Patriots Draft Preview: Cornerbacks
Current Roster: Aqib Talib, Ras-I Dowling, Alfronzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington
Positonal Overview: You might make a case that after all the picks the Patriots have used on the cornerback spot and Talib back for at least one more year plus with so few picks, that this year might be a good time to skip drafting another corner. But with Dennard one probation violation away from heading off to Shawshank, Ras-IR a tight thigh muscle away from ending his career and Talib always a threat to go all World Star Hip Hop on some poor cabbie, this is an area of need. Especially in today’s NFbL. Besides, cornerback is a staple on Belichick’s (cliché warning) grocery list. Asking him not to draft any corners is like asking my Irish Rose not to pick up milk when she’s shopping. Even if you’re just asking her to pick up two things and the fridge is bursting with gallons of the stuff, she’s buying some regardless. And like the Pats with cornerbacks, we always need more because we go through them.
The obvious question then is what do they look for in a corner? And I can identify for you Belichick’s “type” with two numbers: 4.5 and 7. For all the cornerss they’ve taken in the Belichick Epoch, none of them have had 40 times above 4.5 or 3-Cone Drill times above 7 seconds (with the exception of two 7th round flyers: Dennard, who fell for obvious reasons, and the unforgettable Willie Andrews in 2006). You can talk all you want about the need for a big, rangy CB who can defend against fade routes by giant receivers in the end zone or wish for a solid press corner who can reroute guys. But the biggest CB’s they’ve ever used are Talib and Dowling, both at 6-1, in the 205-210 range. The Patriots emphasis is on agility. Fluid guys who can stay with their man using a shuffle step, flip their hips quickly with a baseball turn and get into pursuit. It hasn’t always worked out God knows, but that’s what they’re gunning for. That and the ability to make stops. As The Hooded One told Devin McCourty at his Combine interview, “We don’t have ‘cover corners’ here. You’re going to make tackles.” Not to mention play special teams, which is pretty much demanded of all their defensive backs. Fortunately, if you’re in the market for DB’s (and who isn’t?) then you’ve come to the right draft.
Elite Corners That Are Way Out of Their Reach. ie They Have a Better Chance of Drafting God Than Drafting…
Dee Milliner, Alabama. 6-0, 201, 4.37
This should come asa shock to anyone who watched a quarter of Bama football this year, but coming into the Combine there were some questions about Milliner’s straight line speed. He put all of them to bed for with a great all around performance that won him the Indianapolis Kennel Club’s “Best in Show” and no one is doubting that he’s the class of this CB… um, class. He certainly won me over in the National Championship game where he was unexplicably targeted by Notre Dame. In fact, he was their best receiver as he got his hands on more Everett Golson passes than anyone on the Irish. I remember thinking that if he could’ve turned pro in the middle of that game I would’ve let him start for the Pats in the playoffs without a practice. He’s got ideal cornerback size, he can tackle, he’s aggressive. It would’ve been a much better career move if Katherine Webb had sunk her claws into Milliner instead of AJ McCarron.
Xavier Rhodes, Florida St. 6-2, 210, 4.44
Big hitter, the Lama. Rhodes isn’t exactly slow. And he did better for the stopwatch & iPad crowd in Indy than expected. But he’s the prototype of the big, bruising, bump & run type of corner. Unfortunately for him, that particular kind is currently on the NFL’s Endangered Species List right behind fullbacks and Safeties Who Like to Lead With Their Helmet. Still, he’s not expected to last beyond Miami at 11 or San Diego at 12.
Guy Who in the Great Plinko Game That is the 1st Round of the Draft, Could Fall Tantalyzingly Close to New England at 29:
Desmond Trufant, Washington 5-11, 190, 4.38
Trufant’s an ideal system fit for the Patriots. For starters, like Chandler Jones last year, he’s a legacy at the NFL frat, with older brothers Marcus (Seattle) and Isaiah (Jets) as established veterans. He’s got the experience that comes from 47 career starts. He’s a little slender but he’s a solid tackler. He’s fluid (that hip swivel thing again) and while he didn’t do the 3-cone drill, he was among the best at his position at the 40, the 20-Yard Shuttle, the Broad Jump and the Verticle. The mocks are split, with some having him fall to the Pats, but most have him going in the 20 (Chicago) or 21 (Cincy) range.
This Year’s Mover Who’s Climbing Every Board, Possibly Even Cracking the 1st Round Barrier:
Jamar Taylor, Boise St. 5-11, 192, 4.39
He’s got some injuries on his Curriculum Vitae, including a knee that redshirted him as a freshman and stress fracture in his leg that cost him 1/3 of the 2011 season. But he checked out in Indy and is measurables are off the charts. He’s also a team captain, which gets you in the door at Foxboro. The level of his competition is a concern, but he’s considered as good a closing/recovery guy as there is in this year’s crop.
