NFL Draft Preview: Cornerbacks

Posted Apr 15, 2013

Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks is expected to be one of the first corners taken in this year's NFL Draft. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

There was no position on the roster that the Rams spent more resources on revamping in 2012 than cornerback.

After a 2011 season in which they were woefully short on depth and struggled a major injury bug that continued to bite the position, the Rams set about giving the cornerback spot a complete makeover.

By the time the 2012 season began, only Bradley Fletcher remained on the roster among cornerbacks from the previous season.

First, the Rams went and spent $50 million on veteran Cortland Finnegan, a talented cover corner with the intangibles to become an immediate leader in the locker room.

Finnegan was banged up at the end of the season but still led all corners in tackles with 113 and posted three picks, a sack and eight passes defended. He’ll return to his role as leader of the secondary in 2013.

That’s a good thing for a group that features nothing but youth behind Finnegan’s leadership.

Coming back for a second season opposite Finnegan is Janoris Jenkins, whom the Rams used a second round pick on in 2012. Jenkins was considered a risky choice because of some off the field issues that plagued him in college but he lived up to his immense playing ability and had just one hiccup that earned him a one-game team enforced suspension during the season.

Jenkins tied Hall of Famers Lem Barney and Ronnie Lott for most interceptions returned for a touchdown by a rookie with three. He also returned a fumble for a score, his fourth touchdown of the season, most by a defender in the league last year.

The Rams didn’t stop with their two new starters in Finnegan and Jenkins, going back to the well for another corner in the third round of last year’s draft when they selected Trumaine Johnson.

Johnson made the most of his chances early in the season and eventually worked his way into some late season starts when Finnegan battled a hamstring injury. He started the last two games and finished the year with two interceptions and eight passes defended.

With those three in place at the top of the cornerback depth chart, the Rams seem set in terms of the players that would get most of the snaps at corner. What they don’t have is much depth considering the departure of Fletcher to Philadelphia in free agency.

Quinton Pointer, a promising undrafted rookie who surprised many by making the team out of camp last year, returns and provides some positional versatility. Safety Rodney McLeod has also flashed the potential to be a contributor in the slot should the Rams find themselves in a pinch.

With all of that said, cornerback is actually one of the Rams’ bigger needs even if it’s not as apparent as at other positions. Taking into account various factors off the field and the lack of depth, the Rams will likely look to add another cornerback in this year’s draft.

That addition may not come in the first round but don’t be surprised if the team uses a selection sometimes in the middle rounds on another corner and perhaps even as early as the second or third round.

Fortunately for the Rams, that’s where the value of many of the cornerbacks in this year’s class actually falls. This year’s cornerback group is deep and talented but doesn’t necessarily feature much sizzle at the top.

Alabama’s Dee Milliner is widely regarded as the top corner in this year’s class. Well coached and polished, Milliner doesn’t boast great size or speed but seems to just have a knack and know-how to play the position.

Interesting enough, ask a group of scouts where Milliner will land in the draft and you’ll hear anything from top five to somewhere around 20. The value of his position will likely push him up a bit but his final landing spot will be worth watching.

Behind Milliner comes an intriguing group of corners of all sizes and styles. Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks, Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes, Washington’s Desmond Trufant, Southeastern Louisiana’s Robert Alford and Houston D.J. Hayden are just a few of the players who could see their names called from the mid first round through the second.

Rhodes and Banks bring impressive size and length to the position, Trufant boasts excellent bloodlines and intelligence and Alford and Hayden have outstanding recognition and instincts.

It is possible one or two of those players could fall into the Rams’ range in the second or third round but if not, there are plenty of other options.

Much like Jenkins a year ago, it’s LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu who comes with all the talent in the world but carries some heavy baggage on his back. Mathieu was a well-regarded play maker for the Tigers before being kicked off the team after a series of failed drug tests and other issues.

Still, Mathieu’s talent will be too much for some team to pass up and he should land somewhere in the middle rounds.

Other mid-round possibilities include Utah State’s Will Davis, Oregon State’s Jordan Poyer, North Carolina State’s David Amerson, Connecticut’s Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, California’s Marc Anthony, William & Mary’s B.W. Webb and Mississippi State’s Darius Slay, among others.

Top Five Cornerbacks

1. Dee Milliner, Alabama – Like most Tide players, he’s been well coached and is very sound fundamentally. Not a jaw-dropping athlete but his technical skills more than make up for it.
2. Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State – Versatility to match his size, some think he projects as a safety but he has the tools to succeed at any spot in the secondary.
3. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State – Big, physical corner with good range and press skills. Lacking in awareness and anticipation but physical approach covers many warts.
4. Desmond Trufant, Washington – Had a really strong showing at the Senior Bowl and combine, boosting his stock even further. Outstanding recognition and instincts allow him to make plays on the ball regularly.
5. Robert Alford, Southeastern Louisiana – Strong instincts and play recognition make Alford very strong in coverage. Not great in run support and could make strides with ball skills but has major upside and some punt return ability.

Sleeper: B.W. Webb, William & Mary – Very talented in coverage and capable of fitting in either man or zone schemes. Needs to improve in run support but could be an immediate help in right situation early in his career.