Position available: Cornerback

This week sees the 2014 NFL Draft, three days of excitement as we see which hot prospects go to which team. There has been a lot of focus on mock drafts and what teams need as well as specific players, such as Mr Clowney and the odd other DE and of course Quarterbacks. Looking at how www.NFL.com grades players, it appears there is a dearth in good cornerbacks. Whilst researching which team needs what for our latest podcast, a surprising number need cornerbacks. So who are the contenders?

I am going to confess that I am only going on the grading system used by www.NFL.com (so enough plugging now I suppose) but the reason is they have a grading system that seems to broadly to represent how good a player is likely to be and likely to perform in the NFL. It ranges from 0 to 10 with anyone scoring 9 to 10 as being considered a once in a lifetime player (Clowney scores 7.5). A score  of 5.5 means you are considered to have a chance as an NFL starter. Our top scoring Cornerback is Justin Gilbert, with 6.3, meaning he should become an instant starter. Of the 52 available Cornerbacks, only FIVE score above 5.5 and seven score below 5 meaning they should be considered for training camp, potentially. This leaves 40 possibly mediocre cornerbacks (I promise there are not going to be any more numbers). The drop off appears to be quite sharp with the grade dropping from 5.9 to 5.4. Now the top 5 according to grade are a bit different from how they are ranked according to analysts such as Gil Brandt (who has handily done a top 100 + 25). Here they are ranked according to grade with some comparison to Gil Brandts rankings. GBR = Gil Brandt’s ranking; MD = Mock Draft ranking average

1. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma (GBR = 10, MD = 10): Is highly athletic or at least fast and strong, indicated by scoring 6 career kick off return TDs and good interception stats. In addition he has played WR and QB positions at high school). He had the fastest 40 yard dash (4.37s) and 20 bench press results at the combine. He has the most natural talent but this does not equate to maturity and is considered to coast occasionally. He also lacks the aggression needed and may not get as stuck in as he should. Has comparable tackling statistics to the rest, but certainly has the better ball handling and interception skills. He will probably the first CB to go.

 2.Bradley Roby, Ohio State (GBR = 34, MD = 24) : So in grade terms just behind Gilbert but is ranked by many behind Fuller and Dennard due to his suspect 1 on 1 coverage and losing out on 50-50 ball takes. Is highly physical and this could also be an issue as could be prone to injuries (his college career has suffered as such). That said is a great kick-blocker and has scored from recovered blocks and interceptions. Again he is very fast but his game attitude and occasional suspect decision making could be problematic.

3.Darqueze Dennard, Michigan St. (GBR = 32, MD = 15): A 6.1 along with Roby but generally has ranked higher in mock drafts though still behind Kyle Fuller. Is a big strong boy, what is considered ideal physique for the position. Has good on field personality and leadership skills as well as what I would say is a Sherman like ability to read what an offense is planning. Has good hands, has played as a WR (explaining his route reading ability and speed). Has a good college record but could be injury prone.

4.Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech (GBR = 25, MD = 20) : Graded by NFL.com as 5.9, so still a starter but lower grade than the others, but star has been rising recently and appears to be due to a good combine and a few stellar games last season. Rated highly for his man coverage ability and has an outstanding broad jump ability, so he is pretty fast and agile. There are concerns about his physicality in being too small and liable to slip out of tackles but did record a team high of 14.5 tackles with loss in 2011. He is a good interceptor of passes and is considered mature on the field with a good ability to read routes and has proven speed and agility to intercept passes. There is some concern about his strength, being considered the weakest of the five but he seems to use his momentum and agility to bring players down, so shows intelligence on the field.

5. Jason Verett, TCU (GBR = 40, MD = 30): Gil Brandt has him as a slot receiver due to his size (5ft 9 1/2, 189lbs). Mainly rated because of his ball skills, his speed and his agility but is not robust, with a college career plagued with injuries. Like all of the others, considered good no.2 potential. But has played RB and blocked a field goal so actually if picked up as a CB by a team who say may need another WR, could be a little bonus player. He appears to be very alert and reads passes well, clocking 8 interceptions in two years. To block a field goal gives an indication on how quick he can be.

Some of the rest featuring in 1st round draft lists…

Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska (GB = 74, MD = 27/30): He has the height at 6 foot 1 though slightly on the light side at 218lbs but has a big reach with his 32 inch arms. He started playing as a receiver and even redshirted as one before making the move to cornerback. He is agile if not that quick but appears to read plays well and seems to surprise receivers, taking an interception per game last season. Apparently has small hands of only 8 inches or so. This is probably why he has been put in two commentators mock drafts, in teams with tough pass strong divisions. He certainly has the ability to improve.

Keith McGill, Utah (GB = 58, MD = <32): He is a big player, the tallest CB in the draft and has an arm span of over 33inch. So Brandt says he didn’t have an interception but is biog says he had one interception return td for Utah in 2013. He seems a steady player, possibly an injury risk but his college career is pretty good, if not getting the interception certainly good at breaking up the pass, a tackler and has made a few forced fumbles. Pretty agile if just not as a fast than the others. Could also play at safety. But also needs to work on work ethic (apparently).

Rashaad Reynolds, Oregon St : Well doesn’t appear in Brandt’s top 125 or the Mock Draft but NFL.com grade him higher than Keith McGill and Stanley Jean-Baptiste. So is a solid good tackler, was the Hawaii Bowl MVP and is considered a leader on the field. Intercepts the ball well and is incredibly nimble and strong topping the cone shuffles and bench press. Could be considered too small for the position but does intercept passes and is good at pass break ups. So could be an underrated and missed player. Not sure who could do with him, whoever was vulnerable at the pass or just needs some depth at the position, say the Bears for example. Is likely to be a steal I think.

For me no-one really stands out, some of the better players appear to have some attitude issues, Gilbert is certainly the most impressive, but all the CBs have proven interception ability. In Mock Drafts only Gilbert is consistently picked first and quite highly. As most teams appear to need a cornerback, I think Verett could fall in the Draft due to being an injury risk, would be good for adding depth. As you may gather I like Rashaad Reynolds, he seems to be a solid player, pretty consistent and what is more could be an asset in holding a defense together, especially when the chips are down. For a team needing a CB and who are quite high up in the Draft, I think looking for good field leadership is important, to help maintain motivation. This may explain why Fuller and Dennard have risen, and though Rody has been highlighted for the Bengals, I think Fuller and Dennard would do well there as well. But if the Bengals do not go with a CB in round 1 then I can see Reynolds going to the Bengals, as a steal.

Of course these are just my opinions and I cannot wait to see who goes where. In this, the stats say only so much and it is those intangibles, those little things that appear to make the biggest difference. In this way all mock drafts are a bit silly apart  from they highlight some of the best of the College crop.

Thank you for reading, to continue to keep up to date with the Gentlemen, follow us on Twitter (@gridirongents) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/GridirionGentlemen). Until next time,

Toodle Pip