A 2nd Round Mississippi State Guy Who’s Not a Good Fit:
Jonathan Banks, Mississippi St. 6-2, 185, 4.61
It’s a total mixed bag with this guy. He’s got the SEC pedigree, which is good. He got hurt his senior year and his play dropped off, which is bad. He had 2 INTs against Auburn (good). He got acetylened by Alabama for 2 TD’s (bad). He’s a vocal leader with a great work ethic (good). He measured really badly in Indy (bad). He’ll catch on somewhere, probably for a team that’s trying to model itself after what Pete Carroll is doing with big rangy corners in Seattle. But not here.
A 2nd Round Mississippi State Guy Who IS a Good Fit:
Darius Slay, Mississippi State. 6-0, 192, 4.31
Slay was targeted a lot by teams looking to stay away from Banks and responded with 5 INTs and 6 passes defensed. He’s got freakishly long arms and posted the best 40 time among all DB’s at the RCA Dome Rodeo. Since then he’s moved up most boards and the trendy thing now is to say he’ll be taken ahead of Banks.
Where Have We Met This Guy Before?
Jordan Poyer, Oregon St. 6-0, 191, 4.54
The guy Poyer most often gets compared to is Dennard. For his size and ability, as well as for the fact that he got arrested in a bar fight his senior year. The story goes that he was on this one bar’s Terror Watch list because the year before he tried to get in when he was underage. So when they refused to let him in, Poyer opted to start throwing haymakers until they did. His plan failed. Still, the Pats liked him enough to use up a Combine interview on him. And while he’s not over the 4.5 40-time threshold, if teams are scared off by his Board of Probation record and he drops, you can easily see them taking a late flyer on him.
UConn II: The Wrath of Darius Butler:
Dwayne Gratz, UConn. 5-11, 201, 4.47
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Uconn. 6-1, 195, 4.53
Wreh-Wilson is at the limit of their size preference, but both have all the measurables and their stock is rising. But it’s hard not to be haunted of the ghost of the last Huskie who could outrun everyone and jump over the Skycam but who could never once get his head around on a ball while it whistled past his earhole for a 1st down. Ever.
Will Davis Utah State. 5-11, 183, 4.43
Logan Ryan, Rutgers. 5-11, 191, 4.53
D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina. 5-11, 210, 4.56
Not referring to the Cartoon Network show, but the Brady Bunch episode where Greg got offered a gig by music producers to cut an album under the name Johnny Bravo but his voice was all synthesized to the point it sounded nothing like him and he later found out they only chose him because he fit into the Johnny Bravo suit. So he turned his back on a lifetime of money, fame and doing lines of free coke off the bellies of groupies to go back to a life of obscurity, bagging groceries and fighting Peter and Bobby for the bathroom sink. Meaning I just include these guys because they fit the whole 3-cone time thing. Davis has the speed. Ryan might stand a chance because of the Rutgers connection and Swearinger is as much a safety as a corner. I just don’t think they fit into the suit well enough.
Because I Have to Mention Him:
Tyrann Mathieu, LSU. 5-9, 186, 4.48
He’s got the Combine numbers. But not the size. Or the resume. Or the personal history you’d want to marry yourself to. (You’ll be sweating out the Best Man’s toast if you do.) On the other hand, Honey Badger’s been telling anyone who’ll listen how he’s a changed man. And if Belichick has a weakness it’s that he takes after a guy with a haunted past like a little boy takes to a stray dog. But it would have to be no sooner than Day 3 of the draft, which is where Mathieu is expected to go.
Perfect Patriot With the Exception of Dee Milliner Since Including Him Would Be Like Asking “Who’s the Perfect Superhero Working at the Daily Planet?”:
Trufant. Two reasons I don’t think he’s coming to New England. First that he’s probably off the board before they pick. And the other that while CB is a need, with Talib back and Dennard emerging and a free man, it’s not enough of a priority to package the few remaining picks they have, or next year’s picks, to move up like they did last year with Jones and Hightower. Instead they’ll take a corner either with their 2nd or with some pick they’ll add by trading down. Which is why I like…
Whom the Patriots Will Take:
Slay. He’s got the build and arms for the position. He uses his reach to attack receivers’ hands and forces a lot of drops. He’s a versatile athlete with experience covering kicks and punts, which the Patriots value (“The more you can do…”). Playing opposite Jonathan Banks in the NFL Jr (the SEC) he was left on an island and handled it well. He’s a solid tackler (40 as a senior). And scouts love his work ethic. The knock on him is that he only started one year, which will scare a lot of teams off and make him drop. And the Patriots will be there to catch him. Darius Slay to New England.
Earlier previews: Defensive Tackles