(Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports)
With the 2013 Draft just a couple days away, we’re going to take a quick look at a position of perpetual need in today’s NFL. As the arms race to build high-powered passing attacks escalates, so too does the demand for solid cornerbacks, even for the fourth or fifth guy on the depth chart. Last season, the Colts grappled with inadequacies at the position and dealt with several injuries that changed the complexion of their secondary throughout the year.
This offseason, Indianapolis added a starting strong safety in LaRon Landry to replace Tom Zbikowski. They also lost Jerraud Powers, the promising but oft-injured former starter at corner and then signed Greg Toler, a promising but oft-injured former starter at corner from the Cardinals. A healthy nickel backfield of Landry and Antoine Bethea at safety with Toler, Vontae Davis, and Darius Butler at cornerback sounds good enough to get the job done most Sunday afternoons. However, in the NFL, teams must consider the depth (both because of injuries and for defending 4 and 5 wide receiver sets), as well as the future, and if Ryan Grigson sees a cornerback as the best player available in the first round, he could pull the trigger on one.
With all the talented pass rushers projected near the end of the first or beginning of the second round, we have focused quite a bit on OLB’s, DE’s, and, perhaps more because of need, wide receivers as well. Today, let’s take a quick snapshot of a few cornerbacks who could be available when Indianapolis goes on the clock with the 24th pick this Thursday. (continued after the jump)
Johnathan Banks, Mississippi State, 6-2, 185, 4.59 40, 34” vertical, Early 2nd round
Johnathan Banks (yes, that’s how he spells it) is the 6th rated cornerback in the draft and is projected to be drafted in the early second round. Remember these projections are an inexact science, and Banks could go almost anywhere on the first or second day. He is a tall, lanky corner who isn’t very muscular yet but has managed to terrorize wide receivers throughout his college career, his slight build notwithstanding.
Here are a couple videos of Banks, for those who like doing a little scouting:
He doesn’t look like a powerful tackler, as few cornerbacks do, but he is aggressive in the run game nonetheless. He did get a monster sack on a CB blitz in the first video that made him look surprisingly fast and agile, then batted down a pass a couple plays later, but he was also beaten badly on a catch down the right sideline shortly thereafter.
It looked as though Banks was asked to play off in zone coverage quite a bit and prevent extra yardage or come back to make a play on the ball. At the two-minute mark of the second video, he snagged an overthrown or deflected pass while playing soft coverage and took it to the house. He did look good when he was in man coverage, apart from being burned on the right sideline. It’s difficult to see much from a couple games with a cornerback, but Banks has managed to impress some people despite his “slow” 40 time. Here’s the overview from his NFL.com draft profile:
SEC receivers were hoping Banks would head to the NFL after his second-team All-SEC junior season, but they had to deal with the tall, lean, three-year starter. Ball skills and competitive streak for another season before he headed off to challenge pro receivers. He has experience playing a number of spots in the secondary, beginning his career as a safety, before eventually settling on the boundary corner and nickel spots. His skills is man coverage were under-utilized at Mississippi State, and if he can keep adding weight to his long, wiry frame, has the potential to be an excellent press-man corner, a skill that could land him in the top 50 picks.
(Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)
D.J. Hayden, Houston, 5-11, 191, 4.42 40, Rounds 1-2
Derek Sherrad Hayden transferred from Navarro Junior College to Houston and made a name for himself during a short college career. Hayden looked downright elite in the first nine games of his senior season (61 tackles, 4 interceptions, 8 deflections, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery). During a practice before his next game, however, he collided with a safety and tore the inferior vena cava (IVC) in his heart, an injury from which few have survived (95% fatal). You can read more about his injury, including some incredible quotes from Hayden, here: Yahoo Sports: D.J. Hayden.
After the trauma, according to the linked article and many others, Hayden said he felt “cold,” and “sleepy” and couldn’t see out of his left eye. Despite all that, he is surely hoping some team will feel comfortable with letting him play because apart from what happened, he is one heck of a prospect.
