NFL Draft

B/R NFL Draft 100: Top Cornerbacks

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterApril 17, 2014

B/R NFL Draft 100: Top Cornerbacks

1 of 13

    Justin Gilbert
    Justin GilbertAssociated Press

    Having a great cornerback completely changes the complexity and ability of a defense. Just ask the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys—as each rented Deion Sanders and won Super Bowl rings in the mid-'90s. The same goes for the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 on the back of Richard Sherman and his elite coverage skills.

    Cornerbacks are as important as ever, and the 2014 draft class features a talented crop of them. But who is the best?

    That’s what the NFL Draft 100 aims to identify. Looking only at the film, who is the best? 

    The B/R NFL Draft 100 metric is based on scouting each player and grading the key criteria for each position. The criteria are weighted according to importance on a 100-point scale. Unlike our NFL 1000 series, this project factors in upside for each player—as the NFL draft is as much about upside as it is about production.

    Cornerbacks are judged on coverage (50 points), run defense (5), speed (25), upside (20) and all of the technique, athletic ability and football intelligence needed to play the position.

    In the case of ties, the ranking is based on which player I would prefer personally.

    Subjective? Yes. But ties are no fun.

    I scouted each player with these key criteria in mind. The following scouting reports and grades are the work of months of film study and in-person evaluation.

12. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska

2 of 13

    Nati Harnik

    Coverage

    38/50

    In coverage, Stanley Jean-Baptiste can struggle with quick changes of direction. That's to be expected to some degree, given his size (6'3") and natural hip stiffness. Where he makes up for that is at the line of scrimmage. He has the length and power to be a natural press-cover man—especially if he's getting safety help over the top. He works through routes well and will fight for positioning on 50/50 balls. If asked to high-point, he's elite, as his natural size and length give him an advantage. 

    Run Defense

    4/5

    A natural mover when taking on the run, Jean-Baptiste looks more like a safety than a cornerback when he's asked to play the edge. Not only does he force the run back inside by holding the boundary, but he's capable of making the tackle in space if needed. 

    Speed

    20/25

    Speed is not part of his game, but Jean-Baptiste does move well for such a big player. Comparing his speed to a smaller cornerback isn't fair, but he will struggle to turn and run with faster wide receivers. He'll have to improve his technique and timing in the pros to account for a lack of deep speed. 

    Upside

    16/20

    If drafted into the right system, Jean-Baptiste has room to grow as a technician and overall as a cornerback. The struggle will be if a team drafts him to be a turn-and-run cornerback. He's best suited to play in a press scheme with a safety helping him over the top on deep routes. 

    Overall

    78/100

11. Bashaud Breeland, Clemson

3 of 13

    Michael Conroy

    Coverage

    40/50

    A fluid mover in space, Bashaud Breeland has the ability to be a nightmare for quarterbacks when he's in zone coverage. A lack of elite speed will cause trouble for him in the pros in man situations against top-end speed, but he does well to play the pocket and attack the ball. His plant-and-drive speed is better than his long speed, and it allows him to attack the ball well. When facing the screen game, he can quickly recognize and react to the play.  

    Run Defense

    3/5

    A pretty aggressive run defender, Breeland isn't shy about coming down and running alleys. He'll put a hit on ball-carriers and can handle being the last line of defense. You'd like to see better wrap-up ability from him as a tackler. 

    Speed

    18/25

    A 4.62 in the 40-yard-dash was an eye-opener and caused a recheck on Breeland's film. He doesn't stand out as a top-end speed player, and when forced to turn and run he will struggle to keep up with faster players. This is the biggest limitation to his game. 

    Upside

    18/20

    In the right system, Breeland could emerge as an early impact player in the NFL. There's good upside for him to improve his timing in coverage and man-to-man skills. He can become a much better pro cornerback than he was in college.

    Overall

    79/100

10. Marcus Roberson, Florida

4 of 13

    Michael Conroy

    Coverage

    42/50

    Marcus Roberson isn't the quickest guy on the field, but when asked to plant, drive and close on the ball, he shows up plenty. A physical cover man, he isn't afraid to play in press situations and get his hands on receivers. He'll mug them down the field, even to a level that he'll have to watch in the NFL. He shows good reaction time and route awareness in man coverage. As a Cover 1 player, he'll struggle with top-end speed and can be forced to turn and run early in his drop, which opens him up to breaking routes. 

    Run Defense

    1/5

    Roberson has no interest in playing the run. He's hesitant to come up to make a play and doesn't want to put his pads on the ball-carrier. He needs to get much stronger and more physical to survive on the edge in the NFL.

    Speed

    19/25

    Roberson's film speed is average, and that is backed up by his pedestrian 4.61 time at the combine.  

