2013 NFL Draft: Visual Breakdown and Analysis of Top 10 Cornerbacks

Brett Gering@BrettGeringCorrespondent IMarch 9, 2013

Player photo courtesy of blogs.tennesseevalleynow.com. Image created by Brett Gering.
Player photo courtesy of blogs.tennesseevalleynow.com. Image created by Brett Gering.

With the NFL combine in the books, coaching staffs have traded stopwatches for clocks as the 2013 NFL draft awaits them.

Tables will turn leading up to April 25, and a supremely talented cornerback class will draw attention to itself. 

In an increasingly pass-oriented league, the secondary is often a delicate third line of defense that separates nail-biting victories from head-hanging defeats.

The demand for stingy cornerbacks steadily grows with each NFL season, which is why the following 10 prospects will pitch tents under microscopes for the next six weeks. 

 

Dee Milliner, Alabama

Frame: 6'0", 201 pounds

Projected Round: 1

40 Time:  4.37

Vertical: 36" 

Strengths: Milliner's most distinguishing asset is his footwork. Swiveling hips and blistering red-line speed—his 4.37 40 time ranked second amongst defensive backs—allow the highly touted corner to shadow receivers with ease.

Head coach Nick Saban has instilled an acute sixth sense for awareness, as Milliner often manages to handcuff receivers while eyeing quarterbacks in stride. 

Polished intangibles add another layer to No. 28's game. Milliner thoroughly understands the concept of team defense and rarely commits mental mistakes. He maintains discipline in run support by sealing the edge and has proven to double as an effective run blitzer. 

Weaknesses: The position's top prospect isn't without his flaws. At times, Milliner's physicality morphs into a double-edged sword: It lays a concrete foundation for press coverage, but it could also attract flags in the NFL. In the pros, there's no tolerance for any hint of excessive contact beyond five yards. In other words, if Milliner flings a receiver out of bounds 10 yards down the field (see below), flags will litter the sky like yellow paratroopers. 

Since Nick Saban disregards the technique, Milliner will also need to adopt and integrate backpedaling into his repertoire. But considering his impressive on-field IQ, it shouldn't be a daunting task for the lockdown corner. 

Milliner's constant peaking can also fall prey to double moves (although it is a rare occurrence). And while he's a sound tackler when squared up, bulkier ball carriers do barrel through his arm tackles from time to time.

 

Xavier Rhodes, Florida State

Frame: 6'2", 210 pounds

Projected Round: 1

40 Time: 4.43

Vertical: 40.5"

Strengths: The imposing Florida State product isn't as well balanced as some of his peers, but he shines when asked to play to his strengths. 

At 210 pounds, Rhodes looks more like a dieting linebacker when standing across from his competition than a cornerback.

His unique size enables him to detour wideouts when jammed at the line—he's a force to be reckoned with in man coverage. 

Rhodes imitates his targets by whipping his head back around to locate passes, and he skies for deflections that wouldn't land in the realm of possibilities for most defenders. His 40.5-inch vertical finished in a three-way tie for first place amongst combine cornerbacks. 

Weaknesses: A stark contrast separates Rhodes' effectiveness in zone from his success in man coverage. In the former scheme, he occasionally clings to receivers and prematurely vacates his assigned coverage area. 

Undisciplined run support tops Rhodes' list of flaws. Opponents often take advantage of his aggressiveness and break containment by bouncing outside. If he doesn't rectify the issue, NFL offensive coordinators won't hesitate to feast on it via counters.  

 

Desmond Trufant, Washington

Frame: 6'0", 190 pounds

Projected Round: 1

40 Time: 4.38

Vertical: 37.5"

Strengths: A four-year starter, Trufant brings a wealth of experience with him. His diversity allowed Washington to utilize him in a variety of looks. However, his game is much better suited for a zone scheme. 

Trufant is capable of changing directions on a dime and brings new meaning to "fleet of foot." His footwork allows him to jump routes and pounce on targets like a territorial predator. When breaking on routes from behind, Trufant also flaunts a unique ability to bat passes while contorting his body to avoid contact.