Here is a video of Hayden taking on UCLA in 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DULLKzandYI
And another of Hayden against Penn State in 2011: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lp5VU7e00c0
Early in the first video, D.J. Hayden has a nice breakup of a pass nullified because of a roughing the passer call on another player. On the next play, he appears to be beaten on a drag route but is bailed out by a good pass rush. Hayden recovered nicely, locking down his man and getting his hands on the ball on the ensuing third down. He also had a nice pick on an ill-advised throw. Later, he chased a player down from behind and forced a fumble, then dropped a would-be pick six on the following drive.
Hayden looks fast and strong on tape (a.k.a. YouTube). He can recover quickly when he’s out of position, and he appears to have the ability to bait a quarterback into throwing his way, only to break on the ball like a mad man and destroy the play. On top of that, he can wrap up and tackle quite naturally. However, concern over his near-death injury could both cause NFL teams to shy away from him as a prospect. Hayden’s situation is such a rarity that teams may be concerned about what risks he is taking by getting back on the football field.
Hayden’s NFL.com draft profile sums it up nicely:
Hayden helped Navarro Junior College win a national championship in 2010, and then aided the Cougars 13-1 finish in 2011 as Conference USA’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year as a junior (11 pass break-ups, five forced fumbles). He was having a fantastic senior campaign until a life threatening injury cut it short. How he checks out medically will play a major role in his draft status.
(Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports)
Desmond Trufant, Washington, 6-0, 190, 4.38 40, 37.5 vertical, Rounds 1-2
Trufant is the third ranked cornerback in this year’s draft according to CBS Sports, but many feel he could still be around late in the first round. One of his older brothers, Marcus Trufant is still playing for the Seattle Seahawks after nine years in the league, and his other, Isaiah, is currently with the New York Jets. So, we can surmise that he is well-prepared for the life change that lies ahead of him in the NFL.
As a senior and 4th year starter, Desmond Trufant had 36 tackles, 8 pass deflections, 1 interception, 1 sack, 1 fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and a surprising 4.5 tackles for a loss.
Here are Trufant’s videos:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMzvzLu2kT4 versus Stanford, 2012
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeDr37wVkQc versus Boise State, 2012
Trufant doesn’t get a ton of picks, but the young man can bat down some passes. He has the ability to out-muscle receivers on jump balls and play very physically in close quarters. To borrow a phrase from basketball analysts, he appears to play ‘bigger’ than he actually is, despite already having good size for the position. Most players fitting that big, physical, leaper profile are slower than average, but Trufant showed some NFL-ready speed at his combine workouts.
In the Stanford video, he spent a great deal of time in run support and didn’t stand out much in that capacity – good or bad. He had a couple blitzes, looking tentative in traffic the first time, and racing around the left tackle for a near sack on the second. On one of his deflections, he got away with a bit of a hold, but for the most part, he looks like a clean player who needs to work on his technique.
In the most impressive play, around the 5:05 mark of the Stanford video, Trufant out-jumped 6 foot 8 Stanford tight end Levine Toilolo on a jump ball for an acrobatic interception. It may not have been the best pass, with the Stanford QB relying on Toilolo’s height to win out, but the best cornerbacks can turn bad passes into turnovers and the occasional good pass into a deflection.
For a wrap-up of Trufant, we’ll turn to the aforementioned Olly Dawes, who did an extensive film review of the player back in February:
Physical cornerback who gets aggressive
Possesses very good recovery speed
Has shown he can excel in man coverage
Tracks the ball in the air well
Has the ability to mirror a receiver's route well
Great competitiveness and confidence
Seems to avoid contact in the run game
Takes bad angles when tackling
Gets away with contact that might not fly in the NFL
Doesn't make many "splash" plays
Other possibilities include Florida State Redshirt Junior Xavier Rhodes, who has generated so much buzz, he may be gone by the mid first round, Boise State’s Jamar Taylor (who had a linebacker-like 22 bench press reps at the combine), and Dwayne Gratz of Connecticut (who also had 22 reps).
Some quick videos on those players as well:
Xavier Rhodes against Wake Forest and Clemson, 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sw9oHp46Yqs
Jamar Taylor against Michigan St. and Washington, 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4t6aX8S1VPU
Dwayne Gratz taking on Louisville, 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RpKh1BD1oY
And Gratz again, against Cincinnati: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0B4aU1plFw
For anyone who would like to see even more film of draft prospects, Olly Dawes’s YouTube channel has playlists for 54 different college players who could be available when the Colts go on the clock.
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