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    Richner: 2014 Top CBs

    by Matt Richner, NFL Draft Expert
    Last Updated: 1/18/2015 8:58 PM ET
    This year's defensive backs have enough depth and talent that teams will most likely find a couple of immediate starters in the later rounds of the draft. Last year, the top defensive cornerback selected was Dee Milliner, ninth overall by the Jets. Milliner was benched and ended the season in Rex Ryan's dog house. The steal of the draft from the cornerback spot came with the New England Patriots' selection of Logan Ryan in the third round. Ryan led all rookies last season with five interceptions.

    For the upcoming NFL Draft there could be at least four cornerbacks selected in the first round. Don't be surprised to see a run early on in the draft on defensive backs.

    For the defensive backs, I have created an impact plays formula that takes into consideration INT, PB, FF, TFL, sacks, times targeted, yards given up and the opponent's success rate. This is always one of the more difficult positions to quantify based on the fact that if a player is a shutdown corner, his opponent will more than likely avoid him. Below are the top five cornerbacks in this year's draft class.

    1) Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State) The nation's second ranked defense was led by their physical defensive back Darqueze Dennard. With 10 career interceptions and 20 pass breakups, he quickly cemented himself atop draft boards with his play last season.
    An active participant in run support, Dennard is able to seal his edge and push the flow of traffic back towards the center of the field. At 5'11” and 200 lbs, he has a strong upper body; he can quickly disengage from would-be blockers to make the open-field tackle.
    The one area of concern is Dennard's ability to run stride for stride with quicker, more explosive wideouts. Over 50 percent of his targets last season came 20 yards or more past the line of scrimmage. His average yards per attempt was 18.0, but his average yards per completion was only 7.1, the lowest amongst the top defensive backs in this year's class. Opponents knew they couldn't beat Dennard on short or immediate passes, but that he was weak on deeper, downfield throws.

    In 44 career games, Dennard had 136.5 tackles, 10 TFL, 1 sack, 20 PD, 3 FF, 10 INT, and 1 blocked kicked. He had 73 career impact plays with an average of 1.66 impact plays per game.

    The former Thorpe Award winner will most likely be one of the top corners selected in the upcoming draft. Dennard is an all-around top tier corner who can play the run, be physical at the line of scrimmage and dominate his side of the field.

    2) Bradley Roby (Ohio State): One of the best athletes at the cornerback position in this year's draft, Roby was one of the top performers at the most recent NFL Combine. At 5'11” and 194 lbs, he is the ideal size to defend bigger wideouts, yet he maintains the speed and quickness to run with smaller, more elusive wide receivers.

    Earlier this season Roby had a difficult time against a top NFL prospect when he was matched up against Wisconsin wideout, Jared Abbrederis.

    Abbrederis was able to use both his size and elite route-running ability to dominate the former All-American defensive back. Roby was targeted 14 times, with two pass break-ups and one INT, but he gave up seven receptions for 149 yards and one TD. Four of his opponent's receptions went for more than 30 yards downfield. He was also flagged for pass interference once in the game.

    Roby just couldn't handle Abbrederis. He was holding his jersey and trying to play catch-up through most of the game. His interception came off a poorly thrown ball by the quarterback, where Roby read the quarterback's eyes and showed great instincts to jump in front of the tight end for the pick.

    His average yards per catch allowed was just 9.1 yards. In 36 career games he had 154.5 tackles, 7.5 TFL, one sack, 36 PD, 8 INT, and 4 blocked kicks. He had 74.5 impact plays for his career, an average of 2.07 impact plays per game.

    Roby is a physical presence across the field and will battle opposing receivers at the line of scrimmage. He will need to do a better job at keeping wide receivers in front instead of letting them get behind him for big play opportunities.

    3) Jason Verrett (TCU): One of the few lockdown corners in college football capable of playing man-to-man defense, Verrett is usually left by himself on his side of the field with little help from his teammates. His ability to play man-to-man allowed TCU head Coach Gary Patterson the ability to create and bring pressure and attack opposing quarterbacks.

    Verrett had an incredible performance against LSU last season, which has a full arsenal of talented wide receivers. Verrett was targeted seven times with these results: Catches 3, Receiving Yards 35, PB 3, and Sacks 1.

