The feeling around the league is that you can never have too many good cornerbacks, especially considering how the game is played these days.
Over the past 10 NFL drafts, 38 cornerbacks have been selected in the first round. Nine of those were picked in the top 10 -- the highest of which being Shawn Springs (third overall by Seattle, 1997). In that same 10-year span, 118 cornerbacks have been picked in Rounds 2 and 3.
So why are cornerbacks in such hot demand? Well, part of the reason is because teams are choosing to play with five defensive backs a high percentage of the time during their games. As an example, the Dolphins used the nickel package over 60 percent of the time in 2003.
Last year, we had five cornerbacks selected in the first round. Two of them, Terence Newman (Dallas) and Marcus Trufant (Seattle), played in 98 percent of their teams' defensive snaps. Two more, Sammy Davis (San Diego) and second-round pick Charles Tillman (Chicago) played in over 80 percent of their teams' snaps. And in another example, third-round pick Ricky Manning (Carolina) played in 64 percent of their defensive plays and started at the end of the season and postseason.
This year, two cornerbacks -- DeAngelo Hall and Dunta Robinson -- could go in the first 11 picks in this draft. As many as four corners could go in the first round, so don't be surprised to see that happen.
Size and speed
Due to the number of tall receivers in the NFL, height has become an important factor in drafting cornerbacks. Of the 49 receivers at the combine, 18 were 6-foot-2 or taller. The average height of the group was 6-1 1/8 and the average weight was 205.
The average speed of the 31 corners at this year's combine was 4.49 with an average vertical jump of 381/2 inches. Michael Waddell of North Carolina was the fastest, running a 4.31 in the 40. Ahmad Carroll of Arkansas had a 41-inch vertical. Five players ran under 4.4 in the 40.
1. DeAngelo Hall, Virginia Tech (5-10, 202)
Hall ran two 40s for times of 4.34 and 4.38. He had a 39-inch vertical, a 10-foot-9 long jump, 15 reps, a 3.68 short shuttle and a 6.39 three-cone drill. He played running back, defensive back and returned kicks in his senior year of high school. He scored 30 touchdowns and had nine interceptions. He also made time for the track team as a sprinter and long jumper. At Virginia Tech, he played as a true freshman in 2001, starting one game. Hall has been a starter since then. In 2002 he also had punt return duties, averaging 16 yards per return and scoring twice. He pulled down eight interceptions in his collegiate career. Hall has outstanding athleticism, excellent speed and quickness. He has great physical tools, but needs some work on techniques. Hall will also make plays against the run. If you're in a pinch, Hall could also be used as a wide receiver because of his sharp ball skills. Best of all, Hall won't be 21 years old until Nov. 19 of this year.
2. Dunta Robinson, South Carolina (5-10 5/8, 186)
Robinson ran two 40s for times of 4.34 and 4.36. He had a 38-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot long jump, a 3.75 in the short shuttle, a 6.97 in the three-cone drill and 15 strength reps. In high school, Robinson played defensive back, wide receiver and running back, and he returned kicks too! With the Gamecocks, he played as a true freshman and became a full-time starter in 2002. Over his career, Robinson had five interceptions. We're looking at a hard worker who plays with a linebacker's mentality. Robinson has very good burst on the ball, has good jumping ability, gives a very good effort on every play and will tackle. He should also be a solid contributor on special teams if he's needed there. He reminds me of Antoine Winfield of the Vikings in that he plays against the run and pass very well. Lastly, he's a top-flight person from a fine family.
3. Chris Gamble, Ohio State (6-11/4, 198)
Gamble ran two 40s for times of 4.50 and 4.55. He had a 39-inch vertical, a 9-foot-10 long jump, 16 reps, a 4.25 short shuttle and a 6.89 three-cone drill. He worked out a second time at Ohio State on April 5 and ran 4.61, 4.57 and 4.53 in the 40. His high school team won the state championship in basketball and played in the state championship in football. He lined up as a wide receiver in high school and also started out as a wideout at Ohio State. He played as a true freshman in 2001, started all 14 games in 2002 at wide receiver and six of them at cornerback. In 2003 he had three interceptions and played receiver as well. Gamble, obviously, has a lot of athletic ability, but he needs to work on his technique and on his defensive skills in general. He does have great skill already. He can also return kicks for an NFL team.