Weaknesses: In acquiring his pool of experience, Trufant has added a few veteran-savvy tricks of the trade to his cookbook. Unfortunately, that's not always a positive. When beaten, he's not afraid to roll the dice and subtly grab jerseys as a last-ditch effort to make up ground. 

The press-coverage facet of Trufant's game is still rough around the edges.

He doesn't play with a mentality allergic to contact. But if matched against a physical receiver, he will be more of a liability than an asset in run support. Trufant's tackling can also be erratic.

 

Jamar Taylor, Boise State

Frame: 5'11", 192 pounds

Projected Round: 2

40 Time: 4.39

Vertical: 35"

Strengths: Taylor's an extremely well-rounded prospect. His 4.39 40 speed was commonly put on display last season, as Boise State made a habit of dialing corner blitzes—which he disguises well—for him. When linemen aren't barreling his way, Taylor's a dependable open-field tackler and doesn't shy away from contact. 

In college, he proved to be effective in both zone and off-man coverage. He shows acute awareness and an impressive array of coverage skills. Once he diagnoses the play, he breaks on the ball as quickly as anybody in the 2013 class, while showcasing textbook tackling skills with shoulders square and legs driving. 

He will attempt to punch the ball out of receivers' hands before conceding receptions.

Weaknesses: Taylor's 22 bench-press reps tied for first at the combine, which is indicative of his physical nature on the field. However, despite boasting the necessary upper-body strength, he will look vulnerable in press coverage from time to time. He can approach bump-and-run coverage too aggressively, giving his man a path to the inside and an early step on the coverage. 

His press-bail technique could also benefit from some polish. The anticipation that springboards his sharp breaks can also leave him susceptible to double moves. 

He displays average hands.

 

Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State

Frame: 6'2", 185 pounds

Projected Round: 2

40 Time: 4.61

Vertical: 34"

Strengths: Banks' length may be his most marketable selling point. It allows him to stand blocking wideouts up and dictate positioning. As a blitzer, his 6'2" frame forces quarterbacks to alter their deliveries or risk a batted pop fly. That same build also makes Banks an ideal candidate to defend fades in the red zone. 

His ball skills rival the best in the 2013 class—he always finds a way to defend passes while creating the minimal amount of contact. 

Weaknesses: The combine normally doesn't drastically affect opinions shared by scouts. Instead, the results usually confirm preconceived notions. And in Banks' case, his 4.61 40-yard dash exposed his Prius-like top-end speed. In fact, 10 safeties sprinted across the finish line before Banks. However, his sluggish 40 appears to be an aberration when compared to his game speed. 

His effort seems to fluctuate, especially when the ball isn't in close proximity to him. Banks has a nose for big plays but oftentimes throws caution to the wind in trying to create one—instead settling for a textbook tackle, he has pushed his chips to the center of the table and attempted to strip the ball on multiple occasions. 

After studying his game tape and reviewing his combine numbers, reservations are bound to sprout throughout the minds of general managers. When taking his length, skill set and speed into account, Banks may project better at free safety than cornerback. 

 

David Amerson, North Carolina State

Frame: 6'1", 205 pounds

Projected Round: 2–3

40 Time: 4.44

Vertical: 35.5"

Strengths: On tape, Amerson's skill set echoes with a lot of similarities to Johnthan Banks.

He's a lengthy cornerback who flashes highlight-worthy ball skills. Amerson punctuated his sophomore season with 13 interceptions—an ACC record. The bulk of his picks stem from baiting passers and acting on anticipation.

If a clear path to the ball carrier presents itself, he won't hesitate to capitalize on it and drive through his target. 

Weaknesses: When squared parallel to ball carriers, Amerson typically runs through them with fundamentally sound tackling. But he's routinely left in the dust due to misjudging angles or trying to circumvent blocks. Amerson struggles to force rushers back toward the interior of the defense, resulting in an unoccupied sideline. 

If receivers gain separation, Amerson's average speed becomes apparent and prohibits him from recovering ground. 

