|Wade Payne / Associated Press|
|Some scouts think Tennessee DB Eric Berry can play both cornerback and safety at the pro level.|
INDIANAPOLIS -- Cornerbacks who can play the run, as well as cover...safeties who can cover, as well as play the run.
The 2010 NFL Draft should offer plenty of them in what looks to be an exceptionally deep group of complete defensive backs.
As many as four cornerbacks and three safeties could be selected in the first round. In all, about a dozen defensive backs will likely be chosen in the first two rounds.
And after the defensive backs work out at the NFL Scouting Combine, that number could very well grow. At the very least, there's an expectation that the stock of multiple defensive backs could climb on the strength of impressive workout performances.
The following is a breakdown of the cornerbacks and safeties widely considered at the top of their positions in the 2010 draft class:
Joe Haden, Florida (5-11, 193)
Besides being a tremendous athlete, Haden's next-best quality is something that otherwise highly talented cornerbacks often lack -- ball skills. Haden does an excellent job of getting his hands in front of the receiver to break up passes while avoiding penalties. He also has superior instincts and does an excellent job of tracking a receiver's movement with his back to the quarterback, turning at just the proper time to make a play on the ball. Haden's abundant speed allows him to run with the fastest receivers and quickly make up ground. He's also extremely physical and an asset against the run.
Patrick Robinson, Florida State (5-11, 190)
Robinson might be the best pure cornerback in the draft, although there are some concerns about his inconsistency. He is physical and does a good job of delivering a strong jam at the line of scrimmage. He also is extremely quick and can run stride-for-stride with most receivers. However, there are plays when he simply seems to shut himself down and won't compete. He'll use his considerable leaping ability to make a difficult play in the air, but then turn around and give up an easy throw. Still, with his athleticism and playmaking skill, Robinson can push himself into the top 10 of the draft, if he isn't already there.
Jerome Murphy, South Florida (6-0, 196)
Murphy's combination of excellent speed and ball skills should allow him to merit strong consideration as a first-round pick. One of the major concerns that scouts have about Murphy's game is that he tends to take too many chances, focusing more on the quarterback than on the man he's covering. He also has a tendency to struggle against larger receivers. But scouts love the confidence with which he plays. Murphy is always convinced he has the edge against the receiver he's covering.
Devin McCourty, Rutgers (5-11, 193)
Besides being a standout cornerback, McCourty also might be the best all-around special-teams player in the draft. He can be just as effective as a gunner and kick-blocker as he is at returning kicks. Scouts have seen him allow an uncomfortably high number of passes. Nevertheless, they are impressed with his elite athleticism and see him as having the skills necessary to become a top-rate player. The dilemma that a team that drafts him might have is how or whether to split his time between special teams and cornerback.
Kyle Wilson, Boise State (5-10, 194)
Wilson did plenty to improve his draft stock with a strong performance in pre-Senior Bowl drills. Scouts love his athleticism, ball skills, and toughness. Wilson has the speed to handle himself well in man-to-man coverage, although he sometimes gets into trouble by biting on play fakes and allowing himself to be fooled by double moves. His relative lack of height is another drawback, but shouldn't prevent him from having a successful career.
Eric Berry, Tennessee (6-0, 211)
You want complete? This guy can play cornerback, where he excelled in high school before switching to safety in college. Berry could have success at either position in the NFL. Some scouts think he might be a better cornerback, although his off-the-charts athleticism should allow him to hold his own regardless of where he plays. Berry can cover any type of receiver and his excellent body control allows him to consistently get in position to make plays without drawing a penalty. He has the kind of ball skills that teams covet from someone covering centerfield, and he has better hands than found among most defensive backs.
Taylor Mays, USC (6-3, 230)
Mays is a big, strong athlete who does his best work in run support. He delivers crushing hits and consistently makes tackles at the line of scrimmage. But he also is an asset in coverage. He has outstanding instincts when it comes to anticipating where and when the ball will be thrown. Mays also does a tremendous job of reading the eyes of the quarterback. His speed and athleticism allow him to consistently get in position to make plays. But if Mays is going to have a long and successful career as a safety, he needs to upgrade his deep coverage.
Earl Thomas, Texas (5-10, 208)
Although some scouts see Thomas as a rough-around-the-edges junior who would have benefitted from another year of collegiate experience, Thomas is one of the best playmaking safeties in the draft. He consistently provides blanket coverage on running backs and tight ends. Unlike Mays, he does well covering receivers deep and is equally comfortable in man-to-man and zone schemes. Thomas makes good reads and has superior instincts. He also has excellent ball skills. Thomas is highly aggressive in run support, but sometimes will leave his feet to make a big hit and miss the ball carrier.
Nathaniel Allen, South Florida (6-0, 207)
Allen is a well-rounded safety who holds his own in pass defense and run support. his success in coverage largely stems from the fact he is willing to invest considerable time to thoroughly study videotape of his opponent. He makes the most of that homework by often correctly anticipating throws and getting where he needs to be to make a play. Allen shows little trouble covering running backs and tight ends, an area where safeties need to be at their best. However, even though Allen has plenty of athleticism, he does need to work to improve his coverage of wide receivers.
Kendrick Lewis, Mississippi (6-0, 198)
Lewis is a tough, physical player. Sometimes, he is too tough for his own good and can become so focused on jamming a receiver at the line that he allows himself to get beat. He does have plenty of speed to make up ground. Lewis also is a considerable force in run defense. Scouts say there are times when he plays more like a linebacker.