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NFL: Panthers Draft Preview – Cornerbacks

By: Danny Guy (For the Mac Attack)
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Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

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[Ed note: With the rapid rise of former Mac Attack Intern turned NFL draft savant Josh "Casper" Norris, we're at it again. This time, former Mac Attack intern/draftnik Danny Guy will be covering the lead up to the NFL Draft for the show here on WFNZ.com, with a focus on the Panthers specific needs and breaking down the draft class by position. Have any questions, ask in the comments or interact with Danny on twitter: @danny_g13]

Grading the 2013 Draft: Cornerbacks
(For sleeper cornerbacks take a look at Part 2, here)

One position that should be a huge emphasis in the draft for the Panthers is cornerback.  Fortunately for the Panthers, the corner class in 2013 has the potential to be special.  It has stud playmakers, great nickel options, and a few sleepers who could really turn heads before their careers are over.  With the class depth, it may not be necessary to take a corner with the fourteenth pick, but drafting one in the top two rounds would be beneficial.  So let’s look at the class.

Xavier Rhodes – 6’2” – 210 lbs – Florida State – One of the hottest names in the middle of the first round is Xavier Rhodes.  With the Panthers releasing Chris Gamble, Rhodes should certainly be under consideration with the fourteenth pick.

Strengths

Size: Excellent size, and uses it well to be physical at the point of attack. Long arms that he uses well to make plays on balls.
Press Coverage: May be biggest strength.  Extremely physical jamming receivers at the line.  Uses strength well to throw receivers off their routes, and stays aggressive throughout the play.
Closing Ability: Closes well both in the passing game and in run support.
Ball Skills: Gets head around well.  Locates the ball and attacks it at its highest point.  Times jumps very well, and shows good ability to intercept passes.
Experience: Started 39 games while at Florida State, and was an impact player in the Seminoles defense.

Weaknesses

Too Physical: Rhodes does tend to attract penalties.  He fails to get his hands off receivers, and makes body contact with receivers while the ball is in the air too often.
Play Action: Shown tendency to bite on play fakes, taking himself out of position to make the play.
Tackling: Big hitter, but shows a tendency to lunge at ball carriers, resulting in missed tackles.
Zone Coverage: Rhodes looks uncomfortable when asked to play off the receiver in zone coverage.  His hips become tight, and he doesn’t close an attack the ball as well.  He is much more suited to a physical press scheme like that of Seattle.

Projection: While Rhodes has almost undoubtedly assured himself of a top selection, he may not be the best fit for the Panthers.  Outside of Josh Thomas, no other Panthers cornerback played a significant amount of press coverage last year.  Instead, the Panthers had their defensive backs play off the man either in man to man, or zone situations.  One of the traits that make Rhodes so good is his ability to jam a receiver and gain the upper hand, which he won’t be able to do as much if Carolina uses the same coverages as last year.  While Rhodes will be a player, there are better  fits for the Panthers system.  Expect Rhodes to be a top 15 selection.

Desmond Trufant – 6’0” – 190 lbs – University of Washington – My favorite CB for the Panthers outside of Dee Milliner, is Washnigton’s Desmond Trufant.  If the name sounds familiar to you it’s probably because Trufant has two brothers already playing the position in the NFL.  While Trufant doesn’t have the size or press ability of Rhodes, he does have some other characteristics that make him a very good fit in the Panthers defense.

Strengths

Size: Good (not exceptional) size for the position.
Ball Skills: Physical when the ball is in the air, and times his leap well to high point the pass.
Versatility: Experience playing both the outside corner positions, and in the slot.  Also has a lot of experience in both man to man, and zone situations.
Off Coverage: Looks at home in space.  Moves well, showing great hip fluidity and redirect ability.
Experience: Four year starter at Washington, with 47 career starts.
Run Support: Isn’t afraid to stick his nose in a pile, showing the desire to make contact with ball carriers.

Weaknesses

Technique: Average technique.  Doesn’t use hands as well as he should when placed in press coverage.
Press Coverage: When playing close to line of scrimmage doesn’t get physical with the wide receivers.
Deep Ball:  In press situations, has shown he’s susceptible to getting beat by the deep ball.
Length: Doesn’t have the long arms that other top corners like Rhodes have.
Tackling:  Doesn’t shy away from tackling, but he still tends to lunge at ball carriers resulting in missing tackles.

Projection: Trufant’s stock has been up and down for a while.  At one point, he looked like a middle second round pick, recently there was noise that he may go in the top 15 (possibly to the Dolphins at 12).  Things have cooled off a bit for his stock, but he will be a top 20 to 25 selection.

