The Top 10 Cornerback Recruits of the 2011 Class
A cornerback is a difficult position to evaluate.
Aside from the physical demands, a cornerback must have finesse, timing, and intelligence, which are all difficult to evaluate in a one-and-a-half minute YouTube clip.
Worse yet, film was hard to come by for many cornerbacks in the 2011 class, which meant I had to exclude some players despite their recruiting buzz because I wasn't able to actually see them play.
For this positional preview, I relied more on other scouting reports and my general understanding of what a good cornerback does.
I've weighted players who received offers from the legit top secondary schools; Texas, Alabama, Ohio State and Florida are the gold standard here.
No. 10: Albert Louis-Jean (Miami)
Albert Louis-Jean is a 6'1", 172-lb prospect out of Brockton, Massachusetts who dropped for the Miami Hurricanes last week.
The Canes were his "dream school," and once he received an offer and visited campus, the hard part was over.
He's a physically imposing player who held offers from Connecticut, Louisville, Maryland, Notre Dame, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Stanford and Boston College.
His coach thinks his above-average height is a strength of his game, as he is able to match up against taller receivers.
I liked his speed and vision on the special teams return on the embedded video, and think he could be solid contributor in Miami's increasingly athletic special teams game.
Louis-Jean also has a reputation as a hard hitter.
At the college level, I could see him playing at either corner or, if the coaches like his size and physicality, safety.
He's an early four-star to Scout; I see him remaining at that measurement throughout the offseason.
No. 9: Blake Countess
Blake Countess of Owings Mills, Maryland may not look as imposing as the other cornerbacks, but he's deceptively agile, fast, and intelligent.
I'm used to cornerbacks with longer legs and smoother gaits—Countess has shorter legs and runs low to the ground. But in two years of high school play, he's established himself as a legitimate threat on special teams (most of his highlights are in the return game) and a great cover corner.
His skills on offense are clearly a factor in his outstanding vision for the field. He reads plays quickly, can flow down the line and undercut a running back.
His tackling is good, but not great—like I said, he's physically not an imposing player, and could use a redshirt year to bulk up.
He showed he can keep up with fly routes in his backpedal, a must for a corner his size.
Highpointing the ball (i.e. outjumping a receiver) is an area of concern for any corner under 5'11", but his experience at wide receiver should also help.
Maryland is recruiting Countess hard, and he's also expressed an interest in Wisconsin, Louisville and North Carolina. His recruitment at this point is wide open.
No. 8: Jabriel Washington
Jabriel Washington looked the fastest of any of these cornerbacks, but he's also one of the lightest, which tells me he's either going to redshirt or play nickel as a freshman.
His coverage skills are phenomenal. He covers a lot of ground in a short period of time and plays the ball extremely well. He's not a physical presence on the line of scrimmage, but he has the speed to play off and close quickly in short routes, and his backpedal keeps up well with a receiver's acceleration.
A little more work in basic cornerback fundamentals like bump-and-run coverage would go a long way towards deciding whether a move to free safety is the right call. His size (5'11") suggests corner, but his lack of physicality makes free safety more appealing.
You can see how far off the line of scrimmage he plays in one of the late pass breakups on the footage below—not a sign that he'll be as physically intimidating as you want cornerbacks to be.
Still, his speed and a reckless disregard for his own body indicate he's one of the top coverage players, and the usual talents on special teams and at wide receiver apply.
The Jackson, Tennessee native reported LSU, Georgia and Tennessee as his top players, but that was back in December. A Tide offer turned him on to Alabama in February. LSU and Tennessee are battling to stay relevant. He plans a road tour to check out Ohio State and others this spring.
I'll say he'll wind up a fringe five-star player whom the Tide will covet as a project. If Alabama's lead is as big as BamaOnLine suggests, the next few months could be a formality.
No. 7: Damian Swann
Damian Swann of Atlanta, Georgia is Scout's number eight cornerback and the number ten athlete on Rivals.
He shows great reaction to the ball from the free safety position, flashing his athleticism and quick cutting in interception returns and his ability to adjust to the ball when lined up as a receiver.
His athleticism is undeniable. With the ball in his hands, he looks like the kind of kid Florida loves going after, a Matt Elam—type who can reverse field and maintain balance while running through arm tackles.
However, I didn't see a lot of plays of Swann playing a receiver tight. Fundamentally speaking, he would be way behind at corner and his backpedal speed might be liability.
Between that and an absence of top-end speed in the open field, I think he's fated for either a switch to free safety/special teams duty or a redshirt.
He's delayed a visit to Athens for some time, and came back from an unofficial visit to Alabama buzzing about Nick Saban. He also plans to visit Gainesville.
I'll predict it will come down to the Tide and Gators, and since he would embody the Florida/Alabama holy war for talent in human form, the winner can declare some kind of moral victory.
No. 6: Quandre Diggs (Texas)
Diggs is Texas' fourth defensive back commitment in the 2011 class, following Leroy Scott, Sheroid Evans and athlete Mykkele Thompson, who projects as either a corner or safety.
Diggs is an accomplished threat on offense, but Burnt Orange Nation believes he'll wind up a defensive back, and probably a corner.
