Assessing Positional Value for the Colts 2011 NFL Draft: Cornerback

Earlier in the off-season, Coltzilla wrote about how well Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian has handled turnover at the cornerback position. Exiting training camp, the 2010 team had only Kelvin Hayden, Jerraud Powers, and Jacob Lacey with experience in the Colts defense on the roster. The position was widely considered one of the team’s weakest and most susceptible to injuries.

Entering the draft this year, the situation has changed drastically. While it is widely accepted that Hayden is not playing up to his contract and has annual struggles to stay healthy, he is a legitimate NFL cornerback and would likely start for a lot of teams. The question is – will he start for the Colts in 2011? Polian traded a seventh round pick to the Washington Redskins for Justin Tryon before Week 1. Tryon had a considerable impact on defense and improved in the Colts system throughout the year. He may be good enough to push Hayden for his starting spot across from Powers.

Powers has been an obvious exception to any claims of a Colts third round curse. While he has had his own injury issues, he is borderline Pro Bowl caliber when healthy. The combination of Powers, Tryon, and Hayden is the best cornerback collection the Colts have been able to put on the field at one time for a very long time. Add former undrafted free agent Jacob Lacey, who has two years of experience in the Colts system and played well as a rookie — though his performance declined in his second season — and you have decent depth.

What could make the position completely solid, and without much of a draft need, is that 2010 third round pick Kevin Thomas will return from injury. Assuming Thomas is able to stay healthy throughout the summer and can live up to the expectations Polian and the Colts front office have for him, Indy will be five deep with enough cornerback talent to feel very confident. A final noteworthy name is Cornelius Brown, another undrafted player who had an impact late in the year after Hayden and Powers both went down. Colts Defensive Coordinator Larry Coyer seemed to like Brown in short-yardage packages and on run downs. He showed potential and if the team feels he will develop at all, he could be a sixth piece.

All of this leaves Indianapolis with deciding how confident they are in a former third round pick coming off of an injury, a third year player who struggled a bit in his second season, an undrafted player who showed some potential late in the year, and how comfortable they are retaining a starting cornerback whose impact may not support his salary. If the team is satisfied, the need line will drop significantly and the most valuable player available will have to be someone with exceptional talent who drops much later than they should to support the selection.

Cornerback

Round 1 – Pick 22

Patrick Peterson - LSU – Peterson is a very high profile cornerback prospects who could go in the top 5. Very few believe he will drop outside of the top 10. If he did fall to the Colts at 22 — he won’t — he would probably be impossible to pass up. Trading up to get Peterson will likely be the only option and doing so would likely cost more than Indy would be willing to give up. Moderate to high value.
Prince Amukamara - Nebraska – Amukamara is another very high profile cornerback pick that will likely be off of the board before the Colts pick. Like Peterson, he is a physical freak for a cornerback, runs blazing speeds, and has ideal NFL cornerback size. There are some who believe he could slip down to the Colts pick, which would certainly generate some discussion, but much of what happens with players like Peterson and Amukamara depends on who is on the board at other positions. Moderate to high value.
Jimmy Smith - Colorado – Smith has character concerns including a positive drug test in 2007 and two arrests for minor possession. The Colts don’t pick guys with character concerns in the high rounds. Low to moderate value.

Round 2 – Pick 53

Aaron Williams – Texas - Williams is not much of a scheme fit for what Indianapolis typically looks for in cornerbacks. His skills project better for the free safety position in the NFL, and his best asset would be as a jam-style corner or safety against some of the NFL’s bigger receivers. Low to moderate value.
Ras-I Dowling - Virginia – Dowling is another physically imposing cornerback who needs some technique work to be ready at the next level. With development he could be as good as a Peterson or Amukamara but he is a bigger gamble than either of them and the second round is still high if the team is not looking to replace Hayden. Low to moderate value.
Brandon Harris - Miami – Harris has the size, speed, and playing attributes that could make him an intriguing prospect for Polian. He is good in run support, reacts quickly, and has the ability to be a cover corner against NFL receivers. Where he may struggle is against taller receivers. Low to moderate value.
Curtis Brown - Texas – Brown had a solid college career. He did not get a lot of interceptions but his 32 career pass breakups suggest that he sticks with his man well and keeps track of the ball. He also has experience on special teams in coverage and as a punt returner. Brown would be similar to Harris in value. Moderate value.

