Plenty of Talent Available at Cornerback

Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib is one of a quartet of defensive back prospects whom NFL talent evaluators think could make an instant impact next year.
Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib is one of a quartet of defensive back prospects whom NFL talent evaluators think could make an instant impact next year. (Orlin Wagner - AP)
By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Talent evaluators around the NFL seem to agree on a few things about this year's class of draft-eligible cornerbacks: It's a pretty solid group and just about every team would be overjoyed to add one of the draft's top cornerbacks.

"You never have enough corners," Vinny Cerrato, the Washington Redskins' executive vice president of football operations, said at the NFL scouting combine in February in Indianapolis.

But that's where the agreement ends because there's no consensus, executives around the league say, about how the top available players should be ranked. By most accounts, that group includes Leodis McKelvin of Troy, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie of Tennessee State, Aqib Talib of Kansas and Mike Jenkins of South Florida.

"They're all good players," Eric DeCosta, director of college scouting for the Baltimore Ravens, said at the club's pre-draft news conference last week. "I wouldn't say there's a clear-cut number one corner this year in the draft. I think if you polled every single team, you'd have a different order. But all four guys are worthy of being first-round picks. I think they all do things very well. They're all very good athletes. I think they will all be starting corners in the NFL."

The class is regarded as both talented and deep.

"The corners are interesting as a group," said Charley Casserly, the former general manager of the Redskins and Houston Texans. "There are probably four first-rounders and four second-rounders."

None of the top-rated cornerbacks is from a school that is a traditional football power, perhaps producing some of the variance in opinions. McKelvin and Rodgers-Cromartie seem to have emerged as the favorites of the majority of teams, but several executives said in recent days that anything could happen Saturday and the top cornerbacks could come off the board in any order. The run on cornerbacks is expected to begin toward the bottom part of the top 10.

It might start with the choice of the New England Patriots, who have the seventh overall selection in the draft. Many observers are convinced that the Patriots desperately want Ohio State's Vernon Gholston to add to their defense at outside linebacker. But if Gholston is gone, it might make sense for the Patriots to go with a cornerback. They lost Asante Samuel, called the best cornerback in the league by Patriots veteran safety Rodney Harrison during Super Bowl week, to the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency.

The Patriots signed several free agents this offseason to try to remake their secondary, but none is regarded as a top cornerback capable of matching up with an opponent's leading wide receiver as Samuel could. Coach Bill Belichick was asked about this group of cornerbacks at the Patriots' pre-draft news conference last week and gave a favorable -- by his standards -- review.

"Probably more names and a little more depth," Belichick said. "Whether that translates into more players or not, I don't know. There will probably be more guys drafted. Whether they're able to perform to an NFL level, we'll see."

If there's an earlier-than-expected run on cornerbacks, it's possible that more than four players at the position could end up being taken in the first round. Antoine Cason of Arizona, Brandon Flowers of Virginia Tech and Justin King of Penn State are regarded by some teams as possible first-rounders. How things will unfold at the position is one of the great unknowns in this draft as it nears.

"I would say that the leading corners in this year's draft are probably tough to evaluate," DeCosta said. "We spent more time talking about the corners in the meetings than probably any other position because it is a tough group to kind of get a feel for. . . . Hopefully by next weekend we'll be able to figure that question out."

Samuel signed a six-year, $57 million contract with the Eagles that included $20 million in guaranteed money, one year after fellow cornerback Nate Clements signed an eight-year, $80 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers in free agency that included $22 million in guaranteed money. Teams are ever more desperate to find capable cornerbacks in today's pass-happy NFL.

"Cornerback is a premium position in this league," New York Giants General Manager Jerry Reese said at the combine. "Everyone wants cornerbacks."

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