What always strikes me about drafting cornerbacks is that teams are going to take them early in the draft, no matter how good or bad they are. Teams need them more now than ever, especially with all the nickel and dime defenses teams see.
Most teams with winning records have played at least 50 percent of their defensive snaps in a package with more than two cornerbacks on the field, hence the thirst for these position players. The stress to find them has caused teams to reach for guys. In fact, almost half of this draft class has already been identified as probably not good enough to be a No. 1 or No. 2 starter but more likely a career No. 3 or No. 4 "package" player.
When it comes to true starter types who can become No. 1 corners that can line up on an elite wide receiver and take him out of the game, this draft may only have two players with those credentials - Terence Newman (Kansas State) and Marcus Trufant (Washington State).
It's clearly one of the biggest challenges in the NFL to find people who can fit the job description. For example, four corners were taken in the first round of the 2002 NFL Draft, and they combined for just seven starts. Phillip Buchanon of the Oakland Raiders was clearly the head of his class before he went down with an injury, and there is no consensus that this draft even has a Buchanon. Most teams hope Newman is that good, but late information about a possible shoulder problem will cause some doubt, but not enough for him to fall past the fifth pick.
Trufant will not last past the 16th pick, and then Andre Woolfolk (Oklahoma), who is big, athletic and raw, will hear his name called before the end of the first round. With Dallas, Arizona and New Orleans hoping to grab a starting corner, it will be difficult for any of the top three prospects to fall to Indianapolis or Pittsburgh late in the first round.
There are an additional 10 teams hoping to get out of the draft's first day with a new corner on their roster, but there simply isn't enough talent to go around. The second round will produce players who are fast rising: Sammy Davis (Texas A&M) and Kevin Garrett (SMU) along with Dennis Weathersby (Oregon State), Rashean Mathis (Bethune-Cookman) and Eugene Wilson (Illinois).
I went over this group with two secondary coaches, and they both agreed there are issues with all of these guys. Mathis is raw and played against low-level competition, Wilson and Garrett are short and could be nickel guys, and Weathersby is big but needs to mentally show up everyday.
You have never heard a team say, "If this quarterback we draft doesn't work out, we'll make him a fullback," but we regularly hear, "If this corner can't cover a wide receiver, then we'll make him a safety." This year, at least six of the top 15 prospects have been identified as possible converts to safety if things don't work out at corner. It's nice to think there's a fallback, but it also shows how few true starting corner types there are in this draft. For example, seven of the top 18 corners have already been labeled safety candidates if they flop at cornerback. I was in this league for over 10 years, and while safeties are easy to locate, good corners are hard to find.
The guy who may know the most about the cornerback population is USC quarterback Carson Palmer. With the Trojans, he played against Newman, Trufant, Weathersby and three of the other top corners in this draft, along with two more in the Senior Bowl. He had good things to say about the top prospects, but I also have to remind people he threw over 30 touchdown passes last year.
Last year, the third round produced Derek Ross, the top corner in Dallas, and Andre Goodman, who emerged as the No. 1 corner in Detroit. The Lions also landed their other starting corner, Chris Cash, in the sixth round. Who are the guys with the potential to come out of later rounds this draft and be the pleasant surprises these players were? The names I got from some of the secondary coaches to keep an eye on as "interesting prospects" include Charles Tillman (Louisiana-Lafayette), DeJuan Groce (Nebraska), Nnamdi Asomugha (California) and Shane Walton (Notre Dame).
One critical issue to keep in mind when you study corners: If your favorite team plays a lot of man-to-man press coverage, then it has to draft early to get one of the few candidates who can do it. If your team plays a lot of Cover 2, then it usually can draft late and find players who can do the job. Make sure you know what coverage your home team plays before you wonder how it could pass on a top corner when its turn comes.
Kirwan's Hot Topics
Some key points to keep in mind as we watch the draft unfold:
- Will Minnesota move up in the draft to get Terence Newman before Dallas or Arizona can grab him?
- New Orleans has two first-round picks and took care of its tight end issues by signing Ernie Conwell. Could the Saints package the picks to go up and get Newman?
- Will Indianapolis (No. 24) or Pittsburgh (No. 27) reach for a corner or wait until the second round?
- St. Louis took care of its offensive tackle issues by trading for Kyle Turley. Might the Rams, who lost CBs Dre Bly and Dexter McCleon in free agency, take Marcus Trufant at No. 12 (if he's still there) or do they have to move up to get him?