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2011 NFL Draft: Prince Amukamara Not Just A Consolation In Lieu Of Patrick Peterson

It's about time I go through and clumsily list my rankings, big board and projections when it comes to the 2011 NFL Draft. I say clumsily because we already have an NCAA guy, Drew K, and he's very likely my superior in most cases, but I've been hitting more often than I've been missing, and it's led folks to ask me to post my own thoughts in a more expanded format, so I'm here to do that. I will cover most positions, list a big board at the end, and generally talk at length about guys, of whom 95% won't be wearing Red and Gold next year.

The Cornerback

The 49ers do have a couple of corners who are not absolutely terrible by any stretch of the imagination. Nate Clements, Shawntae Spencer and Tarell Brown round out the top three, and you could probably do worse. I am of the opinion that our corners would look better if the team had an improved pass rush and better safeties, but I think it's unanimous that the position does indeed need an upgrade.

The NFC West isn't the best division when it comes to receiving targets, but there are definitely some threats. The Arizona Cardinals are a quarterback away from having a dangerous passing attack with Larry Fitzgerald being one of the best receivers in the league. The Seattle Seahawks had a couple guys do well last year, and they'll look to be better with a new quarterback as well. While the St. Louis Rams have their quarterback, a couple young receivers, and potentially a big name free agent of draftee to add to their lineup in 2011. So there's a lot there.

Like I've said in the past, Nate Clements is a lot better than most give him credit for. He is a solid starter and is likely here to stay, contract or not. Shawntae Spencer can be good at times, but his inconsistency is maddening ... I mean, here's a guy who won the starting corner job in 2009 coming off an injury as a dark horse candidate and was unquestionably the best corner on the team that year, and he followed it up with a rather lackluster performance in 2010. It's unanimous that the 49ers need an upgrade at the position.

Fortunately, this is a great cornerback draft. If you're looking for domination right away, a couple of these guys can do it, but the thing I like most, much like the outside linebacker class, is the fact that it's unquestionably full of potential throughout the top fifteen or twenty guys. The top corners are cant-miss prospects, but if there ever was a draft in which you have to forsake your CB need early to grab another top player, this is the one. After the jump, I've got some rankings, some percentages regarding the chances any given player is drafted by San Francisco in each round, and thoughts on each of my top fifteen guys.

Cornerback Prospect Ranking

Rank Player/School Height/Weight/40 Time Rd. 1 Rd. 2 Rd. 3 Rd. 4 Rd. 5 Rd. 6 Rd. 7
1 Patrick Peterson, LSU 6'0'', 218 lbs, 4.32 99% N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2 Prince Amukamara, Nebraska 6'0'', 205 lbs, 4.37 90% N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
3 Jimmy Smith, Colorado 6'2'', 210 lbs, 4.38 70% 90% 95% N/A N/A N/A N/A
4 Brandon Harris, Miami 5'10'', 194 lbs, 4.43 25% 85% 90% N/A N/A N/A N/A
5 Davon House, New Mexico St 6'1'', 200 lbs, 4.35 10% 80% 85% N/A N/A N/A N/A
6 Aaron Williams, Texas 6'0'', 204 lbs, 4.44 5% 80% 90% 95% N/A N/A N/A
7 Johnny Patrick, Louisville 5'11'', 188 lbs, 4.46 0% 65% 80% 85% N/A N/A N/A
8 Curtis Brown, Texas 6'0'', 185 lbs, 4.51 0% 70% 75% 85% N/A N/A N/A
9 Ras-I Dowling, Virginia 6'1', 198 lbs, 4.37 0% 70% 75% 85% N/A N/A N/A
10 Brandon Burton 6'0'', 190 lbs, 4.50 0% 45% 60% 75% N/A N/A N/A
11 Shareece Wright 5'11', 185 lbs, 4.46 0% 0% 40% 45% 50% 60% N/A
12 Marcus Gilchrist 5'10'', 195 lbs, 4.46 0% 10% 30% 35% 40% 50% N/A
13 Chimdi Chekwa 6'0'', 191 lbs, 4.33 0% 0% 45% 50% 55% 70% 80%
14 Curtis Marsh 6'1'', 197 lbs, 4.46 0% 0% 10% 30% 55% 65% 80%
15 Rashad Carmichael 5'10'', 192 lbs, 4.39 0% 0% 0% 25% 35% 50% 75%

