2012 NFL Draft Rankings: Cornerbacks
There is a strong group of corners in the draft this year, and should a couple need to move deeper to safety in the pros, then that class — one that looks weak on the surface — looks stronger every day.
1. Morris Claiborne, LSU, Top Ten grade
2. Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina, mid-first round grade
I don’t get the feeling when watching Claiborne that I’m seeing a prospect on the same level as Patrick Peterson last year. Actually because of the dominance of his defense this year at LSU, I have a couple of unanswered questions about his ability. It’s notable that Alabama’s game plan in the title game was to target Heisman trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu in coverage and not to go after Claiborne. That’s telling, but when you’re drafting a corner in the top ten, you’d like to see him challenged more than Claiborne was as a junior this year.
You get to watch a lot more elite receivers in the SEC East, and though Gilmore isn’t a super physical speciman of a corner, he did perform well against the best competition his conference could offer him.
At the end of the day, these guys are the 1a and 1b corners in this draft. They are 10th and 12th on my big board respectively. They both can cover the top college receivers. But the top pro receivers aren’t the top college receivers. And they have to be able to keep those guys limited in order to be worth a draft choice in the top ten.
3. Brandon Boykin, Georgia, late-first round grade
4. Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama, late-first round grade
These are two players who might be looking at long careers where they don’t play the position of corner in sub packages. Boykin already has considerable experience playing on the interior as a slot corner against three receiver sets. Kirkpatrick has an interesting projection as a safety because of his size and range and overall athleticism. Boykin is one of the better kick/punt returners among this class of defensive backs as well.
Both of these guys benefited from playing early in their careers, and were targeted very early and often as the weaknesses of their SEC defenses. I feel like Boykin’s athleticism and physicality makes him a bit more useful as a prospect than Kirkpatrick’s size/speed combination, but this seems like an either/or. If you get one of these guys, you have a nice third corner as a rookie who becomes an obvious target for defenses if he has to start in the first two years. Such is the nature of the cornerback position.
5. Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama, late first round grade
6. Josh Robinson, UCF, second round grade
I think if you just look at what he can do, Jenkins might be a better cover corner than anyone in this draft. But aside from his marijuana-related release from the University of Florida that landed him at North Alabama, my concerns about Jenkins to be a top cover guy in the NFL relate to what he put on film that was concerning at Florida — and that wasn’t fixed against a lower level of competition this year. His skills to take away top receivers are unquestioned at this point, but with mid-level receivers and guys he should handle, I have questions about his coverage instincts, particularly in zone. Jenkins is also an advanced prospect who will play this season at 24 years of age, meaning that the season he just had at age 23 at North Alabama probably should have killed his draft stock. Average it out: you get a late first round prospect before the character issues.
Josh Robinson is pretty much the opposite of Jenkins. Young, talented, will get lost in zone coverage, might not possess elite man to man cover skills. But raw, played faster than anyone on the field at UCF, can find the football, and can run if he gets it in his hands. You can’t really justify a first round pick at corner on a guy who won’t be playing a lot of man to man, but I liked Josh Robinson a lot before he went and blew up the combine. And he’ll be just 21 years old this year, taking three years of college experience with him to the NFL.
7. Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma, second round grade
8. DeQuan Menzie, Alabama, second round grade
9. Chase Minnifield, Virginia, second round grade
10. Trumaine Johnson, Montana, second round grade
I like Fleming and Menzie because of their ability to come up and hit, and really this whole group shares that ability. These guys are a group who would benefit from a zone based scheme to protect their athletic limitations in man to man. Menzie in particular would be an excellent slot safety at the next level because he can bring the blitz as well as cover a slot guy in the short area. But the guys of the group who are flying up this board are Minnifield and Johnson, both who could be gone by the middle of the second day.
