Best in Class: Morris Claiborne, LSU
Despite reportedly scoring a 4 on the Wonderlic Test at this year’s scouting combine, Claiborne is a shoe-in to be selected in the top 10, if not the top 5. He was college football’s top cover corner coming out of LSU and won the Thorpe Award with a six-interception season in 2011. He also averaged 26.3 yards per kickoff return and is viewed as a better prospect than former No. 5 overall pick Patrick Peterson, who is also an LSU alum.
Next in Line: Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina; Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
Unlike Kirkpatrick, there’s no questioning Gilmore’s speed. He ran a 4.44 and a 4.47 at the scouting combine and has excellent size at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds. He’s gained a ton of media attention over these past few weeks and is now predicted to go somewhere in the top 15 picks thanks to his combination of size, speed and athleticism…At 6-foot-3 and 192 pounds, Kirkpatrick is more known for his run support than his cover skills and Mike Mayock even said that the former ‘Bama defender may have to convert to safety “down the road.” But he ran in the 4.40s at the combine and may have put to rest the idea that he’s a 4.6 guy. He may fall into the 20s, but he will be selected at some point in the first round.
The Risk: Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama
Jenkins might be the most polarizing figure in this year’s NFL draft. He has the talent and cover skills to be the second best cornerback prospect behind Claiborne, but he’s been arrested multiple times for drug use, was booted from the team at Florida, and has four children born to three different women. Obviously teams are justified for being a little skeptical that Jenkins can stay out of trouble once he signs his first contract. But if can fly straight off the field, then he could be a tremendous value for teams picking in the bottom of the first round (or at the top of the second if he falls that far). He played plenty of press man while at North Alabama and while he isn’t the best tackler, receivers will have a hard time separating from him in coverage thanks to his speed and change-of-direction skills. But again, nobody is questioning his talent – it’s his inability to stay out of trouble that is cause for concern.
The Potential Sleeper: Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt
Hayward would likely get exposed even he was asked to primarily play in man coverage at the next level. But considering most teams stick to Cover 2 or zone schemes, Hayward shouldn’t have any problems sticking on a NFL roster. His best attributes are that he’s instinctive, locates the ball well in coverage, and is a smart player overall. While at Vanderbilt he was also highly productive, racking up 15 interceptions in his four-year career, as well as 198 tackles and 31 pass breakups. Considering he may fall into the third round, he could be a solid value for a team that primarily plays Cover 2.