2011 NFL Draft: Top Five Defensive Backs
While LSU’s Patrick Peterson and Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara are garnering all the attention and headlines of the national media, there is a large second tier of defensive backs who deserve praise as well.
Think back to the 2008 NFL Draft’s second and third round. Guys like Brandon Flowers, Tracy Porter, Terrell Thomas, Kenny Phillips and Charles Godfrey were all drafted by their respective team and are very capable starters. The same can be said about players from the 2009 and 2010 drafts as well.
The misconception here is that teams that struggle with pass defense need to find better defensive backs. In the NFL, teams would much rather bolster their pass-rush with defensive ends and blitzing outside linebackers which is why the defensive back position is less valuable than defenders who play closer to the ball.
This is why a team like the Denver Broncos may have allowed 62 pass plays of 20+ yards last season, but they’re likely selecting a defensive lineman like Alabama’s Marcell Dareus with the No. 2 pick instead of Peterson, at least according to the so-called draft experts.
1. CB Patrick Peterson, LSU – (6′, 219)
Here’s the thing about Patrick Peterson in this draft, the experts believe he’s the safest and best player. So from the casual fan’s perspective, why isn’t he the No. 1 pick? Like I explained earlier the positional value just isn’t there. There has never been a cornerback taken No. 1 overall. In any case, Peterson has good size and moves well in his lower half. He has great ball skills, challenges receivers at the line of scrimmage and plays with a chip on his shoulder. He may be the best corner to enter the league since Champ Bailey.
2. CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska (6’, 206)
The truth is, Prince Amukamara is almost as good as Peterson. Amukamara has better awareness and doesn’t take as many unnecessary chances. Peterson does a better job at making big plays but that’s a style of play, not a talent. In all likelihood, Amukamara will slip into the early teens of the first round but that’s not a knock on his abilities. What’s interesting is, critics wondered how Amukamara would play for Nebraska without Ndamukong Suh since he was so disruptive and now it appears Amukamara may be drafted by the Detroit Lions at No. 13.
3. CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado – (6’2″, 211)
For his size, Smith has amazing cover skills. He really excels at playing tight to his man, disrupting the route and playing with good technique. There have been rumblings that he has character issues, but those have been overblown. His man-to-man skills far exceed his abilities in zone coverage because he lacks that quick-twitch reaction to break on the ball. That said, Smith may not be a top 20 pick, but he’s not far off. Look for him to be drafted at No. 23 by Philadelphia, No. 25 by Seattle or No. 26 by Baltimore.
4. S Rahim Moore, UCLA – (5’11″, 202)
For whatever reason, all the high-profile mock draft experts feel Moore is a lock for the second round, but I’m not as convinced. This is the year of the defensive linemen so it’s understandable that a safety will lose, on paper, because of his position’s value. But Moore possesses very elite ball skills which can only compare to Ed Reed. He’s not the complete player that Reed was, but Moore’s ball skills are at that level. For teams that will keep in zone coverage, as opposed to playing in the box, he’ll be great. His limitations are when asked to cover man-to-man or play run support. He’s good but not great when asked to do that on the field. But in a deep zone, he can shut down the back end, read the quarterback’s eyes, break on the pass and come up with the interception.
5. CB Brandon Harris, Miami – (5’9″, 191)
The drop-off in talent after Smith at the cornerback position in this draft is very significant. In the NFL, it’s all about jamming receivers and considering how physical Harris is as a tackler, he lacks the size to really stick guys at the line. In run support, he’s great. He seals the edge, he does well to disengage blockers and make plays. But his ball skills are good but not great, he has a tendency to run to a spot in a zone rather than having a natural feel for the play. But the confidence he plays with coupled with his physicality leads me to believe he has potential to improve in man coverage.
6. CB/S Aaron Williams, Texas
7. CB Johnny Patrick, Louisville
8. CB Ras-I Dowling, Virginia
9. CB Joshua Thomas, Utah State
10. S Jaiquawn Jarrett, Temple
More 2011 NFL Draft Coverage