(A series looking at the top players at various positions leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft, set for May 8-10.)
Do a Google search on "2014 NFL Draft cornerbacks," and you'll get over 15,000 matches. Not that there are that many of them available to be picked starting on May 8, but there is no doubt the topic is one with broad interest.
Count on there being a lot of interest in cornerbacks when Roger Goodell opens the draft for business on Thursday night, and before the proceeding recesses until Friday there already could be a handful of the top prospects plucked from the pool of talent.
The five cornerbacks generally identified as having first-round potential are Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard, Kyle Fuller, Bradley Roby and Jason Verrett.
Check out photos of potential draft prospects. (Photos by AP)
Gilbert, 6-foot, 202 pounds, posted some impressive interception/return statistics during his seasons at Oklahoma State. In four seasons as a kickoff returner, Gilbert averaged over 25 yards each season and scored six total touchdowns. As a cornerback he intercepted 12 passes over three seasons and returned two of those for touchdowns. Gilbert ended his college career with eight non-offensive touchdowns, including six on kickoff returns (one shy of the NCAA record). After running a 4.37, Gilbert looks to have established himself as the cornerback who will be the first one picked on May 8, but the team picking him won't be getting a physical player. In fact, there is video where it seems as though Gilbert is trying to figure a way to have a teammate be the guy to make the tackle.
His name is pronounced "DAR-kwez duh-NARD." Dennard, 5-11, 199, is the opposite of Gilbert when it comes to the physical aspects of the sport. A team captain at Michigan State, Dennard (pictured above) won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back in 2013 when he finished with 14 passes defensed, four interceptions, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles. After that season, Dennard had double-hernia surgery. He is described as a player who's accountable and has leadership traits, and Dennard plays cornerback with intensity, competitiveness, and confidence.
Fuller, 6-0, 190, arrived at Virginia Tech in 2010 and he played in 12 games as a freshman with six starts. By 2011 he was a full-time starter, and over his final three seasons Fuller had 22 passes defensed, four interceptions, and 6.5 sacks. He also missed four games in 2013 after needing sports hernia surgery. Fuller ran a 4.49, and he played his senior college season as a 21-year-old. He managed only 12 repetitions in the bench press at the Combine.
Roby, 5-11, 194, redshirted in 2010, and over his next three seasons at Ohio State he started 35 games during which he posted 36 passes defensed and eight interceptions. He scored two touchdowns in 2013 – on a blocked punt against Northwestern and a 63-yard interception return vs. Illinois. Roby ran a 4.39 and he also posted a 38.5-inch vertical jump. He has good size to go along with that speed, and he has shown good ball skills. He was used to rush the passer, as a kick-blocker on special teams, and as a gunner on the punt team. Roby should be able to contribute right away as a nickel cornerback and on special teams as he learns the nuances of defense in the NFL.
If Verrett was two inches taller than his 5-9, and 10 pounds heavier than his 189, he very well could have been the first cornerback picked in this draft. That's because Verrett runs a 4.38 and went to TCU in 2011 as the No. 6 junior college defensive back in the country before getting markedly better. In 2012-13, Verrett posted 30 passes defensed and eight interceptions. In 2012, he led the Big 12 with six interceptions, and in 2013 Verrett was voted co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the year. In 2012, Verrett played two games with a torn meniscus, and in 2013 he played most of a season with a torn labrum sustained in the third game. Verrett is quick, feisty, and he shows good reactions and makeup speed. He has good ball skills, is a willing tackler vs. the run, but he is going to be limited by his height and slight frame.
THE 2013 NFL DRAFT, CB STATISTICS
Number drafted: 29
Picks by round: 4 in the first; 5 in the second; 7 in the third; 1 in the fourth; 5 in the fifth; 1 in the sixth; 6 in the seventh
Highest pick: Dee Milliner, Round 1, ninth overall, by the New York Jets
Biggest impact: Ryan Logan was a No. 3 pick, the 83rd selection overall, by the New England Patriots, and he finished 2013 by leading all NFL rookies with five interceptions, one of which he returned 79 yards for a touchdown. Logan played in all 16 games and started seven, and he also had 1.5 sacks and 10 passes defensed.