    Upside

    17/20

    He has suffered through ankle, knee and neck injuries in college, so he's missed plenty of time over the last three years. Those injuries have also stunted his growth to some extent. He doesn't come into the NFL having reached his maximum potential. 

    Overall

    79/100

9. Jaylen Watkins, Florida

5 of 13

    Phil Sandlin

    Coverage

    42/50

    Jaylen Watkins flashes all the athletic tools to be a very good cover man in the NFL. He's twitchy and quick in space but also shows burst to close on the ball in flight. At 5'11", he has average arm length, but he uses his height well to attack the ball and shows the closing speed to be aggressive in that role. His route recognition can be shaky, but he has the skill set to be good in man-to-man situations. He's very fluid and shows the lower-body flexibility to turn and run without losing time due to stiffness in his transitions. Watkins doesn't show up as a press-coverage guy at this time, as his hands and strength aren't developed enough to handle press situations. 

    Run Defense

    3/5

    Watkins lacks the power to be an aggressive hitter against the run, but he plays very well in a run-support role. He'll hold the corner and take away outside runs, and he isn't afraid to poke his head in and crash the box to make a play. 

    Speed

    23/25

    Like his brother Sammy, Jaylen can fly. His timed 4.41 puts him in the top-tier group of speed players at the position in this year's class. That speed translates to film too, as he's always running down ball-carriers and doesn't get pressed deep by speedy receivers. 

    Upside

    18/20

    Too often used as the third cornerback at Florida, Watkins has the best potential of them all. Once used in the right system and allowed to settle into one spot, he'll shine. He has the ability to play inside or outside at cornerback and maybe even free safety. 

    Overall

    86/100

8. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State

6 of 13

    Colin Hackley

    Coverage

    44/50

    Lamarcus Joyner made a ton of plays in college, but when grading his NFL coverage potential, you worry about his lack of size and length. At 5'8" and 184 pounds, he's not small, but he is short and short-armed. That will cause problems in man-to-man coverage, as he won't be able to reach or run down the field. Joyner's best projection is as a slot cornerback or even as a safety playing off the line. He's quick and instinctive and shows soft hands in coverage, but the lack of height and his less-than-elite deep speed will be limitations once in the NFL. If he's around the ball, Joyner has great hands and flies to the ball, but he's much better suited to play that role in a zone system. What stand out most, though, are his awareness and intelligence on defense. The mental aspect of the game will never be a problem for him.

    Run Defense

    3/5

    As a run defender, Joyner's size is less of an issue. He's solidly built at 184 pounds and could stand to put on weight if a team wanted him to. He's active and does come down into the box well, but he will get caught up in trash and doesn't use his hands well to get through traffic. 

    Speed

    21/25

    With a timed 4.55 in the 40-yard-dash, Joyner doesn't have great speed, but he does well with quickness and short-area burst. He's quick enough to survive in the NFL but won't be running with wide receivers down the field. 

    Upside

    18/20

    Joyner has definite upside as a prospect, mostly coming from the fact that a position change is likely for him once in the NFL. Much like Nickell Robey in last year's draft, Joyner could excel in the right system as a slot cornerback or safety. 

    Overall

    86/100

7. Phillip Gaines, Rice

7 of 13

    Michael Conroy

    Coverage

    40/50

    Rice's Phillip Gaines has the physical tools you want in a cornerback. He's tall and long at 6'0" and has the speed to turn and run with any wide receiver in the NFL. He's able to press and play up on receivers at the line of scrimmage but does lack strength to be a great jammer early on. You have to like his ability to bait quarterbacks and then attack with his blazing speed. He's a gambler at times, but often that pays off with an interception or defended pass. He dominated weaker competition at Rice but must get better at timing his turns and getting through transitions to have the same impact in the NFL. 

    Run Defense

    2/5

    Gaines doesn't have the strength to be great against the run, but he does show active effort and willingness to make a play on the ball. He will have to get stronger and learn to use his strength once in the NFL to play the run. 

    Speed

    25/25

    A 4.38 in the 40-yard dash is a dang good time for the long, linear Gaines. His speed shows up on film too, as he's rangy and attacking in coverage.  

    Upside

    19/20

    Gaines has unbelievable talent and raw ability, but he's been suspended and arrested once in his college career. To realize his potential, he'll have to walk the line with NFL teams.  

    Overall

    86/100

    Gaines has starter traits, and with some development and coaching, he has the size and speed to be an effective cover cornerback on the edge. He's a solid second-round prospect.

