Though the selection of cornerbacks in the NFL draft may not be loaded with first-round talent, the pool of decent players is fairly deep this year, according to draft expert Frank Coyle of Draft Insider's Digest.
Coyle, a guest each Wednesday on "PFW In Progress" on Patriots.com, tabbed Ohio State's Nate Clements, Jamar Fletcher of Wisconsin and Fred Smoot of Mississippi State as the top prospects on the block. The biggest concern with all three is size, as all three are 6-0 or shorter.
At 6-0 and 190 pounds, Clements has the most size of the three, and his cover skills on the outside are very strong, according to Coyle. The junior has shown big play ability at the college level and should be able to step in and play right away next season.
Smoot and Fletcher are both very talented, but in addition to a lack of height, both also weigh in the 175-pound area. This may cause teams to back off because of concerns of tackling problems and every-down durability. However, the ball instincts and closing speed of Smoot and Clements make both top-notch picks.
Though New England is unlikely to take a corner in the first round, there are some prospects Coyle deems worthy of a look in the next couple of rounds. Willie Middlebrooks of Minnesota is a bigger cornerback with good speed, as is Will Allen of Syracuse. One diamond in the rough that should be available late is Raymond Wells of Southern Mississippi, who began his career as a wide receiver but switched to defensive back and may need time to develop.
New England currently has Ty Law, Antonio Langham, Otis Smith, Kato Serwanga and Antwan Harris at cornerback. Though he did not have a great year in 2000 relative to expectations, Law is the best of the bunch, and the only solid bet to start next season. Langham and Smith are veterans who split time. Both had roller coaster seasons, and given their ages, neither are a long-term solution. Serwanga, who has spent three years with the Patriots, is going to NFL Europe for seasoning, and Harris was a little used backup as a rookie.
The Patriots are less inclined to go after a safety, as they have two-time Pro Bowler Lawyer Milloy at strong safety and Tebucky Jones at free safety. Milloy is a lock to start, while Jones came on late in the season after he was switched back from corner.
The safeties available are not as strong, though Coyle did offer high praise for Derrick Gibson of Florida State. Coyle said the former Seminole was a top-10 quality pick, but would not likely go that high because the position is not in high demand. Coyle said Gibson was the most advanced safety to come out in years.
Tony Driver, a 6-1, 210-pounder from Notre Dame has seen his stock rise in Coyle's mind as well. Solid in run support and coverage, Driver's speed, agility and intelligence will make him a solid pick for whichever team takes him in the middle rounds.
Coyle discussed the two skill positions at length Wednesday on the Internet radio show "PFW In Progress." He is a weekly guest on the show, which runs every Wednesday at noon ET here on Patriots.com. Coyle's draft information can be found at draftinsiders.com.