The Atlanta Falcons announced today that they are using their franchise tag on CB Brent Grimes. Jason LaCanfora reports that the Tennessee Titans are likely to tag CB Cortland Finnegan . (Update: ESPN's Adam Schefter now reports that the Titans won't tag Finnegan and LaCanfora has backed off to "possibly" instead of "likely")
There is a clear message here to the NFL as the draft is approaching: tenacity can trump level of competition and size when it comes to scouting corner prospects.
Neither Grimes nor Finnegan got an invite to the 2006 combine.
Finnegan's excellent pro-day numbers at Samford did get him drafted, but only with the seventh pick of the seventh round. Grimes went undrafted and had to do a stint in NFL Europa to prove himself to the Falcons.
Both had the problem of marginal size, coming in under 5'10," 180 pounds. Now they are considered elite #1 corners and their teams are willing to pay them like one, in order to keep their services this year.
Who among this year's class could be another Finnegan/Grimes?
Justin Bethal, Presbyterian - Bethal's 76 3/4" wingspan in combination with the 39.5" vertical he posted at the combine (he was the first player ever from his South Carolina school to be invited) will get him draft on potential and kick blocking ability alone.
He's physical and aggressive like our small school franchise tag wonders.
Ryan Steed, Furman - Steed is another aggressive small school corner who played his college ball in the state of South Carolina. There are questions about his long speed and ability to play outside of a cover-2 scheme.
Steed had good games against Brian Quick, an Appalachian State wideout who is one of the top sleepers in the mid-rounds this year.
Asa Jackson, Cal-Poly - Jackson fits the Finnegan/Grimes mold to a tee. He is tough and doesn't back down from any challenges. His size and strength are less than ideal, but he's fast, quick, and most importantly, very competitive.
National Football Post's Wes Bunting does a terrific job running down the "best small school CB class in years", which includes that trio, plus guys with big school talent like North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins and Coastal Carolina's Josh Norman.
The draft world, like the NFL, has taken notice of how pedigree is meaning less and less at a position that can make or break a team's season.