Posted February 25, 2014

Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard among notable cornerbacks in 2014 NFL draft class

2014 Scouting Combine, NFL Draft, NFL draft 2014
Cornerbacks in 2014 NFL draft: Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard among notable names

Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert (left) must improve his technique to succeed at the next level. (William Purnell/Icon SMI)

The incoming rookie class of wide receivers put on a show Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. From Brandin Cooks’ electric 4.33 40 time to teammates Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant each hitting the low 4.4s to Tevin Reese flashing a 41-inch vertical, the position group made it clear that the NFL’s offensive revolution likely will not be dying down soon.

Unless, that is, this draft’s defensive prospects have something to say about it.

Cornerbacks and safeties close out the combine on Tuesday, giving them a shot to leave a lasting final impression on the scouts, coaches and GMs in attendance. The corners, in particular, will be in the spotlight. With some experts predicting that as many as nine or 10 receivers could be Round 1 selections, are there any soon-to-be rookies out there capable of shutting them down?

Here’s a quick refresher on some of cornerbacks to watch:

Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State (5-foot-11, 190 pounds): The 40-yard dash may have been more important to Dennard than any other player at this position group. Why? Because the most pressing question about the aggressive Spartans’ star centers around his speed — specifically, his ability to track receivers downfield should they beat him off the line. He allayed some of these fears by running an (unofficial) 4.42.

The rest of the package is there. Dennard fits the physical-CB mold sought after by so many front offices these days — he had four picks last season, plus a career-high 62 tackles (3.5 for loss) as he showed the ability to attack the ball at the line of scrimmage.

Dennard did not make it in to meet with the media at the combine. Defensive backs have the smallest timeframe for that activity, so testing and other interviews can interfere.

MORE: 2014 NFL Mock Draft | 2014 NFL Draft Big Board | More 2014 NFL draft coverage

Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech (6-0, 194) Really interesting 2013 season for Fuller. Injuries cost him, especially late in the year, but before that he stepped up in place of fellow injured CB Antone Exum and even slid into a linebacker spot when Virginia Tech needed him to do so. If you’re looking for this draft’s D.J. Hayden — i.e. a prospect who might be picked well above where people initially expect — Fuller could fit the mold.

“I would love that,” said Fuller of being a Round 1 selection. “That’s one of my goals. All I can do is show what I can do, and I can believe that I’m a first-round pick or whatever, but I’m not focused on that.”

Fuller also has experience at safety, in addition to his occasional LB snaps.

Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State (6-0, 202): Gilbert said that he ran a 4.33 40 a couple weeks ago and hoped to improve upon that time Tuesday. He didn’t quite get there — he ran an unofficial 4.35 — but he ran well enough that Mike Mayock declared he will probably be the first cornerback off the board come May.

The Oklahoma State product agrees, saying that he feels he is the top corner in this draft (a familiar refrain spouted by prospects over the weekend), though he did admit that his technique as a tall, lanky prospect must improve for him to have continued success. Gilbert cited his “transition coming out of breaks and backpedalling” as his main focus leading up to the combine.

“You have to be able to use great technique, because … I have long legs, short torso,” Gilbert said. “So it’s kind of hard for me to get my hips down and turn around and all that. But the more you work at it, the better you get at it.”

LaMarcus Joyner, Florida State (5-8, 184) Along with Jason Verrett, who’s listed lower, Joyner could be limited to a slot/nickel corner role because of his size. Should he earn a draft spot higher than what that designation might typically earn, Joyner may be able to thank his versatility.

While with the Seminoles, Joyner moved around from cornerback to safety, performing well in both spots. The Cardinals used Tyrann Mathieu in a similar way during his rookie season, lining him up as a safety in base sets and then dropping him down to the slot when teams spread the field. Joyner has the talent to take on that type of responsibility at the next level.

Marcus Roberson, Florida (6-0, 191) “I just love playing man-to-man corner,” said Roberson, one of three Florida corners in this draft, “and I feel I can play that better than anybody at the combine right now.”

Is Roberson a better pro prospect than former teammates Loucheiz Purifoy or Jaylen Watkins? The former may have a stronger case in the argument — Purifoy is such a gifted athlete that Florida toyed with working him in on offense early in the season. Roberson, though, is more NFL-ready strictly as a cornerback, despite being banged up and dealing with a suspension this past season.

Bradley Roby, Ohio State (5-11, 194) Can Roby flip the switch back on? He was dominant during the 2012 season, to the point where he could have declared for the ’13 draft and been in the top-CB mix. This past year was far more up and down, though he did pick off three passes (one more than he had in ’12). The production of his redshirt junior season simply never matched the expectations.

“Me not playing that first game, my mindset in camp wasn’t where it should have been,” admitted Roby, who was suspended for Ohio State’s opener after an offseason arrest. “I knew I wasn’t playing the first game, so I might have maybe not gotten as many reps as I normally would have. At corner, reps is everything — training your eyes, looking at the right places all the time, all those type of things.

“[I] kind of got away from that. Kind of undisciplined type of play I was playing at the beginning of the season.”

NFL teams could view those comments one of two ways: Either it’ll be worrisome that Roby lost focus when faced with adversity or they will be encouraged that he took responsibility for what happened. Personally, I’d lean toward the latter. Roby was impressive during his media session Saturday.

Jason Verrett, TCU (5-9, 193) Purely from a height standpoint, Verrett projects out more as a slot corner than a shutdown guy out wide. He argued that belief is nonsense.

“I’ve been challenged with receivers that have been over six-foot my whole college career,” Verrett said. “I played against Odell Beckham, I played against Mike Davis, Eric Ward, Antwan Goodley. … I feel like I’m this height for a reason, but I can compete with the best.

“If you look at my film, I played on the outside and I covered big receivers. If I have to go in the nickel, I’ll go in the nickel. If I have to go outside, I’ll go outside.”

Like it or not, Verrett’s size probably will work against him come the draft — the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said on a conference call last week that Verrett would be top-20 if he stood a couple inches taller. On the flip side, working in Verrett’s favor is that defenses find themselves playing nickel frequently these days due to the proliferation of offenses that go three- and four-wide.

Others to watch: Loucheiz Purifoy and Jaylen Watkins, Florida; Bashaud Breeland, Clemson; Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska; Keith McGill, Utah; Pierre Desir, Lindenwood.

2 comments
ezwriter69
ezwriter69

Robey? Obviously you didn't see the Wisconsin game... he was man to man with Jared Abbrederis the entire game, and gave up 10, count 'em 10 completions for 207 yards and a touchdown. He can't cover Jared Abbrederis, but he can cover Calvin Johnson? Good luck with that... best you can say is he didn't quit while failing as badly as you can fail.

Just me1
Just me1

@ezwriter69  Curious but what dimension did he play against Wisconsin? That game was played January 1 2011 but Verrett didn't come to TCU until 2012. As far as Verrett's play his first year at TCU he had a rough first year in the game against Baylor and got burned a few times in other games. His last two years against Big 12 members and others he has shut receivers down and in his last year it was rare anyone threw his way!  By the way he played with a torn labrum in his last season and is having surgery in a couple of weeks to repair it.  Nice try knocking the kid but please use the this dimension it usually helps!