I’m combining these as I don’t think there are enough safeties worth mentioning to break them into their own section. The cornerback class on the other hand, has some real star potential and also has very good depth. The one player who I think is potentially the best overall player available is LSU’s Patrick Peterson. I know most of you have probably read about how no CB has ever been taken with the first pick overall, but I think this is the year where all of the ‘history’ of events is thrown out. This draft is taking place while there is a lockout going on and the threat of an impending rookie salary wage scale. Because of that, I think drafting strategies will change and I think teams will start to pay less attention to positional value based on contract numbers and just grab the best player available at a position of need. Peterson has everything you want in an elite shut-down corner. He will start from day one, and if a team wants to risk it, I let him return punts as well because he’s so dangerous doing this. I think he’s the best corner I’ve seen to come out since Deion. Yes, Revis is great, but I didn’t think he’d be as good as he is when he left college. Peterson, to me, has everything to be great and I expect it. He should not make it out of the top five picks, and if I am drafting in the top three, it will be a very difficult argument to get me to take someone other than him if he’s on the board still. After Peterson, there are two guys who I think will be fantastic immediate starters. Prince Amukamara of Nebraska is a polished corner who can play on or off man coverage. He’s played in a pro-style defense under Bo Pelini, and he has proven he has the athleticism to turn and run with NFL WRs. The only thing that makes me hesitate a bit about him is his poor game against OSU WR Justin Blackmon this season. Blackmon absolutely torched him more than once, and it made me worry about his catch up speed after seeing that game (although the combine proved he has plenty when he ran a 4.39 40). I’m willing to say it’s a one game thing, but it’s still in the back of my mind and may sway me to consider the next guy as the second best corner. Colorado’s Jimmy Smith is suffering right now from a tarnished image with off-the-field character concerns. I obviously do not have access to this, so all I can judge is his on the field play. Throw Smith’s stats out as no one would throw his way. He’s one of the best press-man cover corners in this draft, and he has the size to absolutely abuse guys at the line of scrimmage. He visibly frustrated top-10 WR AJ Green when they played each other because he was in his face and would not let him break cleanly into his routes. If a team is willing to accept the character concerns, Jimmy Smith has top 10 talent you can probably get from picks 12-26. I hope he keeps it on the straight and narrow and uses this as fuel to prove why teams should not have passed on him.
The next tier of guys will be taken in the late first to early second round. Brandon Harris of Miami is a bit slight of build, but he’s got very good technique and plays the position extremely well. I think with some time in the weight room, and time as a nickel corner to start, he’s going to be a very good starting NFL corner. Aaron Williams of Texas is a guy who I think may be better fit at safety because he’s a bit stiff when it comes to turning and running. He’s a big and physical corner though, so teams who covet a player who will press and be physical near the line of scrimmage may like him more at corner than at safety. I actually question his hands a bit after seeing him drop some balls he should catch in games and at the combine. I actually prefer his teammate, Curtis Brown, more so because he can be had more than likely in the mid second to early third round. Brown is most definitely a corner, and he is a smooth athlete who has a nose for the ball. Two other guys who are more ‘potential’ players with some other concerns as Virginia’s Ras-I Dowling and New Mexico St’s Davon House. Dowling comes with a long list of injury concerns, and House has some injury concerns as well as a slippage in performance this past season. Both are bigger corners who can play the press and would be ideal Cover-2 corners, thus why you may have seen the Bears have looked into both prospects extensively. The Bears took an injury risk CB previously in Zac Bowman, so they may do the same here, although both these guys could very well be gone in the top portion of the second round (making that a moot point). A guy I really like, who might be available in the third round, is Virginia Tech corner Rashad Carmichael. I don’t think Carmichael is getting the buzz he should, much like his former teammate Brandon Flowers a few years back (who is an outstanding CB for the Chiefs), and he may be a complete steal when we go back and look at this daft a few years from now.
Want one guy I really like, who is probably a 5th round or onward corner? Richard Sherman of Stanford. He was a WR previously, and has only played corner for two years now (I think, might be three). So he’s still raw and learning the subtle nuances of playing on that side of the ball But he has everything I want in a corner for the Bears, and he’s someone who can be had late and can develop over the next few years. You can’t teach his size and athleticism, and I love his aggressiveness and ability to make plays on the ball in the air from his time playing on offense. He would be an exceptional special teams player as well, and he’s the bigger young boundary corner the Bears currently do not have on their roster (Tillman is aging and Bowman appears to have worn out his welcome).
The section on safeties should be short and sweet! The only safety who has a chance of being a first round pick is Rahim Moore of UCLA. Moore is a pure cover Free Safety, and is not going to be an in-the-box type of physical presence. What Moore is best at doing is playing the deep centerfield position, reading the QB, and making plays on the ball. He is very good at getting picks, and for a team like the Jets, he’s ideal. I could very easily see him sliding into the top half of the second round though as well. Another less heralded guy who I really like is Iowa’s Tyler Sash. He’s not the biggest or fastest safety, but he is quick in his breaks, he accelerates well, and he is a very smart football player. On the right defense, he’s going to be dangerous, and I’d look at him as early as the late second round.
As for the in-the-box Strong Safety types, there isn’t much there either. Quinton Carter of Oklahoma is the best in my opinion, but he’s limited when it comes to coverage. For teams looking at a physical presence who can play the run well and cover to an extent, Carter is a solid value in the late third to fourth round. A guy I loved previously on tape is Robert Sands of West Virginia. While I still like Sands, I am a bit concerned that he won’t make the transition at this spot in the NFL. Sands is very tall for a defensive back (6’4”), and it shows when he is asked to change directions quickly as he struggles to drop his hips and plant/go quickly. What he has shown in games though is he is an absolute head hunter in the run game, and his size makes him an intimidating presence. In fact, I think he might even be a nice project for a Cover-2 team at WLB, as he can put some size on and learn to play closer to the line. As an OLB, he has great coverage skills. As a Safety, he has subpar coverage skills.
There are some other guys like Clemson’s De’Andre McDaniel and North Carolina’s Deunta Williams that also bear mentioning, but they aren’t guys who I think will make a big impact at the next level.