2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the 10 Best Cornerbacks

Darin Pike@darinpikeContributor IApril 25, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the 10 Best Cornerbacks

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    Narrowing the list of cornerbacks in the 2012 NFL Draft to the 10 best is a difficult process, but ranking the top options became much easier over the course of the 2011 college football season.

    Last summer it looked as though as many as five corners could be worthy of consideration in the first 15 picks. But issues on the field and off could dictate as few as two being taken in the first round.

    One player that epitomizes the issues of this class is Alfonzo Dennard. He was exposed a bit while covering Alshon Jeffery, and his frustration got the best of him. He ended it, and his Capital One Bowl game, by throwing a punch. He recently finished his assault on being a top prospect with another punch, this one connecting with a police officer.

    The 10 players on the list all have the potential to be quality defenders in the NFL. Some figure to work more in a nickel capacity, while others will be good in press coverage. There are even a couple that have the makeup to be a true shutdown corner.

10. Brandon Boykin, Georgia, 5'9", 181 Lbs.

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    NFL Combine Performance:

    Did not participate

    Brandon Boykin was recovering from a leg injury suffered during the Senior Bowl and didn't participate in the NFL combine or Georgia's pro day.

    It was tough to not place Chase Minnifield here, but speed concerns could result in him landing at safety in the NFL. Instead, Brandon Boykin gets the nod.

    It isn't hard to find Boykin higher on many draft boards. Some have him listed as a second-round pick and one of the first five corners to be selected. However, having spent too many games watching small corners not being able to defend against the new breed of big receivers in the NFL, I couldn't justify placing him any higher. 

    There are also concerns with Boykin's value in run defense. He struggled with keeping contact and bringing down running backs in college, which doesn't translate well to the NFL.

    That aside, Boykin has great skills for a nickelback facing off with smaller slot receivers. He moves very well when backpedaling and when changing directions and should be able to stick close to most receivers in the NFL.

    Athleticism will serve Boykin well, and he should be able to rely on leaping ability to overcome some of his size concerns. But until an NFL GM sees him as a viable starter, I see him as a Round 3 prospect that will be best served in a nickel or even free safety role.

9. Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt, 5'11", 192 Lbs.

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    NFL Combine Performance:

    40 Time: 4.53
    Bench: 19
    Vertical: 34″
    Broad Jump: 9’11″
    3 Cone: 6.76
    Shuttle: 3.9

    Casey Hayward is a quick corner, and not just because of his shuttle time. He reacts quickly to plays and to the ball, enhancing his cover skills.

    Hayward is accustomed to being an underrated prospect. He didn't get much attention coming out of high school but quickly earned a starting spot at Vanderbilt. 

    The biggest concern with Hayward is his ability to stick with NFL receivers while in his backpedal. He is a bit stiff and may need to turn sooner than other defensive backs. He is also likely to struggle against stronger receivers and in run support.

    Hayward will likely be a third-round selection by a team needing depth and nickel help. He will be well-served in this role, and he could reward a GM that gambles on his ability to grow into a solid No. 2 cornerback.

8. Trumaine Johnson, Montana, 6’2”, 204 Lbs.

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    NFL Combine Performance:

    40 time: 4.5
    Bench: 19
    Vertical: 35.5″
    Broad Jump: 10’2″
    3 Cone: 7.2
    Shuttle: 4.15

    I really want to put Trumaine Johnson higher in this list, but things get a little crowded above this pick. I've had the luxury of watching him play live, and he is an exciting playmaker with the size and speed that many NFL teams are coveting in their secondary.

    He figures to be a Day 2 selection and will give an NFL team great value there. He'll have some work to do transitioning to the NFL.

    Johnson could be a great fallback for the Minnesota Vikings if they don't grab a corner in the first two rounds. They can't bank on him being there at that point, though.

    There is a chance a GM wants to take a chance with Johnson and snags him in the first 30 minutes on Friday.

7. Josh Robinson, UCF, 5’10”, 199 Lbs.

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    NFL Combine Performance:

    40 time: 4.29
    Bench: 17
    Vertical: 38.5
    Broad Jump: 11'1"
    3 Cone: 6.55
    Shuttle: 3.97

    Josh Robinson is a physical freak that has the instincts to match. He has largely been an under-the-radar kind of player despite notching six interceptions as a freshman. His stats waned as a sophomore and junior, though, in part because opponents were able to throw away from him.

    Robinson didn't excel in press coverage, which will keep some teams from looking his direction. But he was very good in zone and some man packages.

    Robinson is solid in his backpedal and has fluid hips. He'll be able to turn and make plays in the NFL, and he has shown the ability to make plays on the ball in college.

    While the NFL combine shouldn't make or break a player, Robinson's 40-time and quick shuttle run certainly sent a lot of NFL scouts back to the film room.

    Teams likely spent a fair amount of time watching the 2010 Liberty Bowl. Robinson struggled a bit in run support and gave up several passing plays, but he also held A.J. Green to 77 yards on eight receptions in a 10-6 win over Georgia. That alone puts him into consideration as a top corner prospect.

6. Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech, 5’10”, 178 Lbs.

