How important are cornerbacks in the NFL? On March 4, 2005, the Carolina Panthers gave Ken Lucas $8.4 million to sign as a free agent with an additional $4.5 million due this year. That same day, the Cleveland Browns signed Gary Baxter with a $9 million signing bonus. One day earlier, on March 3, the Dallas Cowboys gave Anthony Henry $10 million to sign with an additional $2 million in roster bonuses.
Because of the one-back and multiple-receiver sets, teams feel it's important to have three cornerbacks on the field a high percentage of the time in order to match up against all the fast receivers. Some teams played three cornerbacks as much as 65 percent of the time, with the league average being about 57 percent of the time.
In 1996 and 1997, we had 33 cornerbacks selected in the first three rounds. In the last two drafts (2004 and 2005), that number increased to 42. Nine of the 42 were selected in the first round compared to seven in the 1996 and 1997 drafts combined. Over the past 10 NFL drafts, 40 cornerbacks have been selected in the first round and 133 have been picked in rounds two and three. Only one position -- wide receiver with 45 -- has had more first-round picks over this period.
The feeling around the league is that you can never have too many good cornerbacks, especially considering how the game is played these days. In the 2005 draft, the Broncos' first three picks were cornerbacks. In the 2002 draft, the Eagles drafted cornerbacks in the first two rounds, even though both of the Eagles' corners (Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent) were selected to the Pro Bowl the previous season.
In 2004, the top two players in the NFL's salary-cap numbers were cornerbacks Antoine Winfield ($12.4 million) and Ty Law ($9.6 million), cap numbers that were higher that year than Brett Favre ($9,533,333) and Peyton Manning ($8,301,666).
Size & Speed
Due to the increasing number of tall receivers in the NFL, height has become an important factor in drafting cornerbacks. Of the 40 receivers at this year's Scouting Combine, the average height was 6-foot-1 1/8 and the average weight was 205 pounds. Thirteen receivers were 6-2 or taller. The average speed of the 54 defensive backs (cornerbacks and safeties) was 4.52 in the 40-yard dash with an average vertical jump of 38 inches. Tye Hill of Clemson was the fastest defensive back with a 40 time of 4.30. Nine players ran 4.40 or under in the 40.
1. Michael Huff, Texas (6-0, 204, 4.37)
Huff had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran two 40s in 4.34 and 4.37. He had a 401/2-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-5 long jump and did 21 bench presses. He ran a 3.96 short shuttle and 6.68 three-cone drill on March 22 at the Texas Pro Day. Huff played safety, cornerback and wide receiver in high school and also ran track. He finished seventh in the 100 meters at the 2000 Junior Nationals. Huff was redshirted at Texas in 2001 but started 50 games during the next four years and earned the Jim Thorpe Award after the 2005 season. He can play corner or safety in the NFL. He played mostly strong safety at Texas and returned four interceptions for touchdowns during his career -- a school record. He has great versatility, is an outstanding blitzer with great instincts and reactions, will tackle, and has awareness and recovery speed. Huff should start his first year and play at a high level for a long time. He is smart with great character. He has a brother, Marcus King, who completed a four-year career at Missouri and most likely will be signed as a free agent by some team.
2. Jimmy Williams, Virginia Tech (6-2 3/8, 213, 4.46)
Williams did not work out at the Combine but did everything at his Pro Day on March 16. He ran his two 40s in 4.41 and 4.46 on a fast surface. He had a 33-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-8 long jump, and did 12 bench presses. He ran a 4.15 short shuttle and a 6.69 three-cone drill. Williams played quarterback, wide receiver, safety and linebacker in high school and made all-district for two years in basketball. He played but did not start as a true freshman at Virginia Tech in 2002, then started at free safety in 2003 and at cornerback in 2004 and 2005. Williams plays very aggressively, is physical with good instincts and range and has good closing speed on receivers. He is a very good blitzer and can play press coverage. He does not seem to always be focused and will take chances and get beat. His hands are not real good with eight interceptions in three years. Williams could become an outstanding player or could make you wonder why you drafted him. He needs to improve his attitude.
3. Antonio Cromartie, Florida State (6-2 1/8, 208, 4.49)
Cromartie had a complete workout at the Combine, running his 40s in 4.47 and 4.52 with tight legs. He had a 38-inch vertical jump and an 11-foot long jump. He worked out again on March 16 at Florida State's Pro Day and ran 4.43 and 4.46 in the 40 with a 3.98 short shuttle and a 7.03 three-cone drill. Cromartie played wide receiver and cornerback in high school, was a star sprinter on the track team and started for the basketball team. He was the USA Today Defensive Player of the Year after his senior year in high school. Cromartie played as a true freshman at Florida State in 2003. He played as a nickelback in 2004 and missed all of 2005 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Cromartie is a big cornerback with great ball skills and has exceptional athletic ability for his size. He is a young player, turning 22 years old this April. He has the talent to be a Pro Bowl player, but there are questions about whether he is too big to play corner and will the knee injury affect his play in the future.
