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2014 Draft Preview: Cornerback

Posted May 7, 2014

There are a lot of good prospects at the position, which is why it’s been predicted there could be a run on cornerbacks after the midway point of the first round

It appears to be a case of quantity over quality when it comes to the cornerback class, at least when it comes to elite talent. The 2014 draft class is lacking that can’t-miss shutdown corner and there’s no consensus as to whether Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard or Oklahoma’s Justin Gilbert is the best prospect. It’s entirely possible, if not likely, that there won’t be a cornerback among the first 10 picks for the first time since 2009.

On the flip side, there are a lot of good prospects at the position, which is why it’s been predicted there could be a run on cornerbacks after the midway point of the first round. A total of nine cornerbacks were selected in the first two rounds in 2013, and that number could be topped this year.

The Dolphins selected six cornerbacks in the past five drafts, including Jamar Taylor and Will Davis in the second and third rounds in 2013. Miami has drafted four cornerbacks in the first round — Vontae Davis in 2009, Jamar Fletcher in 2001, Troy Vincent in 1992, and Don McNeal in 1980 — but arguably the two best cornerbacks in franchise history, Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain, both were taken in the second round.

BREAKING DOWN THE TOP CORNERBACK PROSPECTS (In Alphabetical Order)

Darqueze Dennard saw action as a true freshman at Michigan State before becoming a three-year starter and earning the 2013 Jim Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in college football. Dennard, a first-team All-Big Ten selection his last two years at Michigan State, was a consistent performer for the Spartans, recording three interceptions in both 2011 and 2012 before finishing with four last season. Dennard is a physical corner ideally suited for press coverage. He doesn’t have elite speed but is very fluid. Dennard also is a willing participant when it comes to run support. Dennard, a team captain at Michigan State, probably isn’t the most physically gifted corner in this class, but he just might be the most NFL-ready.

Kyle Fuller started 42 games in four seasons at Virginia Tech, including seven as a true freshman in 2010 after he had missed most of his senior year in high school because of a finger injury. Fuller played cornerback all the way except in 2011 when he started seven games as a “nickel back/whip linebacker” and finished that season with 14.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Fuller finished with two interceptions each of the last three years and earned first-team All-ACC honors as a senior despite having his season cut short because he had to undergo sports hernia surgery. Fuller was named a team captain at Virginia Tech last season. While he has physical limitations, Fuller is a tough, competitive cornerback with special teams experience.

Generally recognized as the best athlete among the cornerback prospects, Justin Gilbert was a big-time playmaker in 2013 when he finished with seven interceptions and earned first-team All-American honors from the Football Writers Association of America. Gilbert also had five interceptions in 2011 when he victimized all three of the quarterbacks who were top 10 picks in the 2012 draft — Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and the Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill. Gilbert also used his athletic ability to produce as a kickoff returner; he had six kickoff returns for touchdowns in four years, one shy of the NCAA career record shared by Buffalo Bills star C.J. Spiller of Clemson and Tyron Carrier of the University of Houston. Where Gilbert falls a little short — and what’s keeping him from a certain top 10 spot — is in the areas of competitiveness and consistency.

Bradley Roby started all 37 games he played at Ohio State after being redshirted in 2010, and entered the draft with one year of eligibility remaining. Roby was highly productive for Ohio State, breaking up 30 passes and recording five interceptions over the past two seasons. Roby was the only defensive player in the country in 2012 to score three different ways — fumble recovery in the end zone, recovery of blocked punt in the end zone, interception return — but he didn’t quite live up to lofty expectations last fall even though he still earned All-Big Ten honors. Roby is an elite athlete in the same mold as Gilbert, although he’s not quite as big or as fast. His long-term potential likely is too good for him to slip out of the first round of the draft.

Jason Verrett became known during his time at Texas Christian for his tenacity and the perfect illustration is that he had to attend a junior college out of high school because of academic issues and graduated last December with a degree in communications. Verrett started the last three years at TCU and he was named co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year (along with Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat) last season despite recording only two interceptions. Of course, a big reason for that is that opponents shied away from him after he led TCU with six interceptions and 16 pass breakups in 2012. Verrett is a speedy corner with all the physical attributes to be a high first-round pick, but he lacks size and durability is a concern. Over the past three offseasons, Verrett has had surgery on his left knee, his right knee and most recently on a shoulder to repair a torn labrum. Verrett, though, could be an immediate contributor as a nickel corner and on special teams.

THE BEST OF THE REST (In Alphabetical Order)

Bashaud Breeland
5-11, 195
Clemson

Pierre Desir
6-1, 200
Lindenwood

Stan Jean-Baptiste
6-3, 215
Nebraska

Lamarcus Joyner
5-8, 190
Florida State

Keith McGill
6-3, 215
Utah

BREAKING DOWN THE CORNERBACK CLASS

Other small-school prospects to watch: Brandon Dixon, NW Missouri State; Kendall James, Maine; Todd Washington, SE Louisiana; Lavelle Westbrooks, Georgia Southern

NFL bloodlines: Baylor’s Demetri “Meech” Goodson is the brother of New York Jets running back Mike Goodson. … Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller is the brother of Detroit Lions wide receiver Corey Fuller and former NFL player Vincent Fuller (Tennessee, Detroit) … San Jose State’s Bene Benwikere is cousins with Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Christopher Owens, who played for the Dolphins late in the 2013 season.

Long shot to watch: A two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection, Aaron Colvin went to the Senior Bowl hoping to improve his draft position but instead left with a torn ACL, an injury he sustained during practice. Durability already was a concern with the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Colvin, and now he’s staring at the possibility of beginning his rookie season on the sidelines. That said, Colvin has enough long-term potential to merit consideration in the mid-to-late rounds.

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