An impressive trio of cornerbacks at the top of the draft quickly fades into a collection of prospects that offer as many questions as they do answers.
SI.com draft analyst Tony Pauline terms this year’s crop of cornerback prospects “average” overall. “You have some good players at the top. After the top tier guys, you have players that are talented but are question marks. You have a lot of No. 2 cornerbacks and even nickel/dime backs,” Pauline said.
At the top is LSU’s Morris Claiborne, who’s drawing comparison to former teammate Patrick Peterson, the fifth overall pick of last year’s draft.
“He’s not the athlete but his ball skills are probably more polished. Not a burner but fast enough,” Pauline said of Claiborne.
Pauline rates Claiborne, South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore and Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick as first-round picks. The crop quickly falls off.
“Gilmore has the ability to be a Pro Bowl type of corner. He comes out of a system at South Carolina that has developed good pro defensive backs,” Pauline said of his No. 2 guy.
“He’s got those measurables; it’s just a matter of playing to them on a consistent basis.”
Florida transfer Janoris Jenkins rode a strong Senior Bowl performance up boards through the scouting combine, but Pauline thinks off-the-field issues are beginning to drop Jenkins’ stock.
“Too many red flags; he’s dropping,” said Pauline, who believes off-the-field issues are also hurting Montana’s Trumaine Johnson. “Jenkins has first-round on the field. Johnson can play corner or safety, but he also has some off-the-field concerns.
“The two guys I like and I think are being underrated right now are Jayron Hosley of Virginia Tech and Casey Hayward of Vanderbilt. Hosley is feisty and has tremendous ball skills, makes a lot of plays on the ball, is always at the right place at the right time. He’s a little small. If Hayward played as fast as his time, he’d be a first-round pick, but he’s a good football player,” Pauline said of two players he considers second-round prospects.
“Dwight Bentley (Louisiana-Lafayette) is a second-round type of guy. Josh Robinson (Central Florida) is the flavor of the month. He’s a great athlete but he’s just an OK cornerback. He’s rising on a lot of people’s boards, not on mine.”
Late-round steals? Pauline likes Donnie Fletcher of Boston College, Emanuel Davis of East Carolina and Keith Tandy of West Virginia. None of them were invited to the combine.
The safety crop is thought to be especially weak.
“It’s not good at all, but I like Mark Barron a lot. I think he’s very underrated. I think he’s been incorrectly pigeon-holed as a strong safety only. He can patrol centerfield. He can get outside the numbers,” Pauline said.
Barron, of Alabama, underwent hernia surgery in the winter that dropped his stock, but Pauline thinks Barron is rebounding and will be picked in the top 18.
“Trent Robinson of Michigan State is small but is one of the best cover safeties in this year’s draft.” Pauline thinks Robinson will go in the third round.
Last-day sleepers at safety? Corey White of Samford, Justin Bethel of Presbyterian and Josh Bush of Wake Forest.
“They’ve all got good ball skills and experience at corner and safety. They’ll do a good job in nickel and dime,” Pauline said.
For the previous installments in the position-by-position draft preview series, click here.