With a full month of the college and NFL seasons now in the books, we can now take a look at the talent likely to be available in the 2012 draft and compare it to the areas of concern for most professional teams.
Though I'd argue that none of the cornerbacks in the upcoming draft class appears to be as good as gifted as No. 5 overall pick Patrick Peterson (Cardinals), what is becoming increasingly obvious is that the cornerback class, as a whole, is much stronger than in most years.
Durability and off-field concerns have certainly reared their ugly heads at the position as Nebraska senior Alfonzo Dennard has struggled to return from a pulled leg muscle and two of the better ball-hawking corners in the country -- North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins and Oregon junior Cliff Harris -- had noteworthy run-ins with police during the off-season.
That isn't to say any of the three of them is likely to slip out of the first round should their issues be resolved to NFL teams' satisfaction prior to the April draft.
As everyone knows, the NFL has morphed into a league dependant on the passing game. This fact makes quarterbacks and strong passing attacks critical to offensive success. At the same time, it drives up the value of pass defenders -- whether they be pass rushers or defensive backs.
The 2012 class of safeties does not appear to be an overly talented one. At cornerback, however, there is a great deal of talent. Besides the three players I've already mentioned, I'd be surprised if Alabama's 'Dre Kirkpatrick, LSU's Morris Claiborne, Virginia Tech's Jayron Hosley -- all juniors -- aren't selected in whatever first round they choose to make themsevles eligible. I currently list six cornerbacks among my top 32 prospects for the 2012 draft.
Some argue that by spreading the defense out elite cornerbacks can be taken out of the game. There certainly is ample evidence to argue this considering that so many pro offenses are now utilizing three, four or even five receivers per snap.
My argument against this theory, however, is that spread offenses are only going to drive up the value of cornerbacks. Cornerbacks with Hosley or Harris, for example, while perhaps not ideal run defenders or possessing the size teams would like to slow the Andre or Calvin Johnsons of the world, might prove perfect cover options for the smaller, quicker slot receivers that are proving so integral to today's top passing attacks.
This doesn't appear to be a case of teams needing help at one position and therefore grading players at that position of need higher than normal.
These guys just might be that good.
For some NFL defenses weary of giving 300+ passing yards to even average quarterbacks, the help can't come soon enough.