We’ll wrap up our early preview of the NFL Draft with the secondary, as we look at the top 10 defensive backs available in the 2014 NFL Draft.
10. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech – Fuller isn’t a standout player among the other top cornerbacks available, but he may be the most solid and consistent. He’s not going to get a lot of interceptions or make a lot of big plays, but other than that he’s a well-balanced corner who does just about everything well. Even if he doesn’t become a long-term starter in the NFL, he’s going to be a useful player for a lot of years.
9. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State – Joyner is undersized, but he plays all out all the time to help make up for it. He’s played both corner and safety in college, but his size will limit him to corner in the NFL, although he can also make an impact as a kick returner. Joyner has the speed and awareness to cover, but he also hits hard and isn’t afraid to help out stopping the running game. His height will be hard to overlook, but he definitely has the skills to play corner in the NFL, while also having a chance to return kicks.
8. Bradley Roby, Ohio State – Roby has incredible speed, which not only allows him to keep up with receivers in coverage, but it also allows him to make up for mistakes he may make in coverage. He has playmaking ability and is definitely a ball hawk that will be better in a zone coverage scheme than if he has to play a lot of press coverage. Roby isn’t a great tackler, nor is he going to a big help against the run, but his speed, athleticism, and playmaking ability are too much to ignore.
7. Louchiez Purifoy, Florida – Purifoy is one of the best pure athletes among cornerbacks in this year’s drafts, and that’s saying something. He has good size, long arms, and he can run side by side with speedy receivers. And he may be a guy who can not only handle receivers on the outside, but slot receivers as well. In addition to being a quality cornerback, Purifoy could also end up being a dangerous return man in the NFL, which increases his value in the draft.
6. Marcus Roberson, Florida – Roberson has the size to play cornerback, as well as the long arms and the willingness to be physical that’s necessary to play the position in the NFL. His durability may be a concern, and there is plenty of fine-tuning to do to round out his game, but he has everything necessary to be a solid NFL cornerback for a lot of years, even if he never becomes a star or a lockdown cornerback.
5. Jason Verrett, TCU – Despite lacking ideal size for the position, Verrett certainly has the hips to play cornerback and is the type of guy that can be trusted on an island in one-on-one coverage. His instincts and reactions are good, as are his ball skills. He may struggle against bigger and more physical receivers, and his tackling technique could certainly improve, but he has the skill set of an NFL cornerback, and he has the chance to be a good one.
4. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State – Not only does Gilbert have the size NFL teams want at cornerback, he also has the athleticism necessary to excel at the position. He has a great change of direction that allows him to keep up with receivers, as well as the arms and frame to be physical with receivers. He does lack high-end speed, so he can get beat deep, but at the same time he’s awfully tough to beat in the red zone, as he covers a lot of ground and is a hard hitter. Gilbert will most likely be a first-round pick and is one of the best cornerbacks available.
3. Calvin Pryor, Louisville – There are few good options at the safety position in this draft, but Pryor is one of them, as he has ideal size and great closing speed. More importantly, he’s a great open-field tackler and is willing to put his body on the line to make sure nothing gets behind him, although that can lead to penalties. Pryor may not be able to cover slot receivers, although his physicality and size gives him a chance against tight ends. He also has good ball skills, which makes him a great candidate to patrol the defensive backfield.
2. Hasean Clinton-Dix, Alabama – There’s little doubt that Clinton-Dix is the best safety in this draft, as he has all the necessary skills for the position. He’s long and athletic with the fluidity to cover wide receivers if necessary. His closing abilities are bested only by his instantaneous reactions, which puts him into position to make big plays. Clinton-Dix also has exceptional ball skills, and can create turnovers that few other defensive backs can create, giving him the chance to become a game-changer in an NFL secondary.
1. Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State – Dennard has the ideal physical characteristics to play cornerback in the NFL. He is strong, has long arms, and is great at getting physical with receivers in press coverage. He isn’t an elite athlete, nor does he have top-flight speed, but he does have the hips and acceleration necessary for the position, in addition to having great ball skills and the strength to rip the ball away from receivers before they come down with it. Also, unlike most of the corners in this draft, he’s great at defending the run and provides an all-around physical presence on the edge, which will make him a quality cornerback for many years to come, and which makes him the best cornerback available in this year’s draft.