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Draft Tip Sheet: Small-school corners again intriguing options

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was picked No. 16 overall in 2008 out of Tennessee State. (US Presswire)  
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was picked No. 16 overall in 2008 out of Tennessee State. (US Presswire)  

It's been a few years since a cornerback from a really small football program was chosen in the first round; Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie of Tennessee State was probably the last one when Arizona selected him in 2008.

But the draft annually includes several corner prospects from smaller schools in the seven rounds, and this year doesn't figure to be any different.

The various college all-star games in recent weeks included cornerbacks from such far-flung places as Cal-Poly (Asa Jackson), Louisiana-Lafayette (Dwight Bentley), Furman (Ryan Steed), Presbyterian (Justin Bethel), Albion (Chris Greenwood), North Alabama by way of Florida (Janoris Jenkins) and a few others. For the most part, the challenge of displaying one's abilities against players from the bigger "football" schools, and in front of a crowd of NFL scouts, didn't dramatically affect the performances of any of the smaller-program coverage players.

Jenkins, who transferred to North Alabama after being dismissed from the Florida squad after multiple marijuana-related infractions, is probably the only one of the group with first-round potential. But NFL teams are always looking for coverage players, even more so in this era of the pass, so it's likely that all the small-college players who attended the various all-star games will have the opportunity to play at the NFL level.

Five decades ago, in large part because of the passing background of the schools and their conferences, the old AFL in particular unearthed solid corners at small schools. Now all teams scout those schools -- even with the decline in influence of historically black colleges and universities -- for cornerback prospects, it seems.

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"For whatever reason," said New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese, "those schools tend to fall between the cracks. It's not because we don't scout them, because we do. But those schools and the cornerback position ... they don't get as much attention. But teams know those places and, by the end of the (evaluation) process, they know the players, too. Hey, everyone is looking for corners."

The coverage defenders from the smaller schools are certainly aware of that.

Said Jenkins: "Maybe it wasn't the SEC, but I found out there are good receivers at every level, and you still have to play the game the same way. I mean, covering is covering, right?"

Two of the four cornerbacks on the New England roster, Kyle Arrington and Antwaun Molden, were small-school products, the former from Hofstra and the latter from Eastern Kentucky. Neither was drafted by the Patriots, but both of them played significant roles for the 2011 team, and acknowledged during the week preceding Super Bowl XLVI that the size of the school doesn't matter if you've got cover skills.

"The way the game is played now, they'll find you," said Arrington, who despite being waived four times previously before hooking up with the Pats, tied for the NFL lead in interceptions (seven) in 2011.

"Maybe some of us don't have as much technique yet," said Bentley, who performed pretty well in Senior Bowl practices, displayed decent hips and good closing speed and projects as a middle-round choice. "But I think the thing you have to have is good instinct ... and that has nothing to do with the size of the school."

 RG3, Workout Warrior: Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III was in Indianapolis for the Super Bowl festivities last week, and was religious about working out every day.

"One of the things I made sure I asked about my hotel was whether or not it had a really good (exercise) room," Griffin, who was housed at one of the top downtown hotels, told The Sports Xchange. "I'm taking nothing for granted. (I've) got to work every day. No days off. This is serious stuff."

Griffin said he liked the city, and insisted he would have "no problem at all" sitting behind Peyton Manning for a year or two.

"It'd be like learning from the master," Griffin said.

Both Griffin and Stanford star Andrew Luck, the presumptive top overall pick, said they had yet to sit down formally yet with Indianapolis officials. New Colts general manager Ryan Grigson insisted the team has yet to settle on a choice, and seemed to counter the contention of Colts owner Jim Irsay that Indianapolis has already decided it will choose a quarterback with the top pick.

 There has been a defensive tackle chosen among the top 10 names off the board in each of the past five drafts, and Michael Brockers of LSU and Penn State's Devon Still could extend that streak this season. Scouts seem to differ about which of the tackles at this point rates as the premier prospect at the position but they agree that both will almost certainly be chosen in the top half of the first round.

The consensus seems to be that Still might be the better interior rusher, with a little bit quicker first step, but Brockers clearly has his admirers, as well. And the former LSU star might be the better all-around inside player.

"Two great players and great kids," said one personnel director last week. "It's just a matter of personal preference."

 At least two teams, Buffalo and Miami, will transition from the 3-4 to the 4-3 in 2012, and personnel people agreed the switches could impact the way the two clubs draft in April. The feeling was that Buffalo perhaps had an edge in personnel ready for the conversion, but that the Bills and Dolphins still had some work to do, and that their drafts would reflect the change. The same could be true for Indianapolis, which, despite the contention of team officials and new coach Chuck Pagano, appears ready to move to a 3-4 front.

 Marijuana possession charges against Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, filed the middle of last month, have been dropped. Regarded as a first-round prospect by many, Kirkpatrick maintained his innocence in the matter, and now won't have to deal with the legal ramifications from the situation.

What the former Crimson Tide standout will confront, however, are questions about the incident from league scouts at the combine in two weeks. Even after the dismissal of the charges, several general managers/personnel directors told The Sports Xchange this week the original charges are fair game during combine interviews in Indianapolis.

Alabama coach Nick Saban, who is close to several NFL coaches and personnel departments, has pretty much vouched for Kirkpatrick and his character.

"But that won't save him from the inquisition," one NFC personnel director said.

 Quick kicks: Neither Luck nor Griffin has decided yet, so they said, if they will throw at the combine workouts. ... Of the record 65 underclass players who petitioned for inclusion in the 2012 draft, all but 10 have been officially invited to the combine workouts ... The fact that so many cornerback prospects are a bit undersized -- Jenkins, for instance is under 5-feet-10 -- is a bit worrisome to scouts. Said one general manager: "There are some absolute monsters (at wide receiver) in the league, and, in a perfect world, you'd probably want some bigger (cornerbacks)." ... Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden has demonstrated good arm strength but his lack of movement skill is almost as problematic for some scouts as his advanced age (28) ... Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov, a prospect for the 2013 draft, was arrested last week on DUI charges. The team's leading tackler in 2010, Skov missed all but three games in 2011 because of an ACL injury but was still viewed as a solid prospect for next year ... Four franchises have four choices each in the top 80 picks of the draft ... It likely won't affect the manner in which powerhouse agency Octagon Worldwide conducts negotiations, but somewhat overshadowed by the Super Bowl was the fact that the Denver Broncos recently hired veteran player representative Michael Sullivan as their director of football administration. Sullivan will negotiate all of contracts and also monitor the salary cap and compliance for the Broncos.

 The last word: "I think every competitor wants to play every down, every play. So, of course, who wouldn't want to start?" -- Luck, in Indianapolis last week for Super Bowl XLVI


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