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    NFL Combine Performance:

    40 time: 4.38
    Bench: 11
    Vertical: Did not participate
    Broad Jump: Did not participate
    3 Cone: Did not participate
    Shuttle: Did not participate

    It will be interesting to watch where Jayron Hosley ends up being drafted. He's one of several talented but undersized cornerbacks with great speed and athleticism. However, he is still a physical player who should be able to compete at the next level.

    The one concern that kept me from leaving Hosley as a first-round prospect is injury issues that followed him as a junior. He had 10 interceptions as a sophomore, though, and he will attract a lot of attention on Day 2 of the 2012 NFL Draft.

5. Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma, 5’10”, 206 Lbs.

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    NFL Combine Performance:

    40 time: 4.53
    Bench: 23
    Vertical: 34.0"
    Broad Jump: 10'5"
    3 Cone: 6.71
    Shuttle: 3.97

    Jamell Fleming is yet another cornerback that fails to hit the 5'11 or 6'0" threshold NFL teams often consider. He blends good athleticism, strength and quickness into his 5'10" frame.

    Fleming will attract the attention of defensive coordinators looking for a corner that excels in man coverage. He has an amazing backpedal that allows him to face the receiver and the play, allowing him to follow the quarterback and study how plays are developing. When needed, he turns his hips quickly to stay on his man downfield.

    Fleming should also transition well if asked to play zone. His ability to cover a lot of ground could make him an elite prospect in zone coverage, as he also transfers weight and direction quite well. This showed up on the field and in his shuttle time.

    It is tempting to move Fleming up one more spot, but the next player on the list did enough to fix a few deficiencies to hold the spot.

4. Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama, 6'2", 186 Lbs.

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    NFL Combine Performance:

    40 time: 4.43
    Bench: Did not participate
    Vertical: 35.0"
    Broad Jump: 10'0"
    3 Cone: Did not participate
    Shuttle: Did not participate

    Many analysts see Dre Kirkpatrick as the second-best cornerback in the 2012 NFL draft. Scouts will undoubtedly salivate over his height and speed, but issues start to percolate thereafter.

    Kirkpatrick did have success at Alabama, but he was also the beneficiary of Mark Baron's skillful play at safety. Kirkpatrick was able to cheat and gamble, knowing he would usually get help over the top.

    I would have liked to see Kirkpatrick return for his senior season and work on his strength. He showed some improvement in 2011 and made some solid, hard hits on receivers. But he still looks like he'll likely be overpowered at times in the NFL.

    Kirkpatrick could have difficulty knocking some receivers off their routes and will struggle in run defense against bigger running backs in the NFL.

    With another year in college, Kirkpatrick could have solidified himself as a top corner prospect. But there are still holes in his game that will need to be addressed if he's to become an elite NFL cornerback.

3. Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama, 5'10", 193 Lbs.

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    NFL Combine Performance:

    40 time: 4.44
    Bench: Did not participate
    Vertical: 33.5"
    Broad Jump: 10'1"
    3 Cone: 6.95
    Shuttle: 4.13

    Janoris Jenkins seems very impulse-driven, both on and off the field. On the gridiron this makes for some exciting plays, as he reacts quickly to his reads and it allows him to jump routes.

    His impulses also tend to get him into a bit of trouble. In the NFL, he'll be susceptible to receivers with quick moves when he reacts based on an initial read. In life, he finds trouble in the form of illegal drug use and unplanned pregnancies.

    It is difficult to say if Jenkins will be drafted late in the first round or in the second. He may not even be the third cornerback drafted. However, he seems to make enough quality decisions to believe he'll work on the deficiencies in his game...on the field and off.

    In the right system Jenkins has the ability to be a quality starter and the third-best corner in the 2012 draft class. 

2. Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina, 6'0", 190 Lbs.

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    NFL Combine Performance:

    40 time: 4.40
    Bench: 15
    Vertical: 36.0"
    Broad Jump: 10'3"
    3 Cone: 6.61
    Shuttle: 3.94

    Stephon Gilmore combines a great mix of size, speed and quickness with great awareness and instincts. The result is a quality corner prospect that could be a top-10 draft pick.

    Press coverage situations have worked well for Gilmore in college, but he may not have the size and strength to match up with the more physical receivers he'll face in the NFL. For that reason, he may be a better fit in a zone scheme.

    Gilmore will be able to use his speed and instincts to cover ground and make plays in the NFL.

1. Morris Claiborne, LSU, 5'11", 188 Lbs.

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    NFL Combine Performance:

    40 time: 4.50
    Bench: Did Not Participate
    Vertical: 34.5"
    Broad Jump: 9'10"
    3 Cone: 7.01
    Shuttle: 4.12

    No surprises here. Morris Claiborne is a sure-fire early pick on Thursday. He is a bit smaller than some NFL defensive coordinators are looking for, but he more than makes up for that with his long arms and physical skills.

    While there are ample solid corner prospects in this draft, Claiborne's speed, cover skills and instincts make him the lone elite prospect. He could fall in the laps of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 5, giving a team in dire need of secondary help the best defensive player in the draft.


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