The Patriots.com/Patriots Football Weekly staff has been breaking down the prospects for the 2015 NFL Draft by position. Today we take a look at the cornerbacks.
Imperfectly impressive depth. That might be the best way to describe the overall crop of cornerback prospects available for the 2015 NFL Draft. The group offers plenty of talented options, with maybe even a half-dozen worthy of being selected in the first round. The problem is that it seems each prospect comes with a question, concern or limitation. From off-field red flags to potential position changes, teams will have to sift through plenty of questions to pick the right athlete for the back end of their defense. And with the Patriots obvious need at cornerback married with the team's spotty history of drafting/developing cover men, the due diligence at the position is as important in New England as with any of the 32 NFL franchises.
Top of the crop
Michigan State's Trae Waynes is pretty much universally considered the top cornerback prospect after his 4.31 40 at the Combine, and as maybe the safest of the top picks at the position should be the first taken come Thursday night. But an argument can certainly be made that Washington's Marcus Peters is the best cornerback in the draft and had he not been kicked off his college team due to disagreements with his coaches he might be projected as a top-10 pick. Peters has the size, attitude and ability to be a top man corner and a game changer in the NFL. Others projected near the top of the position (with their concerns) include LSU's Jalen Collins (never really a full-time starter), Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson (skinny, reluctant tackler), Quinten Rollins (one year of football after basketball career), UConn's Byron Jones (injuries, stiffness) and Utah's Eric Rowe (more experience as FS).
With 2015 starters Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner having been allowed to walk in free agency, New England could be looking to add a starting-caliber player as early as possible this weekend. The best fit – assuming the team can come to grips with his dismissal from Washington – is Peters. But he may not slip all the way to 32 – past the likes of Pittsburgh, Baltimore or Dallas. Jones has been a popular mock Patriots pick, but his skill may not really be first-round quality and his future could even be as a free safety. Rowe has the versatility Bill Belichick loves, but may be another destined for safety. Rollins could have a huge payoff with his athletic potential. Really, depending on whether Belichick is looking for man or zone skills, any of the top dozen cornerback prospects could make sense for New England. But the ideal, from this perspective, is clearly Peters.
Keep an eye on
Thanks to a knee injury that will limit/eliminate his rookie season, Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is a major wild card. He has clear NFL talent and will be an injury-based value for some team with the patience to wait for him. Florida Atlantic's D'Joun Smith has major upside as a man corner with feisty athletic skills. USC's Josh Shaw lied his way down the draft rankings, but his skills and size are undeniable. Mississippi's Senquez Golson looks great on tape and his SEC success should translate into a mid-round steal for some team. And among all the corners with red flags, late-round projection Troy Hill, from Oregon, could be a boon if he can clean up his act. He's not huge, but he plays with an aggressive style that would be welcome on any team. Overall, though, the guy with the biggest chance to make a name for himself if he can prove he's mature enough is Peters.