(A series looking at the top players at various positions leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft, set for April 25-27.)
This is the one matchup from the most recent BCS Championship Game that still isn't talked about that much. Maybe that's because through the efforts of Dee Milliner, coupled with the nature of such a matchup, there really wasn't much to talk about.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban assigned Milliner, his 6-foot, 201-pound cornerback, to the one Notre Dame offensive player who posed a potential matchup problem for the Crimson Tide – that coming in the form of 6-6 Tyler Eifert, the best receiving tight end in college football. It was Milliner and Eifert, one-on-one, to open the game.
Notre Dame tried to get the ball to Eifert twice on its first series, and Milliner was right there both times, and he broke up the attempt on third-and-2 that set up a three-and-out. On Notre Dame's next possession, again the play was called for Eifert, this time on a third-and-10, and again Milliner was there to defend and the Irish punted again. By the time the Notre Dame offense got its next chance to go at Milliner, the Irish were in a 21-0 hole. Milliner finished with three tackles and two passes defensed, and with that little cherry atop his career he left little doubt as to the identity of the first cornerback to be drafted when the NFL gets around to such issues this Thursday night.
How high might Milliner be selected? It seems inconceivable that the 10 teams at the top of the first round have two cornerbacks better than him, so …
After Milliner gets picked, expect the next set of cornerbacks drafted to include Florida State's Xavier Rhodes (6-2, 210), the Mississippi State tandem of Darius Slay (6-0, 192) and Johnthan Banks (6-2, 185), Washington's Desmond Trufant (6-0, 190), and Boise State's Jamar Taylor (5-11, 192).
If bloodlines have anything to do with it, Trufant will be drafted early, because he has two brothers who have played the position in the NFL. In 2003, the Seattle Seahawks made Marcus Trufant the 11th overall pick of that draft, and he started 125 games during his 10 seasons there while contributing 21 interceptions and 102 passes defensed. Marcus Trufant currently is an unrestricted free agent. Another brother, Isaiah, is currently on the New York Jets roster.
As for Desmond, he started 38 games over his final three college seasons during which he had 27 passes defensed and four interceptions. A former team captain, Desmond Trufant has experience as a gunner on the punt team and also should benefit from the trickle-down effect of having brothers who are NFL players.
Rhodes originally was recruited to Florida State as a receiver, but the switch to cornerback was made quickly upon his arrival in Tallahassee. In 2010, he was voted ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year when he finished with 58 tackles, 12 passes defensed, four interceptions, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks. He recorded one interception in 2011 and three more in 2012, and he will enter the NFL with the correct size and length to play press coverage.
Which is the better of the Mississippi State cornerbacks? Banks is the definitive pick over Slay, but that's not to mean that Slay won't be on an NFL roster come September.
Slay spent two seasons at Itawamba Junior College before going to Mississippi State where he was a situational player in 2011 who finished with one interception and four passes defensed. A full-time starter in 2012, Slay put up five interceptions, six passes defensed, five tackles-for-loss, and one blocked kick. Slay might require some patience from the team drafting him, but his experience on special teams could make him worth the wait.
Banks got himself onto the field right away, and as a freshman in 2009 he ended up starting seven games at free safety where he made a name for himself in a game against Florida by intercepting two Tim Tebow passes and returning both for touchdowns – for 20 and 100 yards. In 2010 Banks was shifted to left cornerback, and that became his spot for the rest of his college career. He recorded three interceptions in 2010, five in 2011, and four more in 2012 during a season in which he was voted a team captain and the winner of the Jim Thorpe Award. Physically, Banks resembles Seattle's Richard Sherman, and he likes to play the same kind of press, ball-hawking style.
Taylor earned playing time in every game of his freshman season of 2008, but he ended up having his career stalled by a medical redshirt in 2009 after he tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee. Over the next three seasons – with the exception of a one-game suspension for violating team rules and four missed with a stress fracture in his leg – Taylor was a productive starter for Boise State. He accumulated 17 passes defensed and six interceptions over those seasons, and he left college as a team captain and with his diploma.
Here are three other names to remember – Logan Ryan from Rutgers, Jordan Poyer from Oregon State, and Blidi Wreh-Wilson from Connecticut.
Ryan (5-11, 191) broke up 30 passes and had seven interceptions over his final two college seasons, and the core special teams ability he will bring with him should serve his new team well as he learns the defense and the way of NFL offenses.
Poyer (6-0, 191) tied for second in the nation with seven interceptions last season, and he returned an interception for a touchdown in each of his final three college seasons. He also returned a punt for a touchdown in 2011.
Wreh-Wilson (6-1, 195) played basketball and soccer until he was a senior in high school. In four college seasons, he had 27 passes defensed and eight interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns, and one coming in triple overtime vs. Louisville in 2011. He was a two-time team captain.
THE 2012 NFL DRAFT, CB STATISTICS
Number drafted: 32
Picks by round: 3 in the first; 2 in the second; 5 in the third; 4 in the fourth; 6 in the fifth; 6 in the sixth; 6 in the seventh
Highest pick: Morris Claiborne, LSU, Round 1, 6th overall, by Dallas
Biggest impact: Janoris Jenkins of North Alabama was a second-round pick of the St. Louis Rams, and in 14 starts he finished with four interceptions and three touchdowns.