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Ikegwuonu, Talib cloud the CB class

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Ikegwuonu provides top-end cornerback depth
Whereas Wisconsin’s top offensive player, junior TE Travis Beckham, has decided to return to school, top defender, junior CB Jack Ikegwuonu will instead enter the NFL draft.

Ikegwuonu ranks as one of the top cornerbacks in this year’s class, along with seniors Mike Jenkins (South Florida) and Leodis McKelvin (Troy). Ikegwuonu is strong at the line of scrimmage, can flip his hips and shadow defenders downfield, and has above-average zone recognition skills, ball skills and hands, and has the make up to develop into a number one cornerback at the next level.

He blanketed Indiana WR James Hardy – a potential first-round pick – to five receptions for 25 yards in their last two meetings. Against Michigan WR Mario Manningham, albeit with true freshman QB Ryan Mallett at the helm, Ikegwuonu more than held his own. Manningham’s final numbers – three receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns are a bit misleading misleading. Ikegwuonu lost his balance and fell to the ground attempting to tackle Manningham on his first TD, a 12-yard catch and run down the left sideline. Manningham’s second score, a short in-route that he snared and took home for 97-yards, was the result of a misplayed zone coverage. Ikegwuonu, as he tends to do and must improve at the next level, gave Manningham too early of a release rather shadowing him at least 10 yards downfield. Manningham thus had more than enough room in which to sit behind the too shallow Ikegwuonu and in front of the over the top safety.

Ikegwuonu flashed his impressive instincts and zone recognition skills against Ohio State. On one first quarter play, he shadowed WR Brian Robiskie five yards off the line of scrimmage, but immediately recognized senior TE Rory Nichol releasing underneath, broke off his man and came up to the right flat for the tackle.

kegwuonu’s discipline in zone coverage (citing his mistake against Manningham) is obviously correctable.  He must still tighten up his tackling, as Ikegwuonu tends to lose his feet and consequently his leverage (again, citing mistakes against Manningham and Robiskie). He also appears to struggle with short area quickness, and surprisingly had his hands full trying to contain Minnesota WR Eric Decker. The sophomore out-quicked Ikegwuonu off the line of scrimmage and put him back on his heels, finishing with a respectable six receptions for 65 yards.

Despite these glaring athletic abilities, teams must carefully gauge Ikegwuonu’s character. He was arrested in November 2006 with his brother Bill, a defensive back at Northern Illinois, for allegedly breaking into an apartment and stealing an Xbox video game console. Ikegwuonu has pleaded not guilty to felony residential burglary and misdemeanor criminal trespass charges in a case still pending.  Assuming he satisfies teams from a character perspective, Ikegwuonu is likely to land in the second round.

Talib declares following MVP performance
As long expected, Kansas junior cornerback Aqib Talib has declared for the draft. Talib capped a mediocre season with a difference-making 60-yard interception return for touchdown, earning Orange Bowl MVP honors.

His one shining moment should not by any means override his other glaring flaws. Talib does not possess the straight-line speed, recovery speed, press coverage skills or quickness to excel as a man corner, and lacks the toughness and tackling prowess to play zone.

Case in point – Talib whiffed on Missouri WR Danario Alexander at the line of scrimmage, and was fortunate an incomplete pass negated a potentially big play. Two weeks earlier, Talib lost a one-on-one, goal line battle with Oklahoma State RB Julius Crosslin by attempting to cut block, rather than wrap up Crosslin on his one-yard TD run. Nebraska WR Maurice Purify beat Talib off the line on several occasions, including a highlight reel third quarter TD catch. On that particular play, Talib missed a jam at the line of scrimmage and lacked the quickness and make up speed to turn and catch up to the relatively slow footed Purify. And finally, everyone remembers Kansas State’s Jordy Nelson exploding by Talib and separating down the right sideline for a definitive 68-yard score.  

Still, teams are buying into the size, hype and 22 pass breakups in 2006, as Talib is currently projected as a second round pick.

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