Wednesday, April 16, 2014

2014 Cowboys Weekly Draft Notebook - Episode 13 - Cornerbacks

The cliche on draft weekend in the NFL has been repeated year after year after year.

"You always need a Cornerback."

And, teams always take cornerbacks.  There is never a bad time to get another athlete who can cover the numerous wideouts that are taking over the game.  Want to see the biggest shift in the NFL over the last 20 years?  Look at the use of 3, 4, or even sometimes a 5th Wide Receiver on the field at the same time.  Well, as that has shifted, the use of fullbacks has been nearly eliminated.  This cause and effect has made the defenses on the NFL load up on volume of corners and at the same time, it has also made them look and look for better quality at the position.

And how many corners have been taken in the last 3 NFL drafts?  Would you believe 99?  99 corners have been taken in the last 3 drafts with 39 in 2011, 31 in 2012, and 29 more in 2013.  They are plentiful in supply, but there is also a huge demand.  And that is why teams consider corner a reasonable pick at any time of the draft, regardless of their depth chart.

So, do the Cowboys need a corner this year?

Well, the 2012 massive investments of $50 million in Brandon Carr and $16 million and 1st and 2nd round picks in Morris Claiborne have not come close to satisfying the levels of expectations around here.  In fact, 2 years after the gigantic expenditures, we still sit here wondering if Orlando Scandrick is the best corner this team has.  That likely isn't true because Carr has been really solid most of the time, but the fact that this is even a discussion speaks volumes.  What does it say about the wonder kid from LSU that was supposed to give us thoughts of Deion Sanders?  The status of Claiborne gives fans indigestion and the bust label has been suggested.  However, the idea that if he was playing well we would be pondering a forth-coming extension that would make your eyes pop out of your head.  And that hasn't even been hinted.  And rightfully so.  For now, he appears to be far more Mike Jenkins, which is ironic because that is who he nudged out of town for identical reasons.  Of course, Jenkins played out his rookie contract and left town, which is the path Claiborne is on right now as well (save for the Pro Bowl Jenkins achieved in 2009).

BW Webb is the 4th corner, and we still don't know too much about his fine work as he enters his 2nd season, but his cost is such that he populates the roster without expectation level, and Sterling Moore is a veteran 5th corner who has proven capable when called upon.  So, as it stands now, I don't consider the position an area of need, but in 12 months, Brandon Carr may have his deal reviewed for cap relief and in 24 months Claiborne may wish to be paid handsomely (despite his performance to this point).  As you can see, you always need corners.

With the draft averaging 33 a season, we can't profile very many.  But, here are the Top 7 or so according to many resources.  I try to spend enough time to see 3 games worth of snaps from each of these prospects and then give you my personal views on their performance.

Let's take a look briefly at each of these corners that fit in the overall Top 50:

Justin Gilbert - Oklahoma State


PlayerHt   Wt   40/10        Vertical   
Justin Gilbert 6'02024.35/1.5535.5"

GamesTacklesINTsFFs 
51183122

One of the truly premium players in this draft is a player many of us are familiar with Gilbert from Stillwater.  He is a very big corner for a man of is speed and athleticism.  He also has kick return ability and has returned an incredible 6 all the way back for Touchdowns in his time in the Big 12.  That is a huge number for a 6-foot tall player.

He also has a 7-interception senior season as well as a 5-interception sophomore year.  This would suggest he has definite ball hawk ability and if you watched him against Case McCoy, you have no doubts about that anyway.

He plays in press coverage plenty, but also can play off and soft in a zone.  He is aggressive and I liked the way he would stick his nose in and take on the run.  He is going for that ball and appears to have some leadership skills as well.

There are some questions that abound about just how good his technique is as a cover man, and how often he bites for a double move.  Mike Davis was able to run by him and beat him deep, but it appears at times his quest for the ball gets him looking at the QB and falling for the occasional ball fake which gives his man an opening deep.  That will happen to any ball hawk and can certainly be cleaned up by homework and coaching.

Does he have flaws in his game?  Sure.  But, if I had to bet on one corner in this draft, I am pretty sure I would have to go with this one, because his upside flashes are really impressive.  And in a league that wants their corner to be big enough to tackle you and fast enough to catch you, along with hands that can reel in errant passes, well Justin Gilbert is your man.

Kyle Fuller - Virginia Tech 

PlayerHt   Wt   40/10        Vertical   
Kyle Fuller6'01904.43/1.5938.5"

GamesTacklesINTsFFs 
5117364

After Gilbert, there is some question about who the 2nd best corner is in this draft, but for me, I really like Kyle Fuller from Virginia Tech.  He is my kind of corner in that he is looking to put a hit on a running back who heads to his side of the field and can also cover quite well.  Then, when you let your guard down for a second, he blitzes from the blind side and crushes your QB.  And, since he plays for Frank Beamer, he also is totally sold out when you ask him to participate in your special teams - not that you always want a 1st round corner covering punts.  But, the key is he isn't above it.