11. Alfonso Dennard, Nebraska, third round grade
12. Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt, third round grade
13. Mike Harris, Florida State, fourth round grade
14. Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech, fourth round grade
Here are the other physical specimens who could or should go before the end of the second day to secondary-needy clubs. Dennard played a lot of man to man at Nebraska despite having to play without long speed, and the NFL is reaching a point with it’s corners where it doesn’t need the Josh Robinson-esque athletes to fit in a man to man scheme, but Dennard probably has a cap of a number two corner. Hayward has a little more upside, and could have potentially gone as early as the second round had he come out in a year where the corner position wasn’t so deep (which is similar to Hosley’s deal as well — although Hosley left NCAA eligibility on the table to come out).
15. Ryan Steed, Furman, fourth round grade
16. Josh Norman, Coastal Carolina, fourth round grade
17. Micah Pellerin, Hampton, fourth round grade
18. Leonard Johnson, Iowa State, fifth round grade
19. Robert Blanton, Notre Dame, fifth round grade
The corner class has such remarkable depth that you can find talented starter prospects as deep as the fourth or top of the fifth round. According to the PFW/Nolan Nawrocki Draft Chart Value Board, there are 18 corners that Pro Football Weekly expects to here their names called by the top half of the 5th round (though not necessarily these 18 or 19). The back end of the starters group includes a mix of small school prospects who didn’t exactly blow up the combine when put on a level playing field with the elite athletes from the top D-I schools, and the best remaining tape of the larger school prospects who don’t neatly fit into any one pro coverage scheme (Blanton and Johnson). By the fifth round, teams are going to have to go out of their way to find roles for the remaining talent, but it’s just so unlikely to get probable starters at any position that late in the draft, not to mention a premium position in corner. Teams like the Saints, Raiders, and Redskins who don’t pick often on days one and two need to get to work at the start of day three, and corner may be one place where some big names make it through to the end of the fourth round.
20. Shaun Prater, Iowa, fifth round grade
21. Coryell Judie, Texas A&M, fifth round grade
22. Donnie Fletcher, Boston College, fifth round grade
23. Omar Boldin, Arizona State, fifth round grade
Which brings us to the last of the starting caliber corners in this draft, and a couple of significant injury concerns among this late fifth round group. Shaun Prater’s major knock is just his size, and the concerns that typically come with size: future injury and limited physicality.
24. Asa “Ace” Jackson, Cal Poly, sixth round grade
25. Trevin Wade, Arizona, sixth round grade
26. Jeremy Lane, Northwestern State (LA), seventh round grade
Most teams are looking for special teams help at this point in the draft, but with Trevin Wade, you get another guy that might have profiled as a higher pick (maybe a starter) in another draft. Here, he’s going to have to wait a bit to hear his name called, but the physical tools to succeed at this level are still there. This group is lacking in either ball skills or size, making these players a less than ideal fit to be drafted as starters in the NFL, but they are typically the kind of players who get fourth and fifth round grades, only ranking outside of the top 20 because of the strength of the class.
27. Coty Sensabough, Clemson, seventh round grade
28. Ron Brooks, LSU, seventh round grade
29. Charles Brown, North Carolina, seventh/priority UDFA
30. Keith Tandy, West Virginia, seventh/priority UDFA
31. Corey White, Samford, priority UDFA
32. Antonio Fenelus, Wisconsin, UDFA
33. Robert Golden, Arizona, UDFA
34. Chaz Powell, Penn State, UDFA
35. Terrence Frederick, Texas A&M, UDFA
36. Desmond Marrow, Toledo, UDFA
37. Cameron Chism, Maryland, UDFA
38. Cliff Harris, Oregon, UDFA
39. Vincent Moss, Mississippi, UDFA
40. Gary Gray, Notre Dame, UDFA
41. Royce Hill, North Texas, UDFA
42. Tashaun Gipson, Wyoming, UDFA
43. DeAndre Presley, Appalachian State, UDFA
44. D’Anton Lynn, Penn State, UDFA