as well.
6. Phillip Gaines, Rice - Gaines is a fantastic pure cover corner. He has elite speed and quickness, but is not overly physical. The benefit is that while Gaines did not tend to beat up opposing receivers, he never got in the habit of being grabby and played an NFL style of coverage, so he might have a slightly easier transition. Gaines has the tools and mirror ability to become an elite weak side corner in a man to man scheme at the next level.
7. Bashaud Breeland, Clemson - Breeland has impressive physical ability, both in terms of size and athleticism. He is able to play both man and zone, but he is still a little raw in both. Breeland is more than willing to get involved in the running game, which could make him attractive to teams.
8. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State - Gilbert looks the part with great size and terrific speed. He is also a big time threat to make plays on the ball and has gotten good at intercepting passes. The problem with Gilbert is too often, he takes false steps that gives opponents a lot of separation that allows opponents to catch a lot of passes against him. Gilbert is also not physical when it comes to tackling and really has little interest in doing it.
9. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska - Baptiste has as much potential as any corner in this class because of his incredible size and speed. Baptiste at around 6’2″ has shown uncanny mirroring skills being that he is a former wide receiver. He has great hips and can run with just about anyone. Baptiste still has some lapses in coverage and is still learning, but for a league that has fallen in love with this type of corner, he could go early.
10. E.J. Gaines, Missouri - Gaines is one of the better zone corners in the class but he can also contribute in man coverage and will get involved in the running game. He is also a natural leader that should be a great asset to a team’s locker room and could return punts.
11. Walt Aikens, Liberty - Much like Desir, Aikens was an FCS player that looked good at the Senior Bowl. The difference is Aikens was originally at Illinois, so his capability and talent to do the job was less of a surprise. Aikens is another long corner that excels on the outside in man coverage and could be made into a press corner.
12. Victor Hampton, South Carolina - Hampton has a tremendous amount of physical ability and has shown so many flashes of what he could be in terms of a playmaking corner that loves to play off man and attack downhill to try to make plays on the football. The issue for Hampton is consistency ranging from his stance to his tackling. There are some off field questions to vet as well.
13. Dexter McDougle, Maryland - McDougle has shown a ton of talent both physically and in his play. He is willing to get involved in the running game, being aggressive to make plays. McDougle is at his best in off man coverage. The issue for McDougle is that he has to stay healthy.
14. Dontae Johnson, N.C. State - Johnson has a great deal of length and is a good tackler. He could be trained to be a press corner, but also has experience as an off man corner that likes to play downhill.
15. Marqueston Huff, Wyoming - Huff played free safety this year, but he is a more natural corner. He has a good amount of physical talent, speed and quickness to play man coverage on the outside.
16. Terrance Mitchell, Oregon - Mitchell is unremarkable in obvious skills, but he just does his job every play. It may not ever look special in how he does it, but he has been incredibly reliable in just executing his job.
17. Marcus Williams, North Dakota State - Williams is an extremely aggressive and effective run defender that could man the strong side in the NFL. He also has the ability to be a good press corner with his length in addition to having a good amount of strength and power.
18. Andre Hal, Vanderbilt - Hal is a good zone corner with a great build. He can play in man coverage as well, but just needs to get more consistent with that as well as his effort as a run defender.
19. Nevin Lawson, Utah State - Lawson is short, but whatever he lacks in size, he makes up for with his effort and intensity. He gives everything he has as a run defender and in coverage, has come up with some big games against big opponents. Lawson may never be more than a nickel corner, but he is a tough guy to cut.
20. Marcus Roberson, Florida - Roberson has the height and is a really natural cover corner in terms of his hips, being able to break on the football and make up ground. The problem is Roberson is frail and gets pushed around by opponents and offers next to nothing against the run right now. NFL receivers may just throw him around until he can catch up with his strength, if he ever does.
21. Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech - Thomas has incredible athletic ability and could play a few different positions, because he played nickel, safety, and corner while playing for the Yellow Jackets. As a result, he has not really had the opportunity to shine at one spot and he might be best suited to play as a safety anyway.
22. Keith McGill, Utah - McGill has the build and the length that could have him get picked early. He is 25 and has not really shined in coverage to this point, having some issues with his hips and speed. McGill has shown have some potential in press, having experience with that, but can get victimized when he misses with his jam. The other concern with McGill is a shoulder injury that will need to pass medical checks.
23. Tyrell Pearson, South Alabama - Pearson is a fearless cover corner who is absolutely tenacious in the way he plays, both in how he attempts to tackle guys and how he goes for the football. The problem for Pearson is he is 5’8″ 160lbs. He is going to have to make a team as a dime or nickel and he could certainly contribute in that area, but his upside is obviously limited.
24. Chris Davis, Auburn - Davis is a nice athlete, but he has never shown much of anything as a corner. He is a great return man, but that is the only ability he has really shown that could translate to the NFL.