There was one game that was different than the others that I watched with Fuller and it was against a Georgia Tech team that certainly is running a ton in an option scheme.  And that is where Fuller showed his versatility and basically played up at the line as a strong safety or a linebacker might and basically just crashed the backfield over and over.  This is not the cup of team of many corners on this list, but for Fuller, it was no big deal and he actually looked quite natural playing nearly the entire game at the line of scrimmage with the big boys.

As a cover man, he has proven that he can handle what is thrown at him.  His best game in this category in 2013 was likely on the big stage against Alabama and he was really, really solid against their wide outs.  He demonstrated great cover skills right on the hip of the speedsters, and while he played hurt as he damaged his shoulder on run support, he was still able to do his part to try to keep the Hokies in that game (in vain).

I just think this guy is a real find and a player worth investment.  He plays very hard and with an edge and also runs well, has good hips, and to me looks like the best pure cover corner in the draft.  There are questions about whether he can play his style and stay on the field, but that is awful difficult to project on draft day.

I would take him in the first round without concern.  He is a very strong player.

Jason Verrett - Texas Christian

PlayerHt   Wt   40/10        Vertical   
Jason Verrett 5'91894.41/1.5739"

GamesTacklesINTsFFs 
37160 9 1

Verrett is another player that I have enjoyed watching locally for the last few years and every time I saw him I had the distinct feeling that I was watching a NFL corner before he got to the league.  He plays the style that gets these guys paid and always has under Gary Patterson.

Of course, that means if you are going to survive long-term as a player who is under the ideal height and under the ideal weight, you better have a body that can sustain the punishment.  And that might be the one reason that Verrett falls a bit.  Undersized corners are the last thing that NFL teams want to reach for when their are generally 3 dozen draft-able corners in a given year.

Otherwise, there is plenty to enjoy from his reel.  He is a real press cover guy who flies up to tackle.  He wants to smash your underneath receivers and closes fast going forward.  He has blitz skills off the edge and is playing ultra aggressive to jump routes, knowing he has safety cover over the top.

Now, he plays with tons of emotion, and we can see that crossing the line occasionally, but that often goes with the position at the next level.

Technique wise, I am not sure I can see him having huge success as a press corner on Sundays, because getting in a pushing match at the snap with the strong WRs who weigh 220 just won't go well consistently, so you better pick your spots.

I think you take this guy and you blitz him off the slot in a role that Orlando Scandrick holds here in Dallas.  A physical slot guy who can stick with the receivers that work underneath is his preferred spot that I see, although I am sure he can survive out wide, too.  I just don't know how high you want to go here, because again, he is very small.  But, he doesn't play small.  He plays like a warrior and I really like his overall game.

Darqueze Dennard - Michigan State

PlayerHt   Wt   40/10        Vertical   
Darqueze Dennard 5'111994.42/1.63 -----

GamesTacklesINTsFFs 
44167103

Yet another of my 1st round corners would be Dennard from Michigan State.  I am not sure I like him as much as most (I believe the general opinion has him above both Fuller and Verrett as the 2nd best corner in this crop) but there is plenty to like here.

He is a very physical corner with blitz skills and he really enjoys blitz opportunities.  Michigan State would have him out on an island on a regular basis and he generally did a nice job of passing tests where he was asked to cover without any help whatsoever.

You can see him sniffing out bubble screens and crashing down on run plays with great conviction.  There are some corners that have very little use for physical play, but I think Dennard is not going to have any problem hitting as much as the big guys do on your defense.  He seems to really enjoy the in-your-face coverage and attempting to make you fight for every reception you are going to get off of him on a given day.  He will battle hard, and I will always take a chance on that type of guy.

The biggest problem with Dennard leads back to the questions about why you see him clutching and grabbing so much.  The way NFL officials attempt to police the technique of the defensive backs, you are taught quickly that the guys who cover by grabbing handfuls of the man they are covering may not have the right to be called great cover men.  That's ok, because there are a lot of corners who manage to get by without being gloves, and Dennard has never struggled.  Just be prepared for a periodic flag with this guy, especially in the slot with the quick guys.

But, he has exceptional ball skills and he will go get that ball.

Now, there are a few more durability concerns here, including the very disconcerting concussion history that is enough to scare a few off the player in Round 1.  But, I think he is a real physical player who would be welcomed in a lot of places as the 1st round develops.


Bradley Roby - Ohio State

PlayerHt   Wt   40/10        Vertical   
Bradley Roby  5'111944.35/1.5338.5"

GamesTacklesINTsFFs 
3617981

As my friend Bryan Broaddus tells me, there are 33 flavors out there and not everyone is going to care for every flavor.  It doesn't mean he isn't a fine player with a fine future, but he is not for me.  That is the case with Bradley Roby from Ohio State.

I watched 3 different game to write him up - Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State.  And I was given a distinctly different view of him in each game.  Against Michigan, I saw the top end speed as he ran a few plays down from behind that were phenomenal shows of ability.  He is super fast and plays like it.  But, after watching this game (which I think we can all agree would be considered the biggest of games for an Ohio State) I was hoping to hear he was playing hurt.  Because he played a very passive style where I saw him passing on hits and not really fighting to get off blocks at a disturbing level.  He honestly looked like a track athlete playing football and while I promise that is not his normal posture - he has 179 career tackles in just 36 games - to see that bothered me quite a bit.

