Tapping The NFL Draft: Defensive Backs

CraveOnline's NFL draft coverage examines the top cornerbacks and safeties.

Josh Helmuthby Josh Helmuth

The NFL has become a passing league.  Because of this, defensive backs have become a more valuable asset to teams.  Cornerbacks need to be athletic and physical enough to cover a variety of receivers, and with the emergence of freakishly athletic tight ends that can line up anywhere on the field, safeties with coverage skills have become a commodity. 

Cornerback: The top NFL cornerbacks can cover any receiver in any system.  Some of the best and most respected corners don't put up big numbers because they can effectively shut down half the field and opposing offenses intentionall throw to the opposite side of the field.  Some corners can struggle in man coverage and might be relegated to zone coverage systems.

Morris Claiborne, LSU, 5'11", 188 lbs
Claiborne is one of the few elite prospects in this year's draft class.  He has the athleticism and cover skills to be an elite cover corner in the NFL and showed the ability to "cut the field in half" in college.  Claiborne could improve his physicality in bump and run coverage and could become a better tackler, but if your man doesn't catch the ball, you won't need to tackle him.
Projected draft position: #5 overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina, 6'0", 190 lbs
Gilmore is a big physical corner with enough speed to keep up with receivers at the next level.  He is a well rounded player, but still needs some development to become elite.  Gilmore is good in run support and has shown an ability to be effective on a blitz.
Projected draft position: #21 overall to the Cincinnati Bengals

Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama, 6'1", 185 lbs
One of the bigger corners in this class, Kirkpatrick would be most effective in a zone coverage scheme which makes him a perfect fit in Tennessee, though he would struggle as a man-to-man corner.  Kirkpatrick is a hard hitter and a good tackler, but has a tendency to go for the kill shot against receivers rather than going for a ball in the air.  His physicality has led to some injuries.
Projected draft position: #20 overall to the Tennessee Titans

Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama, 5'10", 193 lbs 
Jenkins is a top 15 talent, but his off the field issues can easily drop him to the second round.  Has average size for a corner and can't be counted on to cover big receivers on jump balls in the redzone.  Jenkins has the confidence to cover anyone, but cockiness can sometimes be a distraction.
Projected draft position: #26 to the Houston Texans

Other notable CB's: In order of projected draft position

Late 1st – 2nd round
Josh Robinson, UCF, 5'10", 199 lbs
Dwight Bentley, Louisiana-Lafayette, 5'10", 182 lbs
Trumain Johnson, Montana, 6'2", 204 lbs
Robinson is a 3rd round talent with 4.3 speed, someone will take him 2nd round.  Bentley is undersized and may find his place as a nickel corner.  Johnson is talented enough to sneak into the 1st round, might be better moved to safety.

late 2nd – early 3rd
Josh Norman, Coastal Carolina, 6'0", 197 lbs
Brandon Boykin, Georgia, 5'9", 182 lbs
Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska, 5'10", 204 lbs
Norman has a talent for getting a hand on most balls in his vacinity.  Boykin will be most effective on special teams.  Dennard has slid a bit in the past year, will be best suited as a zone/nickel corner.

Safety: Safeties in the NFL need to show an ability to cover in man, and zone coverages and must have the ability to tackle ball carriers.  The top NFL safeties can keep opposing offenses guessing and off-balance.
Prototype players: Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed

Mark Barron, Alabama, 6'1", 213 lbs
Barron is the best safety in this class by far, plays in the mold of Ed Reed.  Athletic enough to cover top-flight TE's in the NFL.  Best suited in zone coverage and run support, can struggle in man coverage. 
Projected draft position: #14 overall to the Dallas Cowboys

Harrison Smith, Notre Dame, 6'2", 213 lbs
Smith has superior athleticism and was the most impressive DB at the scouting combine, but sometimes relies too much on his athleticism.  Smith can play either safety position in coverage or run support, but has trouble in man coverage.  On field awareness is superior and he can bait quarterbacks into bad throws.
Draft Projection: Late 1st – early 2nd round

Other notable S's: In order of projected draft position

Late 2nd – early 3rd round
Brandon Taylor, LSU, 5'11", 202 lbs
Taylor has good character and has great coverage skills, but performance was often overshadowed by others in LSU's secondary.

3rd – 4th round
Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State, 6'1", 207 lbs
Antonio Allen, South Carolina, 6'1, 201 lbs
Martin is good in coverage but sometimes neglects to make tackles, electing to go for kill shots.  Allen needs to improve his field awareness if he expects to stay on the field.

Photo Credit: Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI

For more information on the upcoming NFL draft, keep logging on to CraveOnline.com for pick by pick projections and analysis.

J. Lance Moose is a contributor and lead football writer for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JLanceMoose, and subscribe on Facebook facebook.com/CraveOnlineSports .

For more coverage and analysis, click the links below
Full first round mock 2.0


Running backs

Tight-ends, fullbacks, special teams

Offensive line

Defensive ends 

Defensive tackles