    He is a willing tackler in run support and can break down a ball carrier in the open field. While he plays in man coverage, he doesn't press at the line of scrimmage. At just 5'9” and 189 lbs, Verrett is smaller than the ideal size for an NFL defensive back. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in speed and quickness. While taller defensive backs are highly coveted right now, it would be wise to remember that some of the most prolific and accomplished wide receivers are still under six feet tall.

    Verrett is ideally suited to be matched up to cover the slot receiver. He can use his strength to jam them at the line and his quickness to stay right in their hip pocket.

    He gave up one of the highest yards per catch average last season of any defensive back in the draft, allowing close to 14.5 yards per catch. In 43 career games, Verrett had 138.5 tackles, 10 TFL, one sack, one FF, 9 INT, and one blocked kick. He had a career total of 75 impact plays, an average of 2.03 impact plays per game.

    In the long term, I think Verrett will be moved to safety since he is built in a similar mold as current Seahawk Earl Thomas. He is a natural ball hawk, with his vision and athletic ability he could be a great free safety in the NFL.

    4) Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State): After his 2011 sophomore season in which he had five INT and 10 pass breakups, Gilbert was viewed by some scouts as a future first-round pick. He failed to live up to the preseason hype, though, finishing with just nine pass breakups and no interceptions in the 2012 season. He decided to come back for his senior year and prove to scouts that he is one of the best cover corners in college football.

    At 6'0” and 202 lbs, Gilbert has the size, speed and strength to match-up with most of the elite wide receivers in the NFL. Gilbert does have a tendency to leave too much space between himself and the receiver, which allows the receiver the opportunity to make a play on the ball deep down the field.

    A game changer on special teams, Gilbert ranks fourth amongst active players in career KO Return Yards with 2,681 and first in KO Return TDs with six. Justin Gilbert led the Big 12 and tied for second nationally with seven interceptions this season. He has 12 career interceptions and 27 pass break ups. In 51 games he had 168 tackles, 3.5 TFL, and 2 forced fumbles.

    Gilbert looked to make the “big” play on every play and he needs to understand that he can get burned by having this outlook. Opponents had a tendency to challenge him between 5-15 yards off the line of scrimmage. He averaged 12.9 YPA last season and gave up an average of 11.1 yards per catch last season.

    He had a career total of 78.5 impact plays, an average of 1.54 impact plays per game. Gilbert is an experienced corner who saw plenty of action competing in the pass happy Big-12. He will have to learn not to bite on fakes or jump routes as opponents will counter with double moves. Gilbert is a solid cornerback overall who should pay immediate dividends on special teams.

    5) Ross Cockrell (Duke): An accomplished four-year starter, Cockrell helped catapult the program from the ACC cellar to being invited to two consecutive bowl games. With a long, slender build, he still has the ability to hold his own against the run, shows solid tackling technique and only had 4 missed tackles last season.

    While he can play in man coverage, Cockrell does a good job at locating the ball and quickly making a play and would be best suited for zone technique. In 49 career games, he had 193.5 tackles, 7 TFL, 2 sacks, 41 PD, 2 FF, and 12 interceptions.

    His speed and reaction time are above average. Opponents had a difficult time picking up significant yards after the catch when matched up against Cockrell as he allowed just 4.2 yards after the catch last season. He has excellent closing speed and he utilizes his long arms to get his hands into the body of the receiver to knock down the ball.

    For his career, Cockrellhad a total of 95 impact plays, an average of 1.94 impact plays per game. In the right scheme where he could keep his eyes on the quarterback, he could develop into a quality starting corner. From a statistical and scouting standpoint, he compares favorably to Tracy Porter.

    6) E.J. Gaines (Missouri): Career impact plays: 81: Impact plays per game average: 1.62

    7) Andre Hal (Vanderbilt): Career impact plays: 57.5: Impact plays per game average: 1.15

    8) Pierre Desir (Lindenwood): Career impact plays: 83.5: Impact plays per game average: 2.98

    9) Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska): Career impact plays: 53: Impact plays per game average: 1.47

    10) Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech): Career impact plays: 85: Impact plays per game average: 1.73
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