Then, against Wisconsin in another huge game for the Buckeyes, he was more physical, but Jared Abbrederis had his way with Roby all night in a way that suggest his cover skills are not the type that get you all excited, either.

He blitzes and does many of the things you look for in a corner, but man, I saw him get beat too much leading one to wonder about his football sense and whether or not he has that feel for the game that you look for and assume each player has.

This one is a tough study for sure and to be totally satisfied with my findings, I would like to grab 3 more games and start over with him.  He clearly has all sorts of ability and tests very well for all of his athletic attributes, but then you put on his tape and you see a guy who frustrates you a lot.  He played well at Ohio State which speaks loudly, so I try not to forget that.  But, man, I am just not sure he is a natural football player.

Marcus Roberson - Florida 

PlayerHt   Wt   40/10        Vertical   
Marcus Roberson  6'01914.64/1.6137.5"

GamesTacklesINTsFFs 
305631

And now, the exact opposite of Roby.  A player who does not test well and ran a time that freaks people out because a corner cannot run a 4.64 40.  In fact, I can see teams saying they don't want to touch Marcus Roberson because their stop watch took him off their board.

But, put on the tape.  He does not play slow at all.  In fact, he is Florida's punt return option and did it quite well.  He is very quick with the ball in his hands and has solid instincts there for sure.

As a cover man, he is a very solid man to man cover guy who can be very physical with his receiver.  He is quite athletic and smooth and seriously doesn't look close to a slow corner.  He defends very well in most occasions and I have no doubt that he can handle himself in coverage.

There are holes in his game as I don't think that he is particularly dying to stick his nose in there on run support, either.  But, he is still a nice player that I could see in Round 2.

He looks like a player who understands what is asked of him and plays his assignment well.  But, he is clearly down a tier or two from the top premium types.


Stanley Jean-Baptiste - Nebraska 

PlayerHt   Wt   40/10        Vertical   
Stanley Jean-Baptiste 6'22184.57/1.5841.5"

GamesTacklesINTsFFs 
367470

Finally, in this world where everyone is looking to build and copy the Seattle Seahawks secondary with giants at every spot, this Nebraska corner has received all sorts of coverage this spring as the type of guy who is in the right place at the right time.  He is in the draft after the Seahawks have won the Super Bowl.  If ever a tall corner was going to get over-drafted to balance out Richard Sherman lasting until the 5th round, it is Jean-Baptiste.

Well, someone else can over-draft him.

Of all of the corners I watched, this is the one that I am not recommending until the 3rd or 4th round. He looks like a safety trying to play corner and that is not a compliment.  He is stiff and not as quick as I need a corner to be.  His change of direction is difficult and in the open field against a quick and shifty receiver he is very stressed to bring the man down.

A corner has to be able to navigate through thick traffic when trailing on a crossing pattern over the middle, and I saw Jean-Baptiste get hung up on bodies too often.

Now, let me clear because I see that I am coming across as harsh.  He may have a future as a safety or even as linebacker.  He can clearly play football well.  I just am not buying that every big corner is the next market inefficiency.  Richard Sherman excels because he is big, with the mobility to stay with whatever receiver you throw at him.  He does not have tight hips - even though he clearly was not thought of highly on his draft day.  I think Stanley is big, yes.  But, I don't think he possesses what I need for a guy out on an island in the NFL.

At the right price, I may take a shot, but I am not sure I would put him on a Top 100 list for draft weekend.

=====

My summary is this:  Gilbert, Fuller, Verrett, and Dennard are all very solid corners who can be starters for years.  I have major questions about Roby, Roberson looks promising but only at the right price, and Jean-Baptiste is not my cup of tea.

We are now up to 75 players profiled overall, with any that you missed now listed below.  Next week, I will not do a position, but rather I will add a few missed prospects that I have been meaning to do.

We still haven't touched centers, running backs, or tight ends, but I might just let those positions go as I don't see the Cowboys getting in those spots in the top 3 rounds (I hope).

Past Draft Profiles:

Weekly Notebook - Wide Receivers - Episode 12 - Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins, Odell Beckham, Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee, Brandin Cooks, Jordan Matthews, Kelvin Benjamin, Davante Adams

Big Board #1 - April 3, 2014

Weekly Notebook - Quarterbacks - Episode 10 - Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, David Fales, Zach Mettenberger, Jimmy Garoppolo

Weekly Notebook - Offensive Guards - Episode 9 - David Yankey, Xavier Sua Filo, Gabe Jackson, Cyril Richardson, Brandon Thomas, Dakota Dozier

Weekly Notebook - Offensive Tackles - Episode 8 - Jake Matthews, Greg Robinson, Taylor Lewan, Zack Martin, Cyrus Kouandijo, Antonio Richardson, Jack Mewhort, Morgan Moses, Billy Turner

Weekly Notebook - Linebackers - Episode 7 - Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr, Ryan Shazier, Kyle Van Noy, CJ Mosley, Telvin Smith, Jeremiah Attaochu, Carl Bradford 

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