4. Ricardo Colclough, Tusculum (5-10 5/8, 194)
Colclough ran two 40s for times of 4.49 and 4.50. He had a 391/2-inch vertical, a 10-foot-7 long jump, eight strength lifts, and did not run any shuttles because of a right hamstring pull at the combine. He played his high school football in Sumpter, S.C. Recruited by Florida State, Georgia and South Carolina, Colclough couldn't play at those places because of poor test scores. So he went to Kilgore Junior College in 2000 and 2001, averaging 40 yards on kickoff returns and scored five times. He played the past two seasons at Tusculum (Greenville, Tenn.) and had 15 interceptions. Also played well in postseason all-star games. Colclough (pronounced "Coak-ley") is a very aggressive, but coachable player. He needs to push himself more at the next level. Relies too much on his speed and quickness. A raw talent that needs work on his technique.
5. Derrick Strait, Oklahoma (5-11 1/8, 196)
Strait ran two 40s for times of 4.55 and 4.52. He had a 351/2-inch vertical, a 9-foot-11 long jump, a 4.01 short shuttle and a 6.65 three-cone drill. In high school in Lewisville, Texas, Strait spent time playing quarterback, running back and defensive back. He was redshirted in 1999 but started the next four years. In 53 starts, Strait had 11 interceptions and won the Thorpe Award in 2003. Here's a player who has good quickness and change of direction. Strait is also a reliable hard worker with good, but not great, hands. He has been well coached and should be a solid contributor.
6. Keiwan Ratliff, Florida (5-10 1/8, 194)
Ratliff's times in two 40 attempts were 4.60 and 4.60 (on grass). He had a 371/2-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-1/2 long jump, 11 strength reps, a 4.41 short shuttle and 7.10 three-cone drill. In high school, Ratliff played wide receiver and defensive back. He agreed to go to Florida in 1999 but didn't enter school until 2000. He did not become a full-time starter until 2002 and had nine interceptions in 2003. Ratliff is a player that plays faster than his timed speed indicates. He has good quickness and anticipation, but isn't real good against the run and is more of an offensive-minded player. He can also return kicks and will be a steady player as a third corner.
7. Jeremy LeSueur, Michigan (6-0, 197)
LeSueur's 40 time was 4.55, his vertical was 35 inches and his long jump was 9-foot-8. He fell while running at the combine and didn't do any shuttles. He worked out again on March 31 and put together a complete workout, running 4.65 and 4.67 indoors on FieldTurf. He had a 4.0 short shuttle, 11 strength reps and a 6.60 three-cone drill. In high school, he played running back and defensive back for the football team and also participated on the basketball and track teams. He played in two games in 1999 but got injured and received a medical redshirt. He started two games in 2000, had five starts in 2001 and started every game since. LeSueur has good athletic ability but plays out of control sometimes and will miss tackles. He may be a better zone cornerback than man-coverage cornerback. He will play tough against the tun and can return kicks too.
8. Will Poole, USC (5-10 3/8, 194)
Poole worked out March 24 and weighed in 10 pounds lighter than he did at before (he said he had been ill). He ran two 40s for times of 4.65 and 4.66, had a 281/2-inch vertical, a 9-foot-7 long jump, a 4.26 short shuttle and a 7.06 three-cone drill. Poole played quarterback, running back and defensive back in high school. He broke his foot and missed most of his senior year. He redshirted in 1999 at Boston College, started 10 games in 2000 at cornerback, was suspended in 2001 for violation of team rules, transferred to Ventura Junior College in 2002 and had six blocked kicks and seven interceptions. Then he made his way to USC, where he started 11 games for the Trojans at cornerback and had seven interceptions. He has coverage skills and seems to play faster than his times indicate. Devard Darling of Washington State ran past him several times in a game, but Poole was supposed to have a tight back. He will tackle and make plays.
9. Shawntae Spencer, Pitt (6-0, 176)
Spencer's times in two 40 attempts were 4.48 and 4.50. He had a 341/2-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-8 long jump, a 3.98 short shuttle and 6.64 three-cone drill. Spencer played free safety as a junior in high school and quarterback as a senior. He was also a long jumper on the track team, placing in the state meet. At Pitt, he played as a true freshman, starting eight games. He started 10 games over the next two years before going full time in 2003. This is a cover corner with athletic ability (eight picks in four years). He needs to be more physical vs. the run. He can also return kicks. He did not get invited to the combine but looked very good at Pitt's Pro Day.
10. Joey Thomas, Montana State (6-0 7/8, 195)
Thomas ran two 40s for times of 4.44 and 4.50. He had a 381/2-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-2 long jump, a 3.88 short shuttle, 17 strength reps and a 6.82 in the three-cone drill. Thomas was a quarterback and defensive back in high school who signed with Washington and spent the spring of 2000 at school. He transferred to Montana State in August, 2000, where he started nine games as a true freshman. He was a regular starter in 2001 but missed games with a knee injury. Over four years, Thomas had 10 interceptions. This is a competitive player with athletic skills. He has a burst but needs to be more aware. He has lean, well-muscled and long arms to go along with his soft hands. Will be somewhat of a project at the next level.
