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2015 NFL DRAFT

2014 NFL combine: Canvassing the corner market

By Jeff Reynolds | NFLDraftScout.com

Elite athlete? Perhaps, but Justin Gilbert still has questions to answer. (USATSI)
Elite athlete? Perhaps, but Justin Gilbert still has questions to answer. (USATSI)

More Draft: NFL Mock Drafts | Prospect Rankings | NFL combine workout results

INDIANAPOLIS -- Labels are semi-permanent in scouting. When evaluators decide perception is reality, designations tend to stick.

That is evident evaluating a cornerback class with no top-10 prospects but several potential stars who must answer critics to cement their first-round status.

The Elite Athlete

That's Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State's big-bodied man cornerback whose fluid movement skills should test off the charts here Tuesday.

"I ran a 4.33 a couple weeks ago and that was just my first attempt," Gilbert said.

He's trying to erase two Sharpie markings on his scouting report that won't be easily overcome. The gambler has "average ball skills" despite decent interception totals in his career. The more stinging criticism is easily seen on game tape. For his agility and ability, Gilbert is toasted more than Eggos, and that's a fatal flaw if scouts and coaches don't believe technical adjustments will correct it.

Gilbert spent time with NFLDraftScout.com's top-ranked cornerback, Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, in Orlando. Gilbert said Dennard is a wise guy, always making jokes, but scouts might agree that Dennard gets the picture with Dennard.

"He calls me 'Pretty Boy,'" Gilbert said. "He makes fun of me because I always take selfies on my phone."

The Explosive Playmaker

Ohio State fourth-year junior Bradley Roby's best recorded 40 time at Ohio State was 4.3 seconds. He's Flash fast, swift in and out of his backpedal to surge toward the ball. Trouble is, scouts see him as a prima donna who too often plays with less than maximum effort and at three-quarters speed. Gifted enough to be great, what general managers need to believe is that Roby's cloudy character concerns won't create a storm when he becomes a millionaire in May.

"I think me not playing that first game, my mindset in camp wasn't where it should've been," Roby said, referring to the one-game suspension he served to open the 2013 season stemming from a July 2013 arrest. Battery charges were eventually dropped. "I maybe didn't get as many reps as I should have. … I think that showed, kind of undisciplined type of play."

Does he have the drive and desire to maximize his God-given skill set, or will he show marginal mental and emotional toughness?

Roby said he's "definitely" a shutdown corner and after positive feedback in his first two of 17 private interviews with teams at the combine is still in the "range" of being a first-rounder.

The Smother-Cover Corner

Dennard was the Spartans' Mr. Consistency, and he plays with the pure dynamism and animated, infectious spirit coaches and teammates appreciate and admire. Other than perhaps wildcard Virginia Tech corner Kyle Fuller, Dennard is the best football player -- instincts, awareness and intelligence -- at the position.

"I think he's a pretty good corner," Roby said.

He was grabby and highly physical and might not run as fast as his peers in this class. That won't disqualify him from being the first cornerback drafted. Florida cornerback Joe Haden ran a 4.6 and was the seventh overall pick to the Cleveland Browns in 2010.

Dennard needs an ideal scheme fit, a team that presses at the line to physically jam and re-route receivers, or his shot at stardom is nil. He is not a superb or rare athlete and could be overlooked. There are also questions about durability including shoulder and head injuries.

The Underdogs

TCU's Jason Verrett might offer the best combination of talent and production, but his height and smaller frame are limiting. He might have reduced those worries by weighing in at 189 this week after being listed at 174 pounds. Verrett measured at 5-9, but eats up run-support responsibilities. He wants to hit, and competes on every play, a product of his junior college development that feeds the underdog mentality.

"If I'm 5-9, I'm 5-9. But I can compete with anybody," Verrett said Sunday.

"I've been challenged with receivers that have been over 6-foot my whole college career," he said. "If you look at my film, I played on the outside and I covered big receivers. If I have to go in the nickel, I'll go in the nickel. If I have to go outside, I'll go outside."

Verrett is nicknamed Fever, "because he's always hot" but said his cover skills made him "Fever Island." Verrett said Sunday he considers himself the best cornerback in the draft.

The human sledgehammer style that draws comparisons to former Jets cornerback Aaron Glenn and Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan also contributes to concerns about the health of his shoulder.

He played through a torn labrum most of the season after the injury occurred three games into his senior year. Verrett is scheduled to have surgery in Los Angeles after his March 21 pro day.

There are scouts who rate Verrett as a first-round talent. It would be mildly surprising to see him drafted in the top 25 picks because his size likely pushes him into a nickel corner or No. 2 role.

If size or a torn labrum knock Verrett down on draft boards, Fuller could benefit.

He was steady at Virginia Tech where he was a team captain, graduated at age 21 and will be the third Fuller brother to play in the NFL. Older kin Corey (wide receiver, Lions) and Vincent (safety, Titans, Lions) helped him develop a pro's approach to football.

Fuller can climb draft boards if he runs in the 4.4 range. Speed is the primary serious negative on his scouting report.

Follow Jeff Reynolds on Twitter @ReynoldsJD

NFLDraftScout.com's cornerback rankings

Rank

Player

Pos.

Pos. Rank

School

Class

Ht.

Wt.

Proj. Round

Darqueze Dennard

CB

1

Michigan State

Sr

5-11

197

1

20

Justin Gilbert

CB

2

Oklahoma State

Sr

6-0

200

1

32

Jason Verrett

CB

3

TCU

Sr

5-10

176

1-2

39

*Marcus Roberson

CB

4

Florida

Jr

6-0

195

1-2

44

*Bradley Roby

CB

5

Ohio State

rJr

5-11

192

2

47

Lamarcus Joyner

CB

6

Florida State

Sr

5-8

190

2

59

Kyle Fuller

CB

7

Virginia Tech

Sr

6-0

194

2

 
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