Talking Points

  • In my eyes, there are three number one corners in this draft, which means three players who can come in and immediately be the number one corner and face number one receivers. They are Peterson, Amukamara, and Smith. Other corners could progress into number one guys, but they are not as "sure thing" as these guys.
  • The latter on the above list obviously has all of those off-the-field and locker room issues, but if he can get past those and play at the level I believe he can, he will belong on that list.
  • Some of these guys might be a better fit for safety, I'll talk about that a little when I get to them, but they are all on this list as cornerbacks.
  • Just how much do you value size for cornerbacks? There's a history of the smaller guys being successful, but it still remains a huge knock in the leadup to any draft. Personally, I like the bigger guys that can move well.
  • My "sleeper" is Davon House out of New Mexico State. He's a potential first rounder so the "sleeper" tag might be odd, but I think he can end up being better than even the top guys with the right progression. Who's your sleeper?
  • Scratch that .. maybe I have more sleepers than I thought. I think this is such a strong class ... Patrick, Burton and Dowling could all be stars.
  • For the record, I think everybody in picks 4-10 would immediately supplant Shawntae Spencer as the number two corner, with somebody like Chekwa potentially doing so as well, the others will have a lot of work to do.
  • I have a list of rankings going to 25, but I only post 15 for these rankings. If you want my opinion on any corner not listed, feel free to ask.

Individual Thoughts

1. Patrick Peterson - He's got a lot of little issues in zone coverage and I've seen him lose himself in that regard on more than a few occasions. Without something directly in front of him, he has a tendency to lose the play and disappear completely. If he doesn't have a target from the get go, he lacks elite instincts to identify the guy to go for in that situation, especially when he has to change direction quickly. Are you surprised that I started with all of those negatives? I felt that I should, so people remember that he does have flaws - but despite that - he's still the best cornerback prospect in quite a few years. His man-to-man coverage is brutal and quarterbacks will not even target him when it all comes down to it. He's got the ability to pick off 10+ passes per season, but he probably won't do that because he will probably get that many passes thrown his way. Maybe he'll get a lot more in his rookie season, but teams will immediately regret the decision.

2. Prince Amukamara - His biggest knock was his speed, but he put that to rest when he ran a 4:37, and now I see nothing but good things. Heading into this past season, Amukamara was the top cornerback prospect, and was only overtaken by Peterson somewhat recently. I want to call these guys 1a and 1b, but I can't ... the dropoff though, is closer than that of any position, even closer than the Von Miller vs Robert Quinn debate (which, oddly enough, I did list as 1a and 2b), and Amukamara is worthy of a top five pick, let alone one in the top seven. I love his aggressiveness and the intensity that he plays with, receivers slowly accumulate damage and wear over the course of a football game and Amukamara keeps going on just as fine. He excels in press and man-to-man, and is better than Peterson in regards to zone coverage. One problem with his aggressiveness is that receivers can get out of the jam and Amukamara has to scramble to catch up. Beyond that, I love his ball skills, it looks like it's two receivers going up for the ball whenever he's out there going for the pick.

3. Jimmy Smith - Character concerns are the biggest issue with Smith, who would probably be a consensus top fifteen pick (actually still could be) without them. He's got drug and alcohol charges earlier in his college career and that stuff stays with you. Projections for Smith range anywhere from the early first to the early third round, so it's going to something I pay close attention to on draft day. His biggest on-the-field knock is his lack of ball skills, he doesn't go for interceptions and concentrates more on just taking the receiver totally out of the play, which is definitely a good thing, but he does struggle against some of the bigger guys in that regard. A good thing? He's 6'2'' and can run a 4.40 40-yard dash, if he can pack on a little muscle and maintain his athleticism, Smith will be a top-flight cornerback in the NFL.

4. Brandon Harris - He's a little smallish, or maybe he's just average and doesn't play physical enough. Bigger, more physical receivers can abuse him at times, especially when it comes to positioning in the zone. Harris struggles in the zone, and any receiver who turns and calls for the ball and is physical enough will completely blanket over Harris and make the catch before he can react. When he's got a guy in man-to-man though, I like his ability. He's got the best hips in the draft (and hips don't lie) and can turn around faster than any corner. Susceptible to a half-decent juke move in the open field. He has a bit of work to do and needs to be coached up, but Harris could be an umber one guy.

5. Davon House - Like I said above, this guy is my sleeper, and I do have him a bit higher than some others, but that doesn't really concern me. What I've seen leads me to believe he will be great, assuming he can transition to the next level. House has the height and speed that you want in a corner and plays much taller than he actually is. He's very active with his hands, getting them up to deflect passes, though he does occasionally get crossed up and gets the wrong hand up in the air. Unlike the corners mentioned thus far, House is very good in zone coverage and is also good at man-to-man, but he's a little too aggressive in the latter and it can lead to him getting beat. I noticed he relied a lot on safety help in college, and the fact that he rarely got him led him to improve his ability to defend deep, but it is still somewhat of a weakness. Is incredibly physical, he jams the receiver and gets them shaken quickly, and every one of his tackles are punishing. Reacts well to the situations around him and closes well before or after the catch. I like House at the back-end of the first or early second round.