11. Keith Smith, McNeese State (5-111/2, 201)
Smith ran two 40s for times of 4.48 and 4.50. He had a 361/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-8 long jump, a 4.43 short shuttle, 12 strength reps and a 7.81 in the three-cone drill (the shuttle and drill were done on a slick wood floor). Smith played cornerback in high school. He also was on the track team, winning the state crown in the 400 meters. Still, only Texas A&M was the only Division I school to show interest. Smith redshirted in 1999, started in 2001 through the end of his career. He had four interceptions in 2003. He is an athletic cover corner with good ball skills but not good on run support. He does have good quickness but needs to be more physical against the run. Above all, Smith is a good character person from a military family.
12. Nathan Vasher, Texas (5-10, 177)
Vasher ran two 40s for times of 4.65 and 4.68. He had a 361/2-inch vertical, a 4.02 short shuttle and a 6.74 three-cone drill. Note: He has run several times since his Pro Day at Texas and he has reportedly had better times. In high school, Vasher played cornerback, wide receiver and running back. He also played basketball and ran track. At Texas, he played as a true freshman in 2000 and even started three games. He started the next three years in a very good program, playing corner and returning punts. He is a quick athlete with good cover skills (17 interceptions over the last three years). He plays with toughness for his size, has a good lower-body build and plays faster than his timed speed indicates (see the second quarter of his game against Kansas State in 2003). May be a nickelback and punt returner.
13. Rich Gardner, Penn State (5-103/4, 199)
Gardner ran two 40s for times of 4.5 and 4.51. He had a 38-inch vertical, a 10-foot-3 long jump, a 3.91 short shuttle and a 6.91 three-cone drill with 11 strength lifts. Gardner played his high school football in Chicago. He was a walk-on at Penn State and redshirted in 1999. He played but did not start in 2000 or 2001, but did start the last two years. This is a tough, competitive player who is good vs. the run. A key for him is that he is very instinctive. He could be a nickelback because he may not be able to cover the league's fast receivers.
OTHERS TO WATCH:
Other cornerbacks who will be taken later in the draft and could surprise some people (alphabetical order):
Marcel Allmond, USC (6-0, 208)
Ran a 4.51 in the 40; Former wide receiver who has speed and athletic ability for his position.
Greg Brooks, Southern Miss (5-101/4, 173)
Ran a 4.54 in the 40; Transferred from Michigan; Has coverage ability but lacks ideal height and weight.
Jenaro Gilford, BYU (6-11/4, 188)
Ran a 4.47 in the 40; Has the height and speed you want at cornerback.
Randy Jordan, Kansas State (6-03/4, 176)
Ran a 4.6 in the 40; Has the height you want but lacks bulk; Has good cover skills.
Jeff Shoate, San Diego State (5-101/4, 189)
Ran a 4.63 in the 40; Reminds people of Ricky Manning.
Chris Thompson, Nicholls State (6-0, 189)
Ran a 4.5 in the 40; A four-year starter with good size and speed; Good kick blocker.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Because of 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. It is also important that cornerbacks be good special-teams players in order to help on coverage teams.
- In 2002, Keiwan Ratliff was the only player to score touchdowns on a pass reception and an interception return. That same year, Rich Gardner intercepted two passes and ran them both back for touchdowns.
- Jeremy LeSueur is the first player ever from Mississippi to play at Michigan.
- The only defensive back drafted No. 1 overall was Gary Glick of Colorado A&M, now known as Colorado State. Pittsburgh took him in the 1956 NFL Draft.
What scouts look for when grading cornerbacks:
- Ability to learn
- Competitiveness and toughness
- Work habits
- Athletic ability
- Man cover ability
- Zone cover ability
- Break from backpedal
- Run support
- Tackling ability
- Closing quickness
- Deep acceleration
- Play on the ball
Here is a list of cornerback prospects for the 2005 NFL Draft:
Jaamal Brimmer, UNLV
Dustin Fox, Ohio State
Marlin Jackson, Michigan
Eric King, Wake Forest
Andre Maddox, North Carolina State
Antrel Rolle, Miami, Fla.
Corey Webster, LSU
Previous Gil Brandt position analysis columns:
Gil Brandt was vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-89. He is now in his eighth year as NFL.com's chief personnel guru. (Brandt is of no relation to Packers VP of Player Finance Andrew Brandt.)