2014 NFL Draft: Highlighting the Top 10 CBs

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterJanuary 28, 2014

2014 NFL Draft: Highlighting the Top 10 CBs

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Four cornerbacks were drafted in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. 

    In 2014, that number should be very similar, but the overall depth of this class is notable. Who are the best cornerbacks on the board? It's a group you should get to know.

    What do NFL scouts look for in a cornerback prospect? We're looking for recognition skills to find the ball, the speed and agility to change direction and then accelerate to the pass or ball-carrier, and the physical skills to put the runner on the ground after he has the ball.

    You can learn more about those individual traits in our "How to Scout" series. 

    These 10 players represent the best of the best at the cornerback position. They are big and small. Fast and explosive. Instinctual and gamblers. And some are a little of both.

    If your favorite NFL team needs an upgrade at cornerback, these are the players you'll want to focus on between now and the May 8 draft.

10. Pierre Desir, Lindenwood

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The top small-school cornerback in the 2014 NFL draft class, Pierre Desir has a chance to be the first player drafted from a non-FBS school. What's so exciting about him?

    He has the ideal size, speed and agility you want from the cornerback position. He's physical at 6'1" and over 200 pounds, and he matches that up with athleticism that allows him to be a factor as a return man. Against lower-level competition at Lindenwood, Desir dominated.

    But what about NFL-level talent?

    He has the toolbox to become a starting-caliber NFL cornerback. And while it may take him time to transition to the big leagues in terms of technique, his athleticism and one-on-one cover skills are pro-ready.

9. Marcus Roberson, Florida

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    A prototypical cornerback for the NFL as it exists today, Marcus Roberson is one of three exciting defensive backs that the University of Florida will send to the pros this year. So why does he stand out from the rest?

    His size (6'0", 200 lbs) puts him above the line when looking at the ideal build for a starting cornerback. Add in his speed and fluid lower-body movements in space, and you've got a player with starter athleticism. So how does his film look?

    He can be physical in coverage and shows the hands at the line of scrimmage to jam and press receivers. While he's not aggressive against the run or a surefire tackler, he's not afraid to get physical in coverage and will use his size and strength to win battles against receivers of any size.

8. Victor Hampton, South Carolina

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    RICHARD SHIRO/Associated Press

    A physical cornerback who lives at the line of scrimmage, South Carolina's Victor Hampton left school early to take on NFL wide receivers. His skill set shows that he's ready for that challenge.

    As a player who does most of his work up on the line in press or jam situations, he has to be strong and then immediately explode and recover. He does both well.

    Some cornerbacks have the speed to turn and run with receivers, while others are strong enough to redirect players at the line—Hampton can do both. And that's impressive on his 5'10", 200-pound frame.

    Hampton is raw as a technician, but he offers a ton of talent to work with. 

7. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech

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    Kyle Fuller has first-round potential and could be a future Pro Bowler, but first he has to stay healthy.

    That's been a struggle for the Virginia Tech cornerback, especially in 2013. He played in just eight games this year and failed to get into a solid rhythm to show the skills that previously made him a first-round talent.

    When he's on the field, Fuller shows excellent speed. He's fluid, and for a stout 6'0" and 200 pounds, he's able to move well in space and show off range by coming up to play the ball and retreating to track deep routes.

    There's little to argue about in terms of football skills and abilities. The key is keeping him healthy.

6. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State

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    The first thing you notice about Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner is his impressive short-area quickness. He is explosive when moving in any direction, and offensive coordinators have taken notice. They try to avoid him, but Joyner is a menace.

    The second thing your eyes fall on is his stature. At a listed 5'8", he is shorter than almost every player on the field. That's something you can overcome in college, but how will NFL teams view his lack of standard size?

    He is an exciting athlete and a versatile weapon for an NFL team. He can play cornerback or safety and also help as a return man. But getting over his lack of height will be something teams must weigh carefully.

5. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska

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    Dave Weaver/Associated Press

    Cornerbacks with a solid 6'2" build don't grow on trees. That's too bad for NFL general managers, because a big-bodied cornerback with the quick hips and feet needed to excel in coverage is hard to find and rarer to secure the rights to. That's what makes Stanley Jean-Baptiste so intriguing.

    The Nebraska cornerback certainly looks the part. He's tall with long arms and a very solid build. He isn't a lanky defender but rather a solidly built grown man with muscles on top of muscles. If there's an eyeball test for corners, Jean-Baptiste not only passes—he's the curve you're grading on.

    Size is important, but a cornerback is nothing if he's not agile and quick. Jean-Baptiste is both. He may not be as shifty as a smaller player, but he uses his speed and length to make up ground and attack the ball. And few receivers are getting over the top on a player with his combination of size and speed.

4. Bradley Roby, Ohio State

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    The top-ranked cornerback in the nation heading into the 2013 college football season, Bradley Roby had an on-and-off final year at Ohio State. How will NFL teams respond?

    The key is to find out which Roby is the real one.

    In 2012, he was a dominant, nearly shutdown-level cornerback. But in this past season, he struggled in man coverage—notably against Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis. And while his entire season wasn't as bad as that one game might lead people to believe, it opens up questions about a player many expected to be a top-10 pick this spring.

    Roby has the size (5'11", 192 lbs), speed and hands that NFL teams want at the position. And if he can live up to the ability shown in 2012, he'll be a high-level starter for a long time.

3. Jason Verrett, TCU

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    Jason Verrett is as polished as any defensive back in this year's draft class.

    The TCU cornerback is physical, aggressive, tough, athletic and smooth in coverage. Those adjectives aren't often used together in describing a cornerback, but they're accurate when talking about Verrett.

    The Horned Frogs' best defender stands out on film as a playmaking stud in the secondary. He's able to take away top wide receivers of various sizes and speeds with excellent short-area quickness and top-flight instincts. He has the hands to get to the football, too.

    Teams may worry about his smaller stature (5'10'', 176 lbs) and that he may be too aggressive, but others will fall in love with his all-out effort and intensity.

2. Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

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    The most physical man-coverage cornerback in this year's class, Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard has the skills to press and jam any size and style of wide receiver. That's what makes him a top-ranked defensive prospect in this year's class.

    He doesn't have elite size (5'11", 197 lbs) or speed, but his technique is a thing of beauty. He's aggressive with his hands at the line of scrimmage and shows good timing when asked to flip his hips and turn to cover a route. And when the ball is in the air, he's aggressive enough to attack it and create turnovers.

    Quarterbacks who challenge Dennard lose more often than not, and that's what NFL teams are hoping to get from the captain of the "No Fly Zone" secondary.

1. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

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    The top-graded cornerback on my board since Patrick Peterson, Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert has all the tools to excel in the NFL.

    At 6'0" and 200 pounds of solid muscle, he has the size to meet the demand of NFL scouts and general managers. He's also shown straight-line speed to cover deep routes and has become a playmaker with the ball in his hands. And he can get the ball into his big mitts as a ball-hawking cornerback or return man.

    Gilbert is as close to a can't-miss cornerback as you're going to get in this year's draft class. Or last year's draft class. Or the one before that.