Jamar Taylor – 5’11” – 192 lbs – Boise State – A CB who stood out the more I watched him last year was Boise’s Jamar Taylor.  Despite his size, Taylor is a very physical corner who plays above his 5’11” frame.

Strengths

Physicality: Gets physical with receivers.  He uses his hands well to jam, and redirect pass catchers out of their breaks.  Presses his man well when asked to do so.
Straight Line Speed: Shows excellent straight line speed with a sub 4.4 second 40.  Stays with his man well on deep patterns.
Jumping Routes: Shows great instinctive ability to break on underneath routes.  Times his break well to beat the receiver to the ball.
Ball Skills: Locates and attacks the ball well.  High points the football, and shows the drive and desire to win jump ball situations.
Run Defense: Reliable in run support.  Makes tackles in the open field better than most corner prospects, and also shows an ability to fight off blocks on a consistent basis.  Contains the edge well.

Weaknesses

Inexperience in Press Situations: Was not asked to play press coverage on a regular basis at Boise.  Also his size may limit his ability to do so at the next level.
Aggressiveness: Desire to make big plays in coverage leads to him being susceptible to the double moves, and the play action.
Untested: The competition he faced during his career at Boise was subpar.  There are concerns how he will do against top flight NFL receivers.

Projection: Despite Taylor’s inexperience against top flight competition, he is still one of the top corners in this class.  His willingness to get physical with receivers, as well as his good instincts and ball skills should made his a valuable contributor to whatever team selects him.  Expect Taylor to be a late first to early second round selection.

Darius Slay – 6’0” – 192 lbs – Mississippi State – Slay is the teammate of another CB that many had in the top 15 heading into the draft process, Johnthan Banks.  However it’s Slay may end up the better of the two Bulldogs for several reasons.

Strengths

Length: In addition to his large frame, has great arm length to knock down passes.
Straight Line Speed: Possesses exceptional straight line speed, with a 4.31 second 40 at the Combine.
Recognition of Routes: Recognizes and reacts well.  Reads the quarterbacks eyes well despite inexperience, and times breaks well to close and make plays.
Leaping Ability: Times his jump well, showing ability to attack the ball at its highest point, and competes well for 50-50 balls.
Return Ability: Experience as a kick returner, and is able to make players miss in the open field on a return or after an interception.

Weaknesses

Inexperience: Only one year of starting at Mississippi State.
Flashed More Than Stood Out: Despite being put in numerous situations to make plays opposite Banks, Slay didn’t make big plays on a consistent enough basis.  There were games where he flashed ability, but he needs to work on consistency.
Run Defense: Struggles to break free of blockers, and doesn’t wrap up on a consistent enough basis.
Change of Direction: Does not possess elite change of direction speed.  Faster receivers could give him issues at the next level.

Projection: Slay is an interesting prospect.  Despite several noticeable flaws, he has the tools to be an exceptional CB at the next level.  One of the most important things in his development will be experience.  He didn’t play much on outside in college, and because of this he may struggle early.  Still like him a lot as a long term starter at the next level, and expect him to be a solid second round selection.

D.J. Hayden – 5’11” – 191 lbs – Houston – Perhaps the most interesting CB in the 2013 class, but it’s not for the usual reason.  Hayden was in the midst of a great Senior season, when he suffered a devastating injury in practice.  After colliding with a teammate, Hayden sustained a torn vein in his heart.  Now just five months after the injury, Hayden seems to have bounced back and is once again a very capable NFL prospect.

Strengths

Versatility: Despite his size he can handle man coverage responsibilities not only in the slot, but at the outside CB positions as well.
Change of Direction: Excellent change of direction ability, allowing him to turn and run with receivers, as well as make quick cuts to break on routes.
Closing Speed: Shows an excellent closing burst to attack his match up in off coverage.  Even when he gives up space he can swarm almost instantly.
Tackling: Despite not having the ideal frame for a physical CB, Hayden is a strong tackler who can pop the ball carriers and force turnovers.

Weaknesses

Size: Does not possess the physical traits you would want in a top flight corner, however he makes up for it with effort, and intensity.
Injury Concerns: With such a serious injury, there are definite concerns about whether Hayden can play without setbacks.  So far he has gone through the process without any snags, but the concerns will remain.

Projection: If injury-free he would likely be a first round prospect.  However his heart injury and his size have negatively impacted his stock.  Even with those two legitimate concerns, would be surprising to see Hayden last too long in this draft.  One of the top corners as far as ability is concerned, and for that reason see him as a middle second to early third round selection.