 

Jordan Poyer, Oregon State

Frame: 6'0", 191 pounds

Projected Round: 2–3

40 Time: 4.54

Vertical: 30.5"

Strengths: Poyer scores high on intangibles. He analyzes pre-snap looks and constantly chirps early warning signs to his teammates.

As plays develop, Poyer instinctively reads and reacts with no second-guessing. He never ceases eye contact with the player he's pursuing—he jukes 300-pound mobile mountains in drone-like fashion without ever breaking the line of sight between himself and the ball carrier.

Weaknesses: Unlike some of his cornerback cohorts, Poyer doesn't possess the kind of forgiving speed to mask his game's blemishes. His unimpressive 40 time of 4.54 seconds won't gain him any fans. 

Inconsistencies plague his off-man technique. At times, his backpedal looks fundamentally sound. But far too often, Poyer's pad level lags behind his feet as he retreats, which tilters his balance and hampers his ability to break on routes.

 

Darius Slay, Mississippi State 

Frame: 6'0", 192 pounds

Projected Round: 2–3

40 Time: 4.36

Vertical: 35.5"

Strengths: Slay posted the combine's fastest 40 time at 4.36 seconds, suggestive of his outstanding recovery speed. 

He doesn't give up on plays and scraps for the ball.

While he works to hone his cornerback skills at the next level, Slay can contribute immediately on special teams. His speed enables him to shine as both a returner and gunner. He demonstrates natural instincts and above-average vision with the ball in his hands, which also makes him an open-field threat to capitalize on turnovers. 

Weaknesses: Inexperienced, Slay's potential doubles as his most appealing asset and biggest detractor. 

His recovery speed tends to camouflage deficiencies in coverage, especially when his hips deceive him. He allows too much space between himself and his target when there is inside help.

Many facets of his game lack discipline: He often allows runners to round the edge, peaks in the backfield during man coverage and bites on routes too easily. Slay makes a legitimate effort to support the run, but he's often victimized by bad angles and improvised tackling. 

At times, he will prematurely release from his zone if he anticipates the quarterback throwing elsewhere. 

 

Robert Alford, Southeastern Louisiana 

Frame: 5'10", 188 pounds

Projected Round: 2–3

40 Time: 4.39

Vertical: 40"

Strengths: Alford finished the combine amongst the top five at his position in the 40-yard dash, bench press and vertical jump—the only cornerback to do so. 

He remains squared with receivers, showing poise and rarely finding himself out of position. 

Alford's extremely light on his feet and effortlessly changes direction.

He thoroughly understands the game, often disposing of his assignment to make a play. He's a gifted athlete with hands that could rival most receivers'. 

Alford's agility and sound fundamentals should help him excel in defending the slot at the next level. 

Weaknesses: He resorts to jersey-grabbing if beaten off the line of scrimmage or down the field. If the habit carries into the NFL, his hands are sure to warrant flags. 

Larger wideouts can impose their will on him at the line of scrimmage. In struggling to shed blocks, he will turn inside and allow ball carriers to reach the sideline. 

Alford will also enter the NFL as a 25-year-old rookie.

 

Logan Ryan, Rutgers

Frame: 5'11", 191 pounds

Projected Round: 3

40 Time: 4.56

Vertical: 32.5"

Strengths: Ryan plays with a fearless mindset more representative of a linebacker than cornerback. The majority of defensive backs attempt to elude linemen in the open field; he initiates contact with them.

Ryan regularly defeats blockers and disrupts plays in the backfield. He runs through the ball carrier with dependable tackling.

He attacks 50-50 passes with ferocity, rarely allowing receivers to make a play on the ball. After locating passes, Ryan uses the sideline to his advantage on deep routes and effectively shields his receiver.

Weaknesses: Lackluster top-end speed often exposes bad coverage habits. He tends to be tardy in finding the ball when beaten, often face-guarding and making contact with receivers before the ball arrives.

Ryan doesn't change direction with fluidity, which can cause him to temporarily lose balance before breaking on the ball. 

 

2013 NFL combine statistics provided by CBS Sports/NFLDraftScout.com.

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