Over the past few years, as the amount of passing increases within the NFL, cornerbacks have become more valuable. The Seattle Seahawks proved their importance when they won the Super Bowl last year with a talented and deep defensive backfield. The 2014 NFL Draft could be a blessing for the many NFL teams that need a corner because it is considered to be loaded with talent. The top of the group has many potential shutdown corners who can take away the other team’s top receiver. The group could produce many starting-caliber players and you may see as many as four to five go in the first round. Despite the rush, teams should still be able to get productive cornerbacks in the later rounds due to the immense depth of the position. Here are my top five corners in the 2014 NFL Draft.
1) Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard is considered to be one of the best all-around cornerbacks in the draft. The Spartan product was very productive for one of the top defenses in college football last year. He is a great press corner that uses his strength, technique, and intelligence. Dennard has the ability to push receivers off the line and disrupt their release. He uses this along with great technique to stay on top of receivers and shutdown the opponent’s top target. He is a fluid athlete with turning ability to stay with the receiver on quick cuts.
The aspect that helps him stand apart from other corners is that he is tough player with tackling ability to help out in run stopping. He is a true versatile corner who will help out his team in all phases of the defense. Mel Kiper says, “The most versatile cornerback in the draft, Dennard brings a physical edge.” His only downfall is that he does not have great speed and athleticism. Dennard makes up for this flaw with his strength and great technique. He also will need to get more experience at zone coverage and learn to cover in space. He should be used as a press corner in the NFL and take on the top target for the opposing team.
2) Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert measured as one of the most athletic players in the draft. At 6-feet and 202 pounds, the cornerback ran a blazing 4.37 seconds 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He has the size and speed that teams covet at this position. He is considered the top playmaker of the cornerback group because of his explosive athleticism. The Cowboy product is very good at making the most of his opportunities by being able to go and get the ball and get turnovers.
Gilbert can change a game because of his proficiency to take an interception and turn it up field for a big return. His value is only heightened because he is said to be one of the best returners in the draft this year. Gilbert’s fluid athleticism and speed give him great press coverage skills because of his ability to stay with the receivers. He can cover any type of receiver because of his great size and speed. Gil Brandt of NFL.com says, “Gilbert is a big corner but also a very fast one who can flip his hips to run with fast receivers.” The biggest question for Gilbert is his physicality and willingness to help in the run game. He does not use his strength as well as he should when getting to the ball carrier and making tackles. He needs to improve his run support skills in order to be considered an all-around corner.
3) Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller is a bigger corner that can help in all aspects of the defense. Fuller is a 6-foot, 190-pound cornerback who can cover and help stop the run. He is very good in coverage because of his instincts, size, and ball skills. He can read the offense and the quarterback and make quick decisions to get to the ball quickly. Fuller can play in both press coverage and zone coverage because of these instincts.
The Hokie product has the technique and size to stay with receivers and make a play on the ball. Maybe his best skill is his talent to contend with receivers in the air for the ball. Fuller can win the battle against the receiver because of his explosive and quick ability to get to the ball at its highest point. Mike Mayock of NFL Network says, “Can play on, off, he can play man or zone. You know what you’re getting. He has it in his DNA. Fuller is my No. 1, first- round corner.” The one of his flaws is that he does not have great speed and so he could get beat by faster receivers.
4) Jason Verrett, TCU
TCU’s Jason Verrett could have the best skills of any corner in the draft. He has everything you want in a cornerback except for size. The Horned Frogs product has great technique to go along with smooth athleticism. He ran a 4.38 seconds 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and reportedly tested well in the on-field drills. He is an explosive player that can stay with fast receivers because of his great speed and fluid change-of-direction skills. Verrett is also a very smart player that can read and anticipate the offense’s plays. He also has ball skills that allow him to make big plays when he is in the vicinity of the ball.
ESPN’s Todd McShay says, “He has excellent speed, quickness and ball skills, and he makes a lot of big plays.” Even with his small build, he can help in the run game because of his toughness and sound tackling technique. He is a fearless player when he goes in attacks the ball carrier and plays in the run game. But the huge question for Verrett will be if he can guard bigger receivers with his smaller size. He may be best suited covering the slot and covering the smaller speed players.
5) Bradley Roby, Ohio State
Ohio State’s Bradley Roby measured as one of the best athletes in this year’s draft. Roby ran an impressive 4.39 seconds 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He has great smooth athleticism with excellent explosion out of his plants to break back towards the ball. Roby has all the ability to be a number one corner in the NFL because of his great athleticism.
The former Buckeye can make huge plays when he has the ball. When he intercepts the ball, he can go up field and make the big play to change the game. Todd McShay says, “his size, speed, natural athleticism and playmaking ability make him capable of developing into a shutdown outside cornerback in the NFL.” Roby is considered one of the players with the most upside in the draft. The biggest things he must improve are his consistency and technique. He must be able to produce every game at the same level and not get lazy on technique. Roby must also cut down on taking chances and losing receivers behind him because of desire to make the big play. Last July, Roby was charged with Class A misdemeanor battery, but all charges were dropped after video evidence cleared him of wrongdoing. Last month, the Ohio State product pleaded guilty to physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence. Both incidents have raised concern about his off-field behavior.
Joe has been writing for WFNY since April 2014. He is a diehard Cleveland sports fan, who is just looking for a winner in this town. He has been around sports his entire life by working with the basketball and football teams at St. Ignatius High School and also with the football team at Baldwin Wallace. Besides watching and writing about sports, Joe loves to spend time with his family and two dogs.