The NFL has become a heavy passing league, which means you can never have enough good cornerbacks on your roster. The San Francisco 49ers head into free agency with Tramaine Brock, Chris Culliver, Carlos Rogers, and Darryl Morris under contract through next season. It remains to be seen whether the likes of Tarell Brown, Eric Wright, and Perrish Cox will be re-signed. After free agency comes and goes we will have a better grasp of how early the 49ers should draft a cornerback. For now, we should assume they will draft a corner in the first two rounds.
Click here to check out Nick's cornerback rankings from December. We're back now to provide a look at the rankings in advance of next week's NFL Combine. We've already broken down quarterbacks and safeties.
Here are my pre-combine top ten cornerbacks:
|1||Darqueze Dennard||5-11||197||Michigan State|
|2||Justin Gilbert||6-0||200||Oklahoma State|
|4||Bradley Roby||5-11||192||Ohio State|
|5||Lamarcus Joyner||5-8||192||Florida State|
|8||Kyle Fuller||6-0||194||Virginia Tech|
At the top of the rankings we have Darqueze Dennard. I expect him to be the first cornerback off the board and out of the 49ers range. Dennard has shown he is a physical corner who shut down his opponents all year long. He was a catalyst on defense for the Rose Bowl champion Spartans.
Coming in at No. 2 is Justin Gilbert, a favorite of mine. Gilbert excels in man-press coverage and has tremendous ball skills, intercepting six passes this season. Not only can Gilbert play stellar at cornerback, he also is very dangerous as a kick returner, with six returned for a touchdown in his career. Gilbert will be selected before the 49ers pick rolls around, but he could fall into a range that warrants a trade up.
No. 3 and 4 on the list could remain on the board when the 49ers are up at the end of round one. Roby flashes great speed and with a good forty at the combine, his stock could move even higher. Jason Verrett was a shut-down corner all season. He played some top-tier receiving talent and had no trouble taking them out of the game. Verrett has hauled in 8 interceptions the past two seasons, which has earned him Big 12 Defensive player of the year and Big 12 First Team.
Lamarcus Joyner, No. 5 on the list, is the smallest on the list and is this year's "Honey Badger". Joyner can play both cornerback and safety, and can hit really hard. 5'8 is small. He knows it, and we know it, but that's what makes him the player he is, playing with a chip on his shoulder. He will have to play a little smarter in the NFL. At times he plays reckless like Troy Polamalu, making great plays but also giving up a big play as well.
At No. 9, Stanley Jean-Baptiste is the tallest cornerback on the list. Baptiste could become a nightmare for opposing receivers to face in the NFL if he continues to improve his game. Baptiste could ultimately become a safety in the NFL, but I expect whoever drafts him to give him a long look at corner before a position switch. NFL.com senior writer Gil Brandt thinks Baptiste "looks like a clone of Richard Sherman". Baptiste does not have tremendous speed, so he must rely on his physicality to be successful. One area of concern is his tackling. For someone tht size, he must learn how to wrap up and tackle more fundamentally sound. If he doesn't improve there, expect a lot of missed tackles.
No. 10 features another tall option in small school stud Pierre Desir. After a really good week at the Senior Bowl, the Division II player made his presence known and got scouts to take a long look at him. Desir has good speed. While he's not a burner, Desir is a tier below that category, he's fast. The case is always made against small school kids because they played against lesser competition, but Desir destroyed his competition. He had 25 interceptions in his college career. He appears to be raw and will need some seasoning. He could be a project worth taking on, as it could reap big rewards not too long down the road.
After the combine, we will have scouting reports on all of these prospects. Are any of these cornerbacks a favorite of yours?