Round 3 – Pick 87

Davon House - New Mexico State – House is a solid cornerback prospect but like many positions, the problem that happens in the middle to late rounds is the separation between skill is close enough that the value of grabbing a player later could be worth passing in the earlier rounds. The defensive linemen and offensive linemen that are available could make the middle round corner prospects low on the MVPA scale. Low to moderate value.
Johnny Patrick - Louisville – Patrick fits the mold of a Colts cornerback along the lines of Brandon Harris. The separation in skill is somewhat hard to determine to the casual observer because Patrick played in the Big East, a conference that does not get the kind of attention Harris got at Miami. Low to moderate value.

Round 4 – Pick 119

Marcus Gilchrist - Clemson – Gilchrist brings added value as a cornerback because of his experience returning. Some project him to go before the third round but, as mentioned previously, the talent in the middle rounds gets so muddled it is difficult to project where the players will go. If he falls to the fourth round, his abilities could make him an intriguing prospect. With the chances that the Colts may not have a one-technique defensive tackle in this round with a player like Sione Fua potentially still on the board, he may not be the MVPA. Low to moderate value.
Jalil Brown - Colorado – Brown is an intriguing prospect who would likely compete for the nickel position and could play a Marlin Jackson-like role. At 6-foot 1-inches tall and 206 pounds he has a great deal of strength for a cornerback and his 4.46 Pro Day 40-yard dash speed makes him extremely athletic. The Colts emphasize tackling and the ability to come up against the run for their nickelback prospects. Add a positive projection for Brown on special teams coverage units and his value increases. Moderate value.

Round 5 – Pick 152

Kendric Burney - North Carolina – Burney has really increased his draft stock by having solid Senior Bowl performances. The knock on him is a slow 4.72 40-yard dash, which certainly seems too slow to cover NFL receivers (also is only 5-foot 9-inches tall… short and slow is a bad combination). Slower corners who do a good job covering good receivers typically project to be most useful in a cover-2 scheme. In the fifth or sixth round, he could get the attention of the Colts front office. Moderate value.

Round 6 – Pick 188

Justin Rogers - Richmond – Rogers was highly distinguished at Richmond for both his defensive performance and his ability as the team’s all-time leading kick returner. Late round guys tend to have a lot of value added or lost based upon how dynamic a skill set they offer. In this case, Rogers would compete to be the primary kick returner and could be good enough on defense to be an improvement over former Colts defensive back T.J. Rushing. Moderate to high value.
Darrin Walls - Notre Dame – Walls never made as big of an impact at Notre Dame as he would have liked or as many would have projected. However, he is a very physical cornerback who plays aggressively toward the line in run support and is not afraid of putting big hits on ball carriers. His coverage skills and intelligence also make him a player who could develop well with proper NFL coaching. Moderate to high value.
James Dockery - Oregon State – Dockery reads and reacts well to the ball in the air. He has the speed to stick with receiver down field and potential to be a cover corner. He also reads a quarterback’s eyes well in a zone to make plays on the ball. He may be a little raw but at 6-foot 1-inches tall and 185 pounds, he brings good value in the late rounds. Moderate to high value.

Given all of the talent and experience already on the Colts roster, it seems that the need line for cornerbacks will be relatively low. There is a chance the team could choose to unload Kelvin Hayden’s large contract and a late draft pick to grab one of the top corners but that is extremely uncommon for Polian and Indy brass.

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