4. Tye Hill, Clemson (5-9 5/8, 185, 4.33)
Hill had a complete workout at the Combine but did not lift. He ran his two 40s in 4.30 and 4.35, had a 41-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-9 long jump. He ran a 4.01 short shuttle and a 6.63 three-cone drill. Hill was a running back in high school and the state champion in the 100 meters. He has run track at Clemson and won ACC titles in the 60 meters indoors and the 100 meters outdoors. He was redshirted in 2001 at Clemson and played running back in 2002. He moved to cornerback in 2003 and started the next three years. Hill has outstanding speed and acceleration for the position, but his hands are not real good (and are small at 8 3/8 inches). He will tackle and had 21 pass breakups in 2005 with three interceptions. He is said to have marginal practice habits and there is some question about his love for the game. He plays a lot like Darrent Williams, a second-round pick by the Denver Broncos last year, but he does not return kicks.
5. Jason Allen, Tennessee (6-0 7/8, 209, 4.44)
Allen ran and jumped at the Combine, but he did not do field drills because of an injured hip. He ran his two 40s in 4.39 and 4.47, had a 391/2-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-11 long jump, 3.81 short shuttle and 6.75 three-cone drill. He did position drills on March 15 at Tennessee's Pro Day. Allen was a high school running back in Alabama and was named the Alabama Player of the Year in 2001. He played as a true freshman at Tennessee in 2002 as a defensive back and played both cornerback and free safety in 2003 and 2004. He suffered a dislocated hip against Georgia in the sixth game of 2005 and missed the rest of the season. Allen has the size and speed to play the cornerback position. He has good ball skills, will tackle and has good change of direction. He has had a history of injuries with surgeries on both his shoulders and hip. If he can't play corner, he will be able to play safety. He is a good player if healthy.
6. Kelly Jennings, Miami, Fla. (5-10 7/8, 178, 4.43)
Jennings had a complete workout at the Combine and ran his two 40s in 4.39 and 4.46. He had a 40-inch vertical jump, 10-foot long jump, 4.00 short shuttle, 6.88 three-cone drill and 12 bench presses. Jennings played wide receiver and defensive back in high school. He redshirted in 2001 at Miami and earned the starting cornerback job in 2002. He played as a nickelback in 2003 and started every game in 2004 and 2005. Jennings has outstanding cover ability, quick feet and excellent ball skills for the position. He did a good job against bigger receivers and had a great Combine workout. He does not have real good hands and will drop some balls. He is more of a finesse-type player but will tackle. His lack of size, especially his weight, is the only question mark. He graduated in 2004 and stayed in school.
7. Johnathan Joseph, South Carolina (5-11, 193, 4.36)
Joseph had a complete workout at the Combine and ran his 40s in 4.31 and 4.38. He had a 37-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-3 long jump with 15 bench presses. He had a 4.23 short shuttle and a 6.92 three-cone drill. Joseph played defensive back and ran track in high school. He spent two years in junior college at Coffeyville (Kan.). He started at cornerback at South Carolina the first two games of 2004, but broke his foot in the second game and didn't play the rest of the season. He started 10 games in 2005. Joseph is a cover corner with great speed and will tackle. He is fluid with very good recovery speed and can and will make plays on the ball. He had a great workout at the Combine. He needs to work on his coverage when off the receiver and is somewhat undisciplined. He has DeAngelo Hall-like talent and can be very good.
8. Richard Marshall, Fresno State (5-11 1/8, 189, 4.46)
Marshall had a complete workout at the Combine and ran his two 40s in 4.42 and 4.49. He had a 37-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-9 long jump, 4.16 short shuttle and 6.65 three-cone drill with 12 strength lifts. Marshall played defensive back in high school. He redshirted at Fresno State in 2002 and started the past two years at cornerback in a very good program. He was a productive player with nine interceptions over the past three years, returning three for touchdowns. Marshall has quickness and athletic ability with a lot of upside. He did a very good job against Dwayne Jarrett of USC last fall. He will tackle and can start for a team and play well.
9. Ashton Youboty, Ohio State (5-113/4, 189, 4.50)
Youboty did not work out at the Combine but did everything at Ohio State's Pro Day on March 9 on a fast track. He ran his two 40s in 4.41, had a 361/2-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-1 long jump, 4.20 short shuttle and 6.93 three-cone drill with 11 bench presses. Youboty played defensive back in high school and returned kicks. He also ran the 100 meters and 200 meters for the track team. Youboty played as a true freshman at Ohio State in 2003, started nine games in 2004 and made 12 starts in 2005. He does a good job in press coverage and is a very good tackler. He is a physical player who may have trouble with the smaller, quicker receivers in the NFL. He has average ball skills for the position. In the past, Ohio State cornerbacks have done well in the NFL. Youboty has a chance to start for a team but it's doubtful if he will ever be a star.
