2012 NFL Draft Preview: Defensive Backs

Posted Apr 9, 2012

Last year the two most dominant defenses in college football met for the BCS National Championship, so it should come as no surprise that Alabama and LSU have the most representation among the top defensive back prospects in this draft class.

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Alabama safety Mark Barron and LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne top the list of just about every draft board out there in their respective positions, with Barron’s teammate at corner, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Claiborne’s safety, Brandon Taylor, not too far behind. Another former SEC standout, Janoris Jenkins, has risen fast despite performing at a lower level with North Alabama after being released from Florida for disciplinary reasons. Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin and South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore round out the SEC contingent, but keep an eye out for Boise State safety George Iloka.


Size and skill combine to make Barron the prototypical NFL safety, and as the leader of Nick Saban’s secondary for the Crimson Tide, Barron did nothing to dispel that notion. He is equally as potent stuffing the run as he is in coverage, with better-than-average ball skills for a safety. His tackling skills are NFL-caliber already and he has a nose for finding the ball carrier as well as the speed to keep up with fast receivers. Barron’s health is the biggest concern as he had to skip the Combine workouts following double hernia surgery in January. He claimed to be between 80 and 90 percent healthy at his Pro Day and ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.53-4.57 second range, so if he passes all of the physicals he should still be the first safety taken come draft weekend, especially considering how important a good pass defense is in the NFL.

Claiborne had some big shoes to fill after Patrick Peterson was taken by Arizona in the first round of last year’s NFL Draft and had a solid rookie campaign. Like Peterson, Claiborne is forgoing his senior year after winning the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. He is tall and lanky, which allows him to excel as a cover corner by pressing at the line and using his long strides to not allow the receiver to get separation. But Claiborne is not one-dimensional, as he has proven to be physical enough in run support and is not afraid to come off the edge or a fill a hole to make a hit. The only knock on him as a player is that he can get a little complacent because of his physical gifts, but that is easy to correct with proper coaching.

Jenkins is this year’s lightning rod prospect because of his checkered past and character concerns that led to his dismissal from the University of Florida after being a three-year starter. But nobody can deny his physical gifts and his prowess as a top-flight cornerback, which is why he is still ranked so high in so many mock drafts. Jenkins ran a 4.45 in the 40 in Indianapolis and turned in a 331/2-inch vertical jump while opening up during his interviews and accepting responsibility for his past transgressions. He projects to be a versatile but undersized NFL cornerback who is equally adept in man coverage and zone coverage with excellent recovery speed and an uncanny ability to jam receivers at the line despite his size. Whatever team selects him and gives him that second chance could end up benefiting even more.

Imagine having to look across the line of scrimmage at both Kirkpatrick and Barron in the secondary and trying to figure out a way to not let them shut down your passing offense. That’s what Alabama’s opponents in the SEC faced week in and week out, and Kirkpatrick’s size and long arms perfectly fit the mold of the new NFL cornerback, with Philadelphia’s Nnamdi Asomugha and Miami’s Sean Smith prime examples. Receivers are getting bigger, so to combat the likes of Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Dez Bryant, teams are looking for someone with Kirkpatrick’s skill set, which in addition to ball skills includes impressive footwork for a player of his size. He ran a 4.51 at the Combine with a 35-inch vertical leap, but the question will be whether or not he can add some bulk to his frame.

Taylor and Claiborne complimented each other very well at LSU, with Taylor clearly the physical presence in the secondary. His strength is run support as he can almost be utilized like an extra linebacker, and he prides himself on intimidating receivers coming across the middle or simply into his area of the field. Taylor’s 4.58 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine left a strong impression on scouts as it was faster than he expected to run, and then at his Pro Day he bench pressed 225 pounds 16 times, proving his strength. His pass coverage skills are the biggest red flag as Taylor wasn’t asked to do much pass coverage in college, especially man coverage, so strong safety seems to be the best fit.


Brandon Boykin
5-9, 182

Alfonzo Dennard
5-10, 204

Stephon Gilmore
6-0, 190
South Carolina

George Iloka
6-4, 225
Boise State

Josh Robinson
5-10, 199
Central Florida
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