Commodities Report: CBs Are as Good as Gold


We've talked in this space about some of the downward pressure on the wide receiver and running back positions in this year's draft. While there are some talented college players at both spots, the wealth of top veteran receivers available through free agency, and the move by some teams to lock up some experienced running backs early in the signing period, has left the newcomers bracing for a freefall.

But for players at the cornerback position, things may be a little different. There are no fewer than eight teams, and probably a few more, currently looking for starting cornerbacks.

Baltimore, Cincinnati and Cleveland were torched by the long ball last season, and the Browns traded away Leigh Bodden. All of them need to upgrade in a serious way.

The Bills lost Nate Clements a year ago and now Jason Webster has moved on to the Patriots. Terrence McGee and Jabari Greer are not No. 1 corners and Ashton Youboty has yet to prove himself.

Arizona hasn't been able to find a solid tandem of corners despite spending some high picks in recent drafts.

In Kansas City, Ty Law is gone and Patrick Surtain's best days are well behind him. Can you say Rashad Barksdale and Tyron Brackenridge? Not with a straight face you can't.

Dallas needs to replace the departed Jacques Reeves, while New England needs to fill holes left by Asante Samuel and Randall Gay (and no, Webster and Lewis Sanders are NOT the answer). The Buccaneers need to replace Brian Kelly, and Ronde Barber can't play forever, even in the Cover-2.

The Jets will have to find a complement to Darrelle Revis now that Andre Dyson and Hank Poteat are gone.

Then you have teams like Green Bay, Miami, San Diego, San Francisco and St. Louis who are looking for an upgrade, a solid No. 2 or some depth in the age of the spread offense.

So our question for all these teams is: Where are you going to get them? Where does an NFL team go to find a ready-made shutdown corner who can start right away?

A look at Real Football's Top 100 free agents doesn't provide much relief for the hand-wringing GMs around the league. Samuel is locked up in Eagles green, Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha and Seattle's Marcus Trufant have been franchised and will be tough to pry away from their respective teams, and Drayton Florence has moved from the left coast to sunny Florida. But he couldn't start in San Diego and may not do so in Jacksonville, either.

Law is available, you say? You'd be right. But the new rules of the game have taken away the strength of his game, his physicality and aggressiveness, and the years have taken away his legs. A team might be able to hide him in a zone-heavy scheme, but guess what? All an offensive coordinator has to do is run trips to the opposite side and single up Law on a young vertical-threat receiver and it's as good as pay dirt. Next!

Gay (New Orleans), Reeves (Houston), Travis Fisher (Detroit) and Kelly (Detroit) are all gone, and after that you start entering into some fairly marginal talent.

So where do you go next? The draft!

Ah, yes, the draft. Well, sorry, Mr. GM, it doesn't get a whole lot better there. The Real Football draft board shows only four first-round prospects and another four who are solid second-round players, and there may only be another five corners who should be taken on Day One.

A look at the Round 1 prospects shows some outstanding speed, but can they come in and start immediately?

Troy's Leodis McKelvin has adequate size and a 4.38 time in the 40 and showed great explosiveness at the combine. But even his most ardent supporters see him making his biggest initial impact on special teams as a return man while sharpening up his cover skills.

Mike Jenkins of South Florida is another speedster who also ran 4.38, but he's a suspect tackler, shows marginal hands and lacks discipline in coverage. Some teams are already projecting him to free safety. Jenkins might find his way into a starting lineup in the fall, but the team that selects him will have to live with some growing pains.

Tennessee State's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a fast riser on most boards these days. Like his cousin, the Chargers' Antonio Cromartie, he shows some eye-opening playmaking ability. He has excellent deep speed (4.33 40), and at 6'2" has the height and leaping ability to make plays on the ball.

The last potential first-rounder is Arizona's Antoine Cason. He's another 6-footer in the mold of Baltimore's Chris McAlister who adjusts well to the ball in the air and has long arms. But he is not good in press coverage and lacks the explosiveness to close on the ball quickly. Last year opponents threw his way 73 times, so he hardly struck fear in the heart of Pac-10 QBs. To his credit, 50 of those passes went incomplete, but the 23 completions he gave up averaged over 11 yards per catch.

The second rounders are led by Kansas Jayhawk Aqib Talib, a 6'1", 202-pounder with 4.4 speed and excellent hands. He plays the ball well and is physical in coverage, but he gambles more than he should (teams completed more the 50 percent of the passes thrown his way last season) and has been red-flagged by some for his poor tackling.

Virginia Tech's Brandon Flowers is physical but uses that to mask his lack of size and speed. Oklahoma's Reggie Smith is extremely versatile and can play any position in the secondary, but will be best suited to a Cover-2 scheme if asked to play corner.

All three are early-entry juniors and will need time to mature, making them likely contributors in sub packages initially.

The same is true of Indiana's Tracy Porter, who has excellent speed and hands but is undisciplined in coverage and needs to add bulk before making a big impact at the next level.

Finally, Southern Cal's Terrell Thomas is another versatile player and a big hitter, but his lack of speed will hurt his ability to play corner at the next level, forcing most scouts to project him more towards safety or a sub-package corner.

Are there a couple of first-year starters in that group? Probably. But the point is that the supply hardly meets the demand, and you can expect that trend to continue as more and more NFL coaches look to copy the success of the Patriots and their spread attack. As the receiving options grow for quarterbacks, there will be a growing demand for speed guys who can cover and make plays on the ball, and there just aren't enough of them out there right now.

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