10. Cedric Griffin, Texas (6-0 1/8, 199, 4.54)
Griffin had a complete workout at the Combine and ran his two 40s in 4.51 and 4.56. He had a 351/2-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-5 long jump, 4.10 short shuttle, 6.64 three-cone drill and did 17 bench presses. Griffin played defensive back and wide receiver in high school and also ran track as a sprinter and hurdler. He redshirted in 2001 at Texas, started six games in 2002 and started 38 games the past three years. Griffin has very good athletic ability. He improved a great deal this past season but did not have an interception. He played well in Senior Bowl practices. Griffin is a big, physical corner with size and toughness. He will be a very solid player for some team.
11. David Pittman, Northwestern State, La. (5-111/4, 182, 4.52)
Pittman had a complete workout at the Combine, where he ran his two 40s in 4.44 and 4.56 and also had a 36-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-8 long jump and 4.23 short shuttle. He did not run the three-cone drill at the Combine but was timed at 6.96 at his Pro Day with 14 bench presses. Pittman redshirted in 2001 after having surgery on his left knee. He started nine games in 2002 and has been a full-time starter the past three years. Pittman is slight in build but plays with toughness. He has the quickness, instincts and ball skills you look for in a corner but needs to get stronger. He will surprise people. He had four defensive touchdowns in his college career, three on interception returns and one on a blocked field-goal return.
12. DeMario Minter, Georgia (5-11 1/8, 190, 4.55)
Minter had a complete workout at the Combine and ran his two 40s in 4.54 and 4.56. He had a 381/2-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-11 long jump, 4.10 short shuttle, 6.87 three-cone drill and did 10 bench presses. Minter was a defensive back and sprinter in high school. He played as a true freshman at Georgia in 2002 and was suspended for the first two games in 2003, when he played in 12 games but did not start. He started 25 games over the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Minter is a strong and physical corner but does not seem to play as fast as his timed speed. He seems to be a Cover 2-type corner with the ability to tackle. His ball skills are questionable but he should be a solid player for a team.
13. Alan Zemaitis, Penn State (6-11/4, 194, 4.60)
Zemaitis did not work out at the Combine but did everything at Penn State's Pro Day on March 16. He ran his two 40s in 4.58 and 4.56, had a 30-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-9 long jump, 4.19 short shuttle, 6.68 three-cone drills and did 10 bench presses. Zemaitis played running back and defensive back in high school, where he was the first player in school history to play on the varsity as a freshman. He redshirted in 2001 at Penn State and played backup cornerback in 2002. He started 10 of 12 games in 2003 and every game the next two years. Zemaitis has very good ball skills (12 interceptions in three years) in zone coverage, but very seldom played man coverage at Penn State. He gets his hands on a lot of balls and is a very disciplined player. He lacks great acceleration but makes up for it with his intelligence. Zemaitis has good size for the position and made a lot of big plays for Penn State.
14. Will Blackmon, Boston College (6-01/4, 198, 4.49)
Blackmon had a complete workout at the Combine at both wide receiver and defensive back. He ran his two 40s in 4.47 and 4.50 but did not run as well at Boston College's Pro Day on March 15, clocking 4.59 and 4.52 in the 40. He had a 41-inch vertical jump, 11-foot-1 long jump, 4.23 short shuttle and 6.67 three-cone drill. Blackmon played running back and defensive back in high school, where he also played basketball and won the Rhode Island state championship in the 100-meter dash. He played as a true freshman in 2002 at Boston College, started 13 games in 2003 and eight games in 2004 at corner. He moved to receiver in 2005 and caught 51 passes while starting 12 games. Blackmon is a very good athlete with outstanding ball skills, but the question you have to answer is why Boston College moved him from corner to wide receiver (because they needed playmakers on offense). He seems to lack the instincts to play corner but will help a team on kick returns. The question is, where do you play him? Start with corner.
15. Charles Gordon, Kansas (5-10 1/8, 183, 4.63)
Gordon had a complete workout at the Combine and ran his two 40s in 4.60 and 4.65. He had a 351/2-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-7 long jump, 4.20 short shuttle and 6.95 three-cone drill with 12 lifts. Gordon played wide receiver in high school and also played baseball and basketball. He redshirted in 2002 at Kansas. In 2003, he caught 57 passes as a receiver and also returned kicks, and played both corner and wide receiver in 2004, tying for the most interceptions in Division I with seven. In 2005, he played corner for the first part of the season and wide receiver for the second half. Gordon is a very good athlete with good ball skills and instincts, but he is not real strong or physical. He will help a team returning kicks and as an extra corner but he needs to get stronger.
Did You Know?
Gerrick McPhearson holds the Maryland school record for the 60-meter dash (6.73), breaking the mark held by Renaldo Nehemiah.
Darrell Hunter (Miami, Ohio) holds the record for the fastest 40-yard dash in the school's football history.
David Pittman of Northwestern (La.) was the only Division I-AA player to play in this year's Senior Bowl.
Ashton Youboty of Ohio State was born in Liberia and moved to the United States at four years of age.
The only defensive back ever drafted No. 1 overall was Gary Glick by Pittsburgh in 1956. He played safety.
Since 1996, the highest a cornerback has been drafted is third when Shawn Springs was picked by Seattle.