6. Aaron Williams - The first of our "potential safety" converts, Aaron Williams is generally a bit higher than my number five prospect in most rankings, but I don't necessarily like him any less than those sources. The three things that do sour me on Williams are his suspect hands, his lack of natural instincts at the position, and his tendency to get lost when the ball is in the air. He's a very athletic corner with good hips who can get at the ball, but he rarely can catch it. In regards to his good hips, they are definitely good, but the aforementioned lack of natural instincts can sometimes make those good hips rotate the wrong way and let receivers run free. If he does pack on a little more weight and goes to a place where he'll have a good defensive backs coach, he could be a really good corner. I would be totally OK with the 49ers taking him in the second round.

7. Johnny Patrick - A smallish corner who plays with a chip on his shoulder, I like his raw ability. He's more of a zone corner than he is man-to-man, but when he does go with the press, he gets his whole body in there and plays physical. He's best as a read-and-react guy who can do whatever he feels like he should be doing - and he does it well. He's got long arms that serve him well when defending the pass, and help him when he wraps up running backs, something he does well, even if he is a bit undersized. As stated, he's not afraid to get in there and play the run game, and is really good against the screen play, but this hard-nosed willingness sometimes gets him beat on play action. He's got great ball skills and has a world of potential, but does have character concerns after a domestic disturbance arrest in 2010.

8. Curtis Brown - His stock has gone up and down in his years at Texas, and he's been all over the board. Unfortunately, the biggest fall came this past season where their star-studded cast of corners underperformed, including Brown. He's since been surpassed by Aaron Williams, but is still a second day selection in every way. He used to be regarding as a guy who could break a big play at any moment, but now people are just labeling him as somebody with decent ballskills. I'll say that he still has the big play ability, just needs to add a little bit of weight and get some good coaching. His biggest knock, in my opinion, is his lack of physicality, without the outright finesse to make up for it.

9. Ras-I Dowling - People will say that Dowling's rise comes only because he's fast, and I want to slap those people silly. Well, I don't want to slap them, but they really do need to chickity check themselves before they wrickity wreck themselves.Dowling is a playmaker who will be a number two corner from the get go and just "fit" there. He'll be the guy who doesn't make every single headline, but every time he gets an interception, people will think "Oh yeah, him ... Damnit." He's got a great jumpball and uses position well against all receivers, and will be able to go up and beat most receivers in the NFL. He plays incredibly physical, and this is a double-edged sword, because his durability is a big question mark, suffering through several injuries in college. He's the Frank Gore of cornerbacks.

10. Brandon Burton - Is a little tentative to my liking, doesn't take risks and thus doesn't come up with big plays as often as he should. He doesn't have a lot of strength and bigger corners will have their way with him. If he starts to get blocked, he out of the play, that's just how it is. Still, he has above-average athleticism and speed, my only knock in that regard is his backpedal, it's far too high and he will have trouble moving up on the screen plays and underneath routes when it comes to the NFL level. The caveat to his negatives is the fact that he's still very raw, and can be coached up into a better corner. Who knows where his ceiling is?

11. Shareece Wright - Strong nose for the ball and keeps the plays in front of him, he's always got a goal and is set on accomplishing it on every play. He's got good strength, but prefers to utilize leverage on the jam and when blocked. Doesn't have natural ball skills, but I see him keeping pace with many receivers and being a solid second corner. He does have injury concerns though, and that's going to drop him into the third round.

12. Marcus Gilchrist - He's really hit or miss, to me ... I don't like his backpedal, and I think he's not that great in man-to-man coverage against a top-level route runner, he doesn't roll out of the breaks well enough. No big play potential at all, is susceptible to double moves, but there is a lot of things to like physically. He can be coached up, and he might be another safety convert, especially for the 49ers. If he's coached well, he could overcome many lapses in his coverage ability and be a very solid zone corner or nickel kind of guy.

13. Chimdi Chekwa - Dowling Lite, here. Chekwa has great speed and a very solid jumpball, he's the kind of guy who can be a playmaker, but will be seen celebrating a pass knocked out of bounds more so than an interception. Chekwa is still really raw, but has higher potential than anybody else in this range. He's very good in zone coverage and is at his best when he has everything developing in front of him. He will surprise many quarterbacks with his deceptive closing ability, he sits back in the zone and reacts to what the signal caller does faster than most in the draft and can thus get in front of passes, but it does at times lead to him getting lost if he doesn't identify something fast enough.

14. Curtis Marsh - We're just dealing with more and more raw guys, Marsh has good speed and physicality, but needs to put more muscle on. He's very thin, and he'll get broken apart in the NFL. Good skills when going man-to-man, getting his hands up and deflecting passes. Has a very solid backpedal that comes from natural ability at the position, even though he's only played it for two years. Has a very high ceiling.

15. Rashad Carmichael - Solid man and zone coverage, but NFL receivers should beat him handily if he doesn't develop his hip movement and watch the quarterback's eyes more closely. Unlike many of the other corners this low, Carmichael has very good ball skills and could develop into a second corner that snags picks with regularity. Has the tendency to get lost in the open field and isn't very strong against the run.

3-4 Rush Linebacker Prospect Rankings