The 2012 NFL Draft features a talented group of cornerbacks. This is good news for defensive coordinators who are having a tough time adjusting to rule changes that allow receivers to catch the ball without fear of being sent to the hospital.
These rule changes made the Year of the Quarterback possible. Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford all passed for over 5,000 yards last season. Prior to 2011, only two quarterbacks had ever reached that mark.
The pass-happy NFL does not just have quarterbacks smiling; ask Nnamdi Asomugha who signed a $60 million contract last offseason. Because of the rule changes, there is now a premium for shutdown corners who have the "do not throw it to his side" reputation.
This slideshow will highlight the eight best cornerbacks in this year's draft and predict their landing spots.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers earned themselves a top-five selection with a disappointing 2011 campaign after nearly making the playoffs in 2010.
New head coach Greg Schiano is going to have to revamp the league's worst defense for them to improve. Morris Claiborne, the top defensive prospect in the draft, will be selected to help turn things around in Tampa.
Claiborne's strength in college was staying close enough to the receiver so that he could extend his entire body towards the ball just before it arrived. This, combined with his reliable hands, has resulted in 11 interceptions and a staggering 274 interception return yards over the last two years.
With Ronde Barber considering retirement and Aqib Talib facing possible jail time, Claiborne will likely be starting in 2012. This will be no easy task as he will be facing Cam Newton, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees two times a year.
The Cincinnati Bengals have one of the brightest futures in the NFL. Led by rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, the Bengals overcame the odds to earn a trip to the playoffs in 2011.
With two first-round picks in the 2012 NFL Draft, they have the opportunity to add the talent necessary to take out the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North.
The Bengals will select Janoris Jenkins to be their future lockdown corner.
Despite giving up just above 200 passing yards per game, Cincinnati desperately needs a cornerback. Nate Clements' talent is fading and Leon Hall is still recovering from an Achilles injury.
Measuring in at 5'10" and 191 pounds, Jenkins plays like Asante Samuel. In 2010, Jenkins looked dominant against Alshon Jeffery, Julio Jones and A.J. Green. He would be the first corner drafted this year if he did not get kicked out of Florida.
His off the field issues landed him at the University of North Alabama where he excelled as a corner and return man against inferior talent.
Jenkins has the highest potential out of all the cornerbacks in this years draft. As long as he can continue to stay out of trouble, he will earn himself a Asomugha-like contract in the future.
San Francisco had the most dominant defense in the NFL last season. With Alex Smith finally blossoming, it might seem that Jim Harbaugh would go for a wide receiver with this pick. However, since they are a run-first team, wide receiver is not a first-round priority.
They will select Dre Kirkpatrick with the 30th pick to address their iffy secondary. Carlos Rogers will be a high-priced free agent who may not be coming back. Assuming this happens, the 49ers will lack a corner good enough to cover opposing teams' No. 1 target.
At 6'2" and 190 pounds, Kirkpatrick has the ideal size to match up with the bigger receivers in the league. He has made a lot of big plays in his career by following the eyes of the quarterback. However, it leaves him susceptible to giving up the big play.
If Kirkpatrick can learn to consistently judge plays correctly, he will be one of the many 49ers' defenders headed to the Pro Bowl year after year.
The New England Patriots had the second worst pass defense in the NFL last season. A possible reason for this is because opposing offenses had to air it out to keep up with Tom Brady. But when wide receiver Julian Edelman is starting in the secondary, there is clearly a problem.
The Patriots will select Stephon Gilmore to ensure that Edelman never has to play another defensive snap.
Gilmore is a tall, physical cornerback who has a quick burst to the ball. He has a good feel for what is going on around him and can use his long arms to deflect passes. He has the tendency to charge too quickly at oncoming ball carriers, which can result in him overrunning the play.
If Gilmore sees enough of the field in 2012, he'll chance to prove himself as one of the better corners in this year's draft.
The Minnesota Vikings gave up the most passing touchdowns in the NFL last season. With the third overall pick in the first round, they will be tempted to select Morris Claiborne, but will choose offensive tackle Matt Kalil instead.
The Vikings will jump on the best cornerback available in the second round and pick Chase Minnifield to help stop the bleeding on defense.
Minnifield is one of the most athletic cornerbacks in this year's draft. On paper, his long extremities and good speed seem to equate to a shutdown corner. Minnifield has a quick burst that allows him to break up plays in the backfield on corner blitzes. However, he still needs to improve his tackling. He tends to not break down when sprinting towards the ball carrier.
He will see playing time very early in his career. Antoine Winfield will be 35-years-old next season and former second-round selection Chris Cook's production has suffered from off-the-field distractions.
The Carolina Panthers will address their secondary in the second round after selecting a wide receiver for Cam Newton to toy around with in the first.
Brandon Boykin will be selected by the Panthers to fill their need for a quality cornerback to compliment Chris Gamble.
Boykin often lets receivers get too big of a cushion when running short inside routes, but he closes on them quickly to limit the yards after the catch. Boykin is good at using his speed to fly into the knees of ball carriers. While this is an effective way to make a tackle (especially for a 5'10" 183-pound corner), it could cause him to miss tackles against stronger runners in the NFL.
Boykin is one of the most exciting and versatile athletes in this year's draft. He is Georgia's "leader in career kickoff returns yards with 2,663 (110 ret.), which ranks second in SEC history," according to CBSSports.com.
Last season he had two receiving touchdowns, a rushing touchdown and a punt return for a touchdown.
He was able to get good separation running routes out of the backfield last season, and would make the Panther's offense that much more dangerous if they decide to line him up at running back every now and again.
Following the 2011 season, Alfonzo Dennard was projected to be a first rounder, but his draft stock took a hit following the Senior Bowl.
The Dallas Cowboys will consider taking a cornerback in the first round, but will opt for center Peter Konz instead. They will jump on Dennard in the second round to address their secondary.
The Cowboys are in need of depth at cornerback. Terrance Newman is slowing down and Mike Jenkins has yet to live up to his potential. Dennard will be able to start in nickle packages playing against the slot receiver.
Dennard is very quick and can stay glued to a receiver inside of 10 yards. Anywhere beyond that, he will struggle. He lacks the height to guard big receivers and the speed to cover deep routes.
Dennard will have success in the nickle package, but lacks the skills to cover opposing teams' No.1 targets.
The Chicago Bears can never have enough talented cornerbacks on their roster considering they have to play against Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford twice a year. Currently, they are facing a big dilemma as Zackary Bowman, Corey Graham and Tim Jennings are all free agents this offseason.
In the second round the Bears will select Trumaine Johnson, a big corner from a small school. At 6'2" and 204 pounds, Johnson is built like Nnamdi Asomugha and has as much upside as any corner in this year's draft.
Similar to Janoris Jenkins, Johnson's stock is low because he played for a small school. Johnson is very raw, but has the potential to be a lockdown corner. He is not as fluid in his movements as other corners in this draft. Other than that, he is a fearless player with decent speed and great leaping ability.
It might take him a few years to develop, but once he does he will earn the right to line up across from Calvin Johnson.