NFL Draft Preview: Cornerbacks

The NFL is a pass-happy league so it's no surprise that wide receivers hear their names called early and often on Draft Day. Of course, cornerbacks, the men in charge of shutting down these pass-catchers, are just as frequently picked.

This year's crop is led by Texas All-American safety Michael Huff, who projects as a cornerback in the NFL because of his impressive 4.34 time in the 40-yard dash at the Combine. Huff has the size (5'11 7/8", 198) and speed to play any position in the defensive backfield. Teams are always in search of corners with good size to defend the mammoth wide receivers that saturate the league, and this group features plenty of players with the right measurables, including Virginia Tech's Jimmy Williams (6'2 1/8", 216), Florida State's Antonio Cromartie (6'2 ¼", 203), and Texas' Cedric Griffin (6'0 3/8", 202), all of whom should go early on Day 1.

The following is a ranking of the Top 10 cornerback prospects leading into the 2006 NFL Draft on April 29–30:

1. Michael Huff, Texas (5'11 7/8", 198, 4.34)
With a premium placed on cornerback play in the NFL, Huff will get his chance on the perimeter, where he played early in his college career. However, his on-field leadership, superb tackling skills, and lightning speed might suit him best at free safety.

2. Tye Hill, Clemson (5'9 ½", 189, 4.30)
Hill's stock rose at the Senior Bowl, where he was clearly the best cover corner. After posting the fastest 40 time at the Combine in February (4.30), he solidified his position as a first-round pick.

3. Jimmy Williams, Virginia Tech (6'2 1/8", 216, 4.41)
Williams' combination of size and speed alone make him a surefire first-round selection, possibly even a Top 10 pick. Like Huff, the team that chooses Williams could move him inside to safety because of his measurables.

4. Ashton Youboty, Ohio State (5'11 ¾", 189, 4.43)
Youboty, a junior, is a raw cover corner with loads of potential. His fluid hips and good top-end speed make him ideal for press coverage.

5. Antonio Cromartie, Florida State (6'2 ¼", 203, 4.37)
There's risk involved with the selection of Cromartie, who missed the entire '05 season with an ACL tear. An early entry as a junior, Cromartie started less than a full year's worth of games as a Seminole, and probably could use another year at the college level to fine-tune his game. Nonetheless, his outstanding size-speed combination will have him coming off the board early on Draft Day.

6. Cedric Griffin, Texas (6'0 3/8", 202, 4.49)
Overshadowed by his Texas teammate, Michael Huff, Griffin saw his stock rise at the Senior Bowl, which included an end-zone interception of heralded Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler.

7. Kelly Jennings, Miami (5'10 7/8", 178, 4.37)
Some player personnel executives may shy away from Jennings because of his slight frame, but the team that selects Jennings will get a smooth corner with elite speed who can play man-to-man coverage.

8. Johnathan Joseph, South Carolina (5'11", 189, 4.31)
Joseph's stock may have risen more than any CB in this year's draft pool. A strong showing at the Combine, including a 4.31 time in the 40-yard dash, may have elevated him into the first round. The downside is his lack of experience; Joseph only played one year of D-1 football.

9. Dee Webb, Florida (5'10 ¾", 186, 4.42)
A cornerback with the speed and athleticism to play press coverage, Webb, a junior, came on strong at the end of last season for the Gators, and looks to be a solid second-round pick.  

* 10. Marcus Maxey, Miami (6'1 ½", 192, 4.42)
Maxey is the reason highly touted CB/WR/KR Devin Hester couldn't crack the starting lineup last season for the Hurricanes. He's a bit raw but has all the measurables to compete at the next level, and a will make one team GM very happy when training camp roles around.

OTHER NOTABLE PROSPECTS:

  • Brett Bell, Wisconsin (5'11 5/8", 198, 4.55)
  • Will Blackmon, Boston College (6'0 3/8", 198, 4.46)
  • Charles Gordon, Kansas (5'10 ¼", 182, 4.53)
  • Reuben Houston, Georgia Tech (5'11 ¾", 191, 4.59)
  • Darrell Hunter, Miami (Ohio) (5'11 7/8", 206, 4.36)
  • Tim Jennings, Georgia (5'8 ¼", 184, 4.32)
  • Josh Lay, Pittsburgh (6'0", 197, 4.49)
  • Danieal Manning, Abilene Christian (5'10 ¾", 201, 4.43)
  • Richard Marshall, Fresno St. (5'11 1/8", 187, 4.42)
  • Derrick Martin, Wyoming (5'9 7/8", 198, 4.34)
  • Gerrick McPhearson, Maryland (5'10 1/8", 197, 4.35)
  • DeMario Minter, Georgia (5'11 ¼", 185, 4.46)
  • Chijioke Onyenegecha, Oklahoma (6'1 3/8", 212, 4.46)
  • Anwar Phillips, Penn State (5'11 3/8", 190, 4.59)
  • David Pittman, Northwestern State (5'11 ¼", 181, 4.44)
 **Alan Zemaitis, Penn State (6'1 ¼", 196, 4.50)**

* Sleeper Pick

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