David Amerson – 6’1” – 205 lbs – North Carolina State – If he was able to come out last year Amerson may have been a top ten pick.  A mediocre season that raised several concerns about him has now left him as a fringe second rounder in my opinion.

Strengths

Size: Exceptional size with a long frame, and long arms to deflect passes.

Aggressiveness: Shows great ability to attack both in breaking on routes, and in run support.  Physical tackler with great athleticism.
Ball Skills: Looks more like a receiver then a corner when attacking the ball.  Locates football exceptionally well, and is able to make sure catches away from the body.  Shows good ability to adjust to throws that are off target.
Tackling: Wraps up the ball carrier well, showing sound tackling fundamentals.  Also shows the willingness to pop a ball carrier in an effort to create a fumble or incomplete pass.
Run Support: Defends run admirably sideline to sideline.  Uses his hands well to fight off receiver’s blocks, putting him into position to make the tackle.

Weaknesses

Hip Flexibility: Does not display exceptional hip flexibility, creating issues when asked to cover double moves.  His turn and go speed is also a concern, as quicker receivers may be able to eat up his cushion easily at the next level.
Inexperience in Press Coverage: Was not asked to defend receivers in press coverage on a regular basis at N.C. State, instead spending most of his time in Zone and Off coverage schemes.  Has the tools to excel in press due to size and physicality, he will just need experience to learn the proper technique.
Aggressiveness: While his aggressive nature allows him to make plays on underneath routes, and attack ball carriers in the run game, it also leaves him exposed to double moves and play action.
Difficulty With Top Flight Receivers: Against the best competition in 2012, Amerson struggled mightily.  Against Tennessee and Clemson Amerson looked like he didn’t belong on the field with his competition.

Projection: Despite 2012 struggles, a standout 2011 season will have teams hopeful that he can be an exceptional CB.  Amerson’s success will depend on the system he plays in.  His size and physical nature would make him a standout press corner in a system like Seattle utilizes.  Less than ideal hip flexibility and change of direction create concerns about his ability to play CB in a primarily Zone or Off coverage scheme like Carolina utilized last year.  Like him better as a Free Safety for a team like the Panthers, but no matter who drafts him, expect Amerson to be a late second round selection.

Other Early Round Corners

Johnthan Banks – 6’2” – 185 lbs – Mississippi State – Exceptional size, with long arms to match, good flexibility and ball skills.  Once he locates the football he shows great ability to complete the play and make the interception.  May be a little on the lean side, and does not always display proper technique.  Has shown a tendency to over pursue in the running game.

Projection: Late first to early second round selection.

Blidi Wreh-Wilson – 6’1” – 195 lbs – Connecticut – Long frame and arms, great closing speed, and quickness to stay with receivers through their breaks.  However he has inconsistent tackling, and needs to work on high pointing the football better, as well as being more competitive in jump ball situations.

Projection: Late second to early third round selection.

Jordan Poyer – 6’0” – 191 lbs – Oregon State – Above average physicality despite just average size, reads the quarterback well and finds himself in position to make plays on the ball on a consistent basis.  Takes good angles in run support, and has the ability to play outside or in the slot.  Reliable Special Teams player.  His frame may prevent him from adding much more muscle, and has a tendency to give too much cushion to receivers.  Over aggressiveness may be a concern, and his tackling is inconsistent.

Projection: Middle to late second round pick.

Robert Alford – 5’10” – 188 lbs – Southeastern Louisiana – Despite his size is very good in press coverage, and shows a competitive drive to win jump ball situations.  Has good hip flexibility, and breaks on underneath routes well.  Finishes tackles on a consistent basis, and plays his zone well.  Needs to use his hands better to win press matchups, and take better angles in run support.  Does not have the ideal size to be an outside Corner.

Projection: Late second to early third round pick.

Logan Ryan – 5’11” – 192 lbs – Rutgers – Good size and length, has above average man coverage ability, and stays with receivers well.  Possesses good recovery speed, is physical at the line, and has good ball skills.  Shows the ability to make plays in run support, a good Special Teams player.  Needs to be more consistent making tackles in the open field, and reading the quarterback better.  Has a tendency to bite on the play action and double moves, and does not possess elite top-end speed.  May attract penalties due to being too physical down field.

Projection: Late second to early third round selection.

Part 2, click here…

Previously from Danny Guy:
NFL Combine Standouts: Panthers Edition
Panthers Draft Preview: Defensive TacklesPanthers Draft Preview: Defensive Ends
Panthers Draft Preview: Linebackers

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