(A series looking at the top players at various positions leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, set for April 30-May 2.)
Waynes suffered a significant injury as a senior in high school when he fractured both his fibula and ankle and also tore ligaments, and that likely slowed his progress once he got to Michigan State. Before that injury in high school, Waynes ran a 4.36 in the 40-yard dash at the 2010 Midwest Ultimate 100 Camp. After taking a redshirt as a freshman in 2011, Waynes (6-foot, 186 pounds) was a reserve in 2012 before becoming a full-time starter in 2013. Over the next two seasons, Waynes finished with 96 tackles, 13 passes defensed, and six interceptions. During 2013, he was voted Michigan State's Tommy Love Award (most improved player on defense). Waynes is generally regarded as the top cornerback prospect, at least partly because he competes in man-to-man and is mentally tough. He was asked to play a lot of single coverage in college and did it successfully, to the point where he allowed just two touchdowns over last two seasons. At the NFL Scouting Combine Waynes ran a 4.31, which was the fastest time among all cornerbacks there. However, scouts believe Waynes is going to have to adjust to the way the NFL game is officiated in terms of how much grabbing and hand-play is allowed beyond 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. But Waynes has too many other things going for him for that to derail what looks like a promising professional career.
Whichever team picks the 6-2, 203-pound Collins is going to have to get over the fact he played three seasons at LSU but only started 10 games. Collins, in fact wasn't even a full-time starter in 2014. After taking a redshirt in 2011, Collins started once and played in all 13 games in 2012 during which he finished with two interceptions and six passes defensed. The following year, Collins made two starts, and in 2014 he started seven of the 13 games in which he played. After having two interceptions in 2012, Collins had just one more at LSU. He also had surgery on his foot after the Combine, but there are reports that he would be ready by the time his new team heads to minicamp. But while Collins lacks the experience of being a full-time starter, he has the height, speed, and weight the NFL prefers at this position, he played well against Alabama's Amari Cooper, he's willing in run support, and was a solid gunner on the LSU punt team. Collins is going to have to work on his technique, which makes him something of a project, but there is a belief among some scouts that he could become great.
A problem? Or a guy who was made an example by a new coach/regime? During the same 2011 season in which he was named scout team MVP, Peters (6-0, 197) also tested positive for marijuana use. In 2012, he started the final eight games for the Washington Huskies and played in all 13, during which he had three interceptions and eight passes defensed. In 12 starts in 2013, Peters added five interceptions and nine passes defensed; and in 2014 he started seven of the first eight games, and before being kicked off the team he had three interceptions and seven passes defensed. His troubles started in 2014 when he was suspended for one game after he head-butted a player from Eastern Washington. That started a downward spiral that ended with first-year coach Chris Peterson kicking Peters off the team. Strictly from a physical/performance standpoint, Peters is largely considered the top cornerback prospect in this draft. His size, speed, ball skills, ability to find the ball – all of it – is what NFL teams require at the position. Remember, Peters had 11 interceptions and 24 passes defensed in 34 career college games. But does Peters have the discipline to succeed in the NFL, both on the field where technique and patience are critical, and off the field where the temptations are plentiful?
As a freshman in 2010, Johnson (6-0, 188) played in 11 games with five starts for Wake Forest, but he was ruled academically ineligible in 2011 and had to take a redshirt. He started 24 games during the 2012-13 seasons and had six interceptions and 27 passes defensed during that span. In 2014, playing under a new coaching staff, Johnson added one more interception and six passes defensed to his statistical totals. Johnson has a lot of the physical traits NFL scouts seek in a cornerback – good feet, good balance, a smooth backpedal, good athleticism. Johnson is a three-year starting cornerback who showed great improvement in man coverage from 2013 to 2014, and he will be able to play gunner on special teams as well.
View some of the top 2015 NFL draft prospects at the cornerback position.
During his high school days in Maryland, Darby was the state champion in both the 100 and 200 meters, and he also was a member of the gold-medal winning USA medley relay team in the 2011 World Youth Championships. Darby (5-11, 193) originally signed with Notre Dame only to de-commit and go to Florida State. He was voted ACC Rookie of the Year in 2012; in 2013, Darby started nine of 14 games for the national champion Seminoles, and in 2014 he dealt with a nagging hamstring injury throughout the season. He had just two interceptions at Florida State. Darby is a cover cornerback with great speed but only average size. He has shown the ability to be effective in both off-coverage and press man-to-man. He's not going to be great in run support, but this is the modern NFL Darby is joining and so that shouldn't inhibit his path to an eventual starting job.
Usually it's a free safety in football whose job is compared to that of a center fielder, but in this case it was a cornerback who turned down a chance to be an actual center fielder. Golson (5-9, 176) was good enough as a high school baseball player to be drafted on the eighth round by the Boston Red Sox and offered a $1.1 million contract to play center field. Golson instead enrolled at Mississippi, where he played cornerback for four years and finished with 16 interceptions, including an SEC-leading 10 in 2014. One of those interceptions saved Mississippi's upset win over Alabama. Golson is competitive, fast, his statistics prove he has good ball skills, and he has many of the other physical traits required to play the cornerback position at a high level. But he's small, slight, too. Golson is well-built for his size, but his height could have some NFL teams thinking he'll be nothing more than a slot-defender.
Grant (5-10, 200) attended the same Akron high school as LeBron James, and while there he was a state champion in both the 60-meter hurdles and 110-meter hurdles. In 2012 at Ohio State, he backed up Bradley Roby, who went on to be a No. 1 pick in the NFL, but over the next two seasons Grant started all 29 games and finished with eight interceptions and 19 passes defensed during that span. He was a team captain. Grant plays the ball well and is smart, with a willingness to tackle. In fact, he is seen as the best tackling cornerback in this draft.
THE 2014 NFL DRAFT, DB STATISTICS
Number drafted: 53
Picks by round: 9 in the first; 2 in the second; 4 in the third; 13 in the fourth; 7 in the fifth; 9 in the sixth; 9 in the seventh
Highest pick: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State, Round 1, 8th overall by the Cleveland Browns
Biggest impact: There are two from which to choose. Kyle Fuller started right away for the Chicago Bears, and he had three interceptions in his first three games. Injuries then slowed him, but he still made 15 starts and finished with four interceptions, 10 passes defensed, and three forced fumbles. Bashaud Breeland started 15 games for the Washington Redskins, and he finished with two interceptions, 13 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and held Dallas' Dez Bryant to three catches for 30 yards in one of their meetings.