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CB crop marked by underclassmen, small-school talent

Top five prospects by position

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About the Author

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Posted April 26, 2012 @ 11 a.m. ET
By Nolan Nawrocki

This is the 11th of a 12-part series that offers up scouting reports on PFW’s top five-ranked players at their respective positions in the 2012 NFL draft. Full scouting reports and the latest buzz on nearly 500 draft prospects, including results from roughly 200 pro days, can be found in PFW’s Draft Database.

The nation’s two most talented secondaries squared off in the championship game, and the draft claimed the early arrival of the best cover men on each squad, LSU’s Morris Claiborne and Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick, both of whom possess the physical talent to start readily in the pros. Small-school talent is especially abundant at the position, with gnat-like CB Janoris Jenkins transferring to North Alabama from Florida and Montana’s excellent-sized Trumaine Johnson proving he can dominate lesser competition. Both have the talent to contribute immediately if they can stay focused. Two more underclassmen — South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore and UCF’s Josh Robinson — emerged from the Combine as the heartthrobs of NFL coaches, but neither has yet to play up to his potential and could disappoint with high expectations. Nebraska’s Alfonzo Dennard and Georgia’s Brandon Boykin profile as ideal nickel backs.

1. Morris Claiborne, LSU (Jr.)
Ht: 5-11 1⁄8, Wt: 188, Sp: 4.49, Arm: 33 1⁄4, Hand: 8 1⁄2

Notes:  Saw action in seven games as a true freshman in 2009, recording seven tackles, zero pass breakups and zero interceptions. Moved to the left side in ’10, leading the team in interceptions after posting 37-6-5 with one tackle for loss in 12 starts. Won the Jim Thorpe Award in ’11 — posted 51-6-6 (45-yard TD in SEC title game) with one tackle for loss in 14 starts. Also returned kickoffs 22-552-1 (25.1), including a 99-yard touchdown at West Virginia. Team captain.   

Bottom line: A well-built, rangy, long-limbed, confident press-man cover corner with ball skills, instincts, toughness and swagger to lock down No. 1 receivers in the pros. Has terrific length, plays bigger than his size and should step into a starting lineup readily.

NFL projection: Top-10 pick.

2. Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama (Jr.)
Ht: 6-1 5⁄8, Wt: 194, Sp: 4.52, Arm: 30 5⁄8, Hand: 9 1⁄2

Notes: Played 12 games as a true freshman in 2009, recording eight tackles, zero pass breakups and zero interceptions. Moved into the starting lineup in ’10 and posted 53-7-3 with four tackles for loss and one forced fumble in 13 games with 12 starts at left cornerback. Registered 30-9-0 with four tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in 13 starts in ’11. Returned a blocked field goal 55 yards for a touchdown against Georgia Southern.  

Bottom line: Long-limbed, cocky, aggressive, sticky corner best suited to man short areas in zone. However, his body is not built to handle the physicality of his game and a lack of dependability could limit his ceiling to a difficult-to-manage No. 2. Has some bust potential and dependability issues could drive down draft value.

NFL projection: Mid- to late-first-round pick.

3. Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina (Jr.)
Ht: 6-0 1⁄2, Wt: 190, Sp: 4.41, Arm: 31, Hand: 9 1⁄4

Notes: Started all 13 games as a true freshman in 2009 and recorded 56 tackles, eight pass breakups and one interception with six tackles for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles. Returned 15 punts for 152 yards (10.1) with zero touchdowns. Led the team in tackles in ’10, tallying 79-2-3 with six tackles for loss, three sacks and a forced fumble. Returned punts 9-47-0 (5.2). In ’11, he totaled 46-7-4 with three tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble and one blocked kick in 13 starts Also returned two kickoffs for 24 yards (23.5) and punts 4-7-0 (1.8).

Bottom line: A wiry, smooth, physical, inconsistent corner, Gilmore is unpolished, but offers scheme versatility and starter-caliber athleticism. Is most comfortable in off-man/zone and should play faster once he’s coached up on the finer technical and mental points. Could move to safety down the road. Premium for cover talent and upside will push him higher than grades on tape.

NFL projection: First-round pick.

4. Trumaine Johnson, Montana
Ht: 6-1 7⁄8, Wt: 204, Sp: 4.56, Arm: 33 1⁄4, Hand: 9 3⁄8

Notes: Made 11 starts in 2008 as a true freshman, posting 21 tackles, four pass breakups and four interceptions. Missed the last five games with a partially torn PCL in his right knee. Recorded 54-12-5 with three tackles for loss in 11 starts in ’09. Did not play in four games — season opener against Western State (suspended), Sacramento State (concussion) and games against Idaho State and Northern Colorado (fractured right forearm). Made all 11 starts in ’10, logging 44-7-4 with 31⁄2 tackles for loss and half a sack. Was also used on offense, rushing twice for 11 yards and returned eight kickoffs for 178 yards (22.2-yard average). Started 13-of-14 games in ’11, recording 54-12-2 with a forced fumble, six tackles for loss and a sack. Was arrested for obstructing a police officer, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest the morning after the Grizzlies’ 28-24 road win over Northern Arizona on Oct. 22 in an alcohol-related incident in which he was tasered.

Bottom line: A long-limbed press corner with loose hips for his size, Johnson is extremely talented, can match up well against big receivers and has the size, ball skills and striking ability to potentially help at safety. Would benefit highly from a structured environment. Has the tools to become a No. 1 corner if he can be managed properly and stay focused.

NFL projection: Top-50 pick.

5. Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama
Ht: 5-10, Wt: 193, Sp: 4.43, Arm: 32, Hand: 8 1⁄4

Notes: As a true freshman in 2008 at the University of Florida, started 12-of-14 games at the field corner and tallied 39 tackles, 11 pass breakups and three interceptions with one sack and a forced fumble. Was arrested in late May ’09 on misdemeanor charges of affray and resisting arrest without violence after he was involved in a fight and tasered. In the fall, started all 13 games played at the field corner and logged 38-6-2 with three tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Started 11-of-12 games at left cornerback in ’10, posting 44-8-3 with six tackles for loss and one sack. Saw action as a punt returner with 18 punts for 150 yards (8.3-yard average) and zero touchdowns. Was arrested for marijuana possession in January ’11 and again in April ’11 and dismissed from the team. Transferred to Division II North Alabama. Recorded 53-4-2 with four tackles for loss and one blocked kick. Returned punts 18-390-3 (21.7) and kickoffs 13-309-0 (23.8).  

Bottom line: Has a unique blend of instincts, ball skills, toughness and cover ability and is as proven against elite competition as any cornerback in this draft. Scouts have compared him to Philadelphia Eagles CB Asante Samuel, and he can factor immediately in the slot and become an elite, gnat-like, blanket cover man on the outside if managed properly. High-risk, high-reward pick.

NFL projection: First-round pick.

Click here to read scouting reports for intriguing, late-rising cover talent.

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