Throughout the course of the NFL Scouting Combine, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen will bring you his daily notebook from Indianapolis.
Justin Gilbert Looks Like the Top Cornerback in the 2014 Class
Justin Gilbert already has the tape to showcase his man-coverage ability, ball skills and his overall impact as a returner in the kicking game. He’s a first-round talent on film.
And given his size/measureables (6’0”, 202 pounds, 33.125" arms), plus the official 4.37 40 time he produced on Tuesday, I have no problem calling him the top cornerback in the 2014 class at this point in the draft process.
Gilbert showed the ability to lower his base during workouts, flip the hips and drive to the football. A playmaker outside of the numbers, the Oklahoma State product made some money on the field inside of Lucas Oil Stadium.
Clinton-Dix, Pryor Solidify Their First-Round Grades at Safety
At the safety position, I look for 40 times in the 4.5 range. That’s enough speed for middle-of-the-field/deep-half defenders, as technique, range and the ability to identify concepts allow safeties to play faster on Sundays.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (6’1”, 208 pounds) ran an official 4.58 time, but I was more concerned with his field work during the positional drills. The Alabama product looked smooth transitioning (open hips), changing directions and he did showcase the range to go get the football. He's a nice fit for a team looking to upgrade at the free-safety position.
Calvin Pryor, who also ran a 4.58 40, displayed the ability to plant and drive on the ball, sink the hips and come out of his breaks with a burst during the workout. Pryor is a more physical prospect that plays with a downhill style to the football, but I believe he can line up at either free or strong on Sundays because of his overall skill set.
The bottom line with both Clinton-Dix and Pryor: They are first-round talents at a position that is becoming a premium need for NFL defenses.
Size at the Cornerback Position
Everyone wants size at the cornerback position given the matchups today’s NFL offenses present outside of the numbers and down in the red zone.
Think of the deep-curl, comeback, dig and post routes out in the field (or the fade/slant combination in the red zone) that put stress on defensive backs because of the leverage receivers can create at the point of attack.
On Tuesday, Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Utah’s Keith McGill both showcased their size/athletic ability during workouts.
Check out these numbers:
Jean-Baptiste: 6’3’”, 218 pounds, 4.61 40, 41.5" vertical
McGill: 6’3”, 211 pounds, 4.51 40, 39" vertical
After watching these two corners practice in Mobile, Ala., there is no question they need pro coaching to develop their overall technique. That’s why it’s very important for league evaluators to do their homework on Jean-Baptiste and McGill when they hand out final grades. But it's tough to ignore that amount of size at the position.
Odds and Ends
- Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard (5’11”, 199 pounds) showed some flexibility issues, and he can get too high in his pedal. However, with his ability to win from a press position, plus a 40 time in the low 4.5 range, he should be expected to carry a first-round grade into the draft.
- TCU’s Jason Verrett (5’9”, 189 pounds) posted a 4.38 official 40 time and looked fluid during drill work. The cornerback can really accelerate out of his breaks. Love the footwork he put on display out on the field.
- Ohio State’s Bradley Roby also impressed with his speed on Tuesday. Projected as an inside/sub-package defender, Roby recorded a 4.39 40 time.
- I came away from the Senior Bowl last month impressed with Washington State safety Deone Bucannon. At 6’1”, 211 pounds, he is a physical, downhill safety. During the workouts, his movement skills were better than expected for a player many think is limited in the deep-middle/deep half. And his 4.49 40 time should draw some attention.
- Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines is a player I need to evaluate further. At 6’0”, 193 pounds, Gaines clocked in at an official 4.38 time on Tuesday. That’s a lot of speed for his size.
- Florida State safety Terrence Brooks stood out at the Senior Bowl because of his footwork/transition skills. On Tuesday, he checked in with a 4.42 40. That’s an excellent time for a safety.
- Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller helped himself Tuesday with a 4.49 40 time, a 38.5" vertical jump and a solid workout on the field. Fuller has the size (6’0”, 190 pounds) NFL teams want outside of the numbers.
- Pierre Desir (Lindenwood) didn’t produce a great 40 time (4.59), but after seeing him compete at the Senior Bowl, he is a prospect to watch with his size/length at the cornerback position (6’1”, 198, 33" arms).
- I can’t quite figure out Baylor’s Ahmad Dixon (6’0”, 212 pounds). The safety posted a 4.64 40 time on Tuesday and had an up-and-down week at the Senior Bowl.
- Disappointing 40 time for Vanderbilt’s Kenny Ladler (4.70). That could force the safety to drop on some boards, but he can play. Solid mid-round prospect.
- NIU safety Jimmie Ward didn’t work out (medical). Ward made a ton of plays in the MAC conference, and I wanted to see how his numbers match up with the top prospects at the position.
- Why wasn’t cornerback Walt Aikens (Liberty) invited to the combine? He had a good week in Mobile, and now we have to wait until his pro day to get some times on the defensive back.
- A quick note on off-man coverage: Every rookie needs reps at the NFL level to develop his technique, pedal and eye discipline when he plays seven-to-eight yards off the ball.
- I was relieved back in 2000 after the final drill at the combine, and I’m sure these defensive backs felt the same way on Tuesday. The four-day process in Indianapolis will beat you up.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
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