Texas seems to like small safeties (Earl Thomas was Diggs' height and a few less pounds as a recruit), and that was Digg's position in high school, but I still think that his speed would be wasted if it wasn't used at corner.
I expect a redshirt year to develop his technique, and unless some serious red flags pop up in his backpedal or with contact at the line of scrimmage, I'd guess the Texas coaches have him and Scott as their CBs of choice from this class, with Evans and Thompson as the safeties.
Embeddable video couldn't be tracked down, but you should be able to watch ESPN's highlights of him here.
No. 5: Eilar Hardy
It was refreshing to watch Eilar Hardy, a Pickerington, Ohio native, playing so far up to the line of scrimmage. Backpedaling and remaining with a receiver is what divides a corner from a liability.
Hardy can backpedal, and do a lot more. He's got a great form tackle but can also cut a running back's legs out from underneath, and his hits are occasionally really punishing.
He has good but not elite, speed, and the agility to come off blocks and contain runs, or get after quarterbacks on the blitz.
In size and shape, he reminds me of Michigan's Donovan Warren, 6'0", 180 lbs, with enough weight to play solid bump-and-run coverage without getting handled off the line of scrimmage.
His sophomore video can be found here.
Ohio State seemed confident in landing him, but Hardy took a visit to Notre Dame in late March and was apparently very close to committing. He's also visited Kentucky unofficially.
His list is long now, but I'm anxious to see who besides the Irish and Buckeyes make the cut. I like Notre Dame's chances here, particularly if they have a successful season under Brian Kelly.
No. 4: Erique Florence
In any recruiting class, the title of hardest hitter has to fall to someone (or a group of someones).
Amongst the cornerbacks, that honor has to go to Erique Florence.
Florence delivers the heavy hit in both run support and coverage. Watch how he destabilizes the running back in this film merely by arm-tackling.
And, of course, those brutal shots he absorbs on the opening kickoff return make coaches go wild in the recruiting film room.
The danger in getting too hung up on heavy hits with cornerbacks is that it's really more of a safety's trait, so between his size (6'2") and his physicality, a move to safety might be likely.
But with Alabama—which brings its corners in on a lot of zone blitzes and run support schemes—gnashing its teeth for him, he can expect the finest defensive backs coaching at the next level to play to those strengths.
Auburn actually led for Florence, a Valley, Alabama native, early in his recruitment, but the Tide have come on strong and are "recruiting him the hardest," according to an interview he gave to ESPN.
Sounds like he's Saban's to lose.
No. 3: Doran Grant
Film of Doran Grant was lacking, but independent recruiting site ThaRinger praised his Nike Ohio Combine performance and claimed he was the no. 2 player out of Ohio.
In the same recruiting year as Braxton Miller, Trey Depriest and Cardale Jones, that's saying something.
Grant is extremely athletic, setting Nike combine records for the vertical leap and the shuttle drill, and posting a 4.57 40 despite "not preparing because of basketball."
His athleticism allows for a fluid transition between cornerback, wide receiver and return specialist, though he's projected as a better CB prospect.
The offers have been pouring in since, including from USC and Notre Dame.
Yet Grant has kept his interest local: Ohio State and Michigan State lead, and his father is an MSU alumnus. He's also visited Michigan unofficially and holds a Wolverines offer, though OSU and MSU are his top two schools.
An offer from Miami would make things interesting—they were his childhood favorite—but I would guess that since Miami grabbed Louis-Jean, the Spartans and Buckeyes will be battling this one out.
Ohio State is pretty selective with its defensive backs, so I would be very surprised if they lost. But the Spartans are putting together a strong 2011 effort and Grant may want to get in on the action.
I can't do much evaluating without film, but his offer sheet and the buzz suggests he'll be a high four-star player who could push for a fifth star if he continues to visit combines and generate buzz.
No. 2: Nick Waisome
Elite speed, ideal size, ball skills and the ability to play receivers tight make Nick Waisome one of the most impressive corners to come out of Florida in the past few years.
He has "it," or as much "it" as corners can have. Watch him wrap up a tight end that looks twice his size halfway through the clip below. You want your corners to play bigger than they are both in run support and zone coverage, and Waisome does that.
The trio of Florida schools—Florida, Florida State and Miami—are duking it out for Waisome, with South Florida and Georgia somewhere outside that group. South Carolina, North Carolina and Michigan have also tried to make it interesting.
The Gators were the first to jump on him, but each are drawing about even.
Waisome has shown up to a lot of one-on-one camps and flashed his stuff. I'd say he's a lock for a fifth star even if he commits over the summer. I also expect official visits for each of the Big Three, but as for a prediction, it's still too close to call.
No. 1: Leroy Scott
Show's over, folks.
Texas ended the race for the top cornerback early this year, locking down Pasadena, Texas prospect Leroy Scott after a Junior Day in February.
Scott was generating buzz as the nation's top corner, and he looks the part in ESPN's brief video (he's no. 23 in the bottom right of the screen).
I admired his technique at the line of scrimmage. The way he checks receivers at the line, squares his shoulders to the runner, and always keeps containment shows strong fundamentals.
He has good closing speed and a deceptively strong build, which allows him to toss players his size and up to the ground.
I don't expect him to waver or for there to be any drama in his recruitment whatsoever. He's in Mack Brown's hands now.