6. Pierre Desir, Lindenwood

8 of 13

    Michael Conroy

    Coverage

    44/50

    At 6'1" and 198 pounds, Pierre Desir fits the model of what NFL teams want at cornerback. He's long and physical at the line of scrimmage and can be an attacking player in close quarters. Judging him against the smaller-school competition at Lindenwood, you see a dominant player that quarterbacks avoided. His ability to close on the ball in flight was elite on film, and he showed similar toughness and instincts at the Senior Bowl against bigger competition after the season. The biggest concern with Desir is how well he'll be able to handle speed down the field in the NFL. If he can clean up some stiffness in his hips when turning to run, that'll save him the half-second he seems to lose in transitions.

    Run Defense

    3/5

    Desir has the size to be an impact run defender. He's big enough to set the edge and either turn the run back inside or make the tackle on his own. He flies down into the backfield on weak-side runs and does make plays in pursuit. He's a wrap-up tackler but does struggle with letting players run through his arms. 

    Speed

    20/25

    With a 40-yard dash time of 4.59 at the combine, Desir does have less than elite speed. When factoring in his size and quickness, the speed isn't as much of an issue, but he doesn't stand out in this area against a very fast cornerback class. 

    Upside

    20/20

    One of the rawer players in this year's cornerback crop, Desir has a ton of room to improve once in the NFL. His hip technique and steps in coverage can all be cleaned up, and his coachability makes him likely to be better in the pros than he was in college. 

    Overall

    87/100

    There is a lot to like with Desir, and the fact that he fits the mold of the prototype cornerback in the NFL right now only adds to his stock. Don't be surprised if you hear his name called early on Day 2.

5. Bradley Roby, Ohio State

9 of 13

    Michael Conroy

    Coverage

    43/50

    A few bad games have plagued an otherwise bright career for Bradley Roby. Turn on the Wisconsin game, and you wonder if Jared Abbrederis' assault of him is the real Roby or a bad day. There are instances where he looks like an ideal man-coverage cornerback, but he can also struggle with transitions on well-timed breaking routes. Roby has the physical attributes of a No. 1 cornerback—size, length, hands, speed and hips—but must put those together more consistently. He does a good job of mirroring receivers but does guess often on comeback and breaking routes. He must learn to play the man in these situations and not let himself be baited as often. 

    Run Defense

    3/5

    Roby is a strong tackler—sometimes too strong. He was ejected for "targeting" in the Iowa game after leveling a high hit on a ball-carrier. He's aggressive and uses his thick frame to attack the ball. He'll turn in the run and can come up to make solo tackles. 

    Speed

    25/25

    Roby's 4.39 time at the combine definitely opened eyes, but it matches what his film showed over the last three seasons. He's a fast, quick-twitch player with excellent turn-and-run ability. 

    Upside

    18/20

    Roby has prototypical size and speed; he just needs some of his rough edges rounded out. If he can learn to trust his instincts and not gamble on routes, he could emerge as a true No. 1 cornerback. 

    Overall

    89/100

    Two seasons ago, Roby looked like the best cornerback in college football. After a rough 2013 campaign, his stock has slipped some, but he's still valuable as a late first-round pick due to his ability and the importance of the position.

4. Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

10 of 13

    Michael Conroy

    Coverage

    47/50

    An in-your-face cornerback at the line of scrimmage, Darqueze Dennard is the draft's most physical cornerback in coverage. He's a handsy, grabby corner who may need to adjust his style of play for the NFL's stricter pass-interference rules, but he definitely makes his living playing up and on the receiver. Dennard does a good job of attacking the line and uses his hands well to jam and stun players off the line. You do have to worry about the number of flags he will generate if his style of play doesn't change. He likes to be physical with the receiver throughout the route—and it begs to be seen if this is a technique he can change and still maintain close coverage or not.  

    Run Defense

    4/5

    A physical run defender, Dennard has no problem coming up to take on the run. He does miss some tackles by attempting to go low and losing his sight lines, but he's definitely willing to put his pads on the ball. 

    Speed

    21/25

    A lack of ideal long speed shows up on film, but Dennard did run well (4.51 seconds) in the 40-yard dash at the combine. He doesn't show in game situations the top-end speed to turn and run with receivers, but he has good quickness and enough burst. 

    Upside

    18/20

    Dennard has the ability to step in and play right away, but you have to worry about his durability issues and upside. Several teams I've spoken to red-flagged him after double hernia surgery, and many are worried he won't hold up in the NFL.

    Overall

    90/100

    Dennard is an ideal fit for aggressive schemes and coordinators who want a cornerback up on the line of scrimmage in the face of receivers. He is a first-round talent on my board and has the readiness to excel if placed in the right situation.

3. Jason Verrett, TCU

11 of 13

    Michael Conroy

    Coverage

    46/50

    An aggressive, tough and physical cornerback, Jason Verrett excels in man coverage. At 5'9", he doesn't have elite height or length, but he's tenacious and shows great quickness in and out of breaks and cuts. He has the instincts to attack the ball too and is rarely out of place. He's shown good hands and is able to flow through space to make a play on the ball. While he can be out-positioned for jump balls, he has room to improve his technique by undercutting the jump and playing the ball. Verrett is incredibly quick, both moving up to attack and when sinking into coverage. Given his lack of height and bulk, playing in the slot is a reality, but like Brent Grimes, he has the ability to line up outside too. The only limitation is his lack of ideal size.

    Run Defense

    4/5

    Verrett is not afraid to play the run. He's an ankle-biter as a tackler, though, and does go low to get his man on the ground. That works in college, but he'll have to raise his aiming point in the NFL to avoid being kicked in the head or jumped over. He's aggressive, though, and you have to love his willingness to make a play. 

    Speed

    24/25

    On film you see Verrett racing to the ball and getting great depth in coverage. His speed is not a weakness in any way. His 4.38 time in the 40 is flat moving and is definitely in line with his field speed. 

    Upside

    17/20

    Verrett can get better in the NFL—easily. Being taught to use his hands better to redirect receivers and learning to play with better leverage to go underneath and on the body of leaping receivers will help him become a better pro. And in the right scheme, he can be a Pro Bowl-caliber performer in the slot or the boundary.

    Overall

    91/100

    It's easy to see the talent in Verrett's game, and were he two inches taller, we might be talking about him as a close second to Justin Gilbert. As it stands now, Verrett should still be given Round 1 consideration and just might end up as the steal of the cornerback class.

2. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech

12 of 13

    Michael Conroy

    Coverage

    46/50

    Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller has the size (6'0", 190 lbs) and aggressive mentality to be an excellent press corner at the next level. He excels at route recognition and is rarely thrown off his game there. With 10 pass breakups on the year, he also has the ability to time the pass and make a jump on the ball. He's instinctive but also has the length to recover if he's not as smooth through a transition or cut. You'd like to see Fuller not gamble as often when jumping routes in man coverage. Learning to use his hands without as many grabs and holds will help him in the NFL.

    Run Defense

    5/5

    Fuller is aggressive and shows good ability to come up and take on the run. He breaks down well in space, which shows that he's ready and willing to put a hat on the ball-carrier. Fuller was productive as a tackler in college and has translatable skills to the NFL. 

    Speed

    22/25

    Fuller's 4.49 at the combine didn't wow people, but for his build and size, that's a good time. He's fast enough not to be a liability in coverage and does play faster in a short area than his timed speed can show. 

    Upside

    18/20

    There is room for Fuller to improve once in the NFL. You'd like to see him get stronger—which is easy enough to do in an NFL system if he buys in. He can also learn to better use his hands throughout the route, which should help him become a more efficient man-coverage cornerback. 

    Overall

    91/100

    Fuller is pro-ready, and now that he's fully recovered from a sports hernia that limited his offseason, he's in place to get stronger and start working on NFL-level technique that can take him over the top. Teams drafting in the middle of Round 1 will get a quality starter with Fuller. 

1. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

13 of 13

    Sue Ogrocki

    Coverage

    49/50

    Justin Gilbert has the size (6'0", 200 lbs), speed (4.37) and length to be excellent in coverage. He's long and explosive throughout transitions but also shows the strength to play up on the line of scrimmage. He told us at the combine that he was in a press situation 70 percent of the time at Oklahoma State, and he comes to the NFL ready as an aggressive cornerback. As a ball hawk, Gilbert is exceptional. He's able to track the ball and shows the soft hands needed to be a playmaker on defense. His closing speed and awareness are top-tier. 

    Run Defense

    1/5

    If you want cornerbacks to be physical against the run, Gilbert isn't your guy. He's able to turn the run back inside and will come up to play the run, but he's not a physical aggressor when the ball comes his way. 

    Speed

    25/25

    With a legit 4.37 in the 40-yard dash, Gilbert has elite speed. That shows up on film as he's able to turn and run with speedy receivers or take a punt return to the house. He's fast but also shifty and agile in changing direction and eluding tacklers with the ball in his hands. 

    Upside

    19/20

    Athletically, Gilbert isn't going to get much stronger or faster. Where he can improve is in his technique. Right now he's a bit more athlete than technician, and there is upside in his footwork and hip turn throughout coverage. 

    Overall

    94/100

    Gilbert's pro-readiness and exceptional playmaking skills make him the top-ranked cornerback on my board. Given his athleticism and upside, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him drafted inside the first 10 picks of the first round.

     

    Note: Combine results courtesy of NFL.com.

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