|Darron Cummings / Associated Press|
|Patrick Peterson is vying to be the first cornerback ever selected No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft.|
With the league becoming more passing-oriented, teams are looking for impact defenders capable of altering the game.
Although the plethora of available pass rushers in this year's draft has led many coaches to focus on pressuring the quarterback, the quality of cover men could prompt defensive coordinators to upgrade the back end to slow down the league's explosive offensive attacks.
When looking at the top performers at the NFL Scouting Combine, the spectacular performances of LSU's Patrick Peterson and Nebraska's Prince Amukamara could lead to two cornerbacks coming off the board within the first 10 selections.
Peterson, who measured in at 6-foot, 219 pounds, dazzled scouts with his size, speed and athleticism. He recorded unbelievable marks in the speed and agility drills, and showed exceptional skills during the positional workout. His smoothness and fluidity as a cornerback have led to conversations about his status as the possible No. 1 overall pick, and the Carolina Panthers will certainly have to entertain that option after watching him perform so well on the big stage.
For Amukamara, the combine provided him an opportunity to answer some of the questions scouts had about his speed prior to the workout. Some evaluators worried about his top-end speed after noticing a few issues on tape, but he soundly dispelled those concerns by blazing a 4.43-second 40-yard dash, and posting outstanding measurables in drills. He also showed good footwork and transition skills in the positional workout, and looks like a natural fit as a cover corner. Teams like the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys would appear to be great options for Amukamara.
As the league continues to evolve into a passing league, the need for cover corners increases in priority. Teams are entering the draft confident that they can address their secondary needs with a standout member of the 2011 draft class.
Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
He made a strong statement regarding his candidacy for the top overall pick with his phenomenal workout at the combine. He showed outstanding speed and burst by clocking 4.32 in the 40 while also posting excellent times in the short shuttle (4.07) and 3-cone drill (6.58). Peterson's spectacular positional workout earned rave reviews, too. He was smooth and fluid in his movements, and displayed good instincts and ball skills. His turns and transitions were impressive for a big corner, and he has a skill set that translates well to the pro game. With few noticeable flaws in his overall game, Peterson has cemented his status as a top-five talent.
Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
He has emerged as a potential top-10 pick after performing well at the combine. Amukamara measured in at 6-foot, 206, and blew away the athletic testing by posting outstanding numbers in all of the drills (4.43 in the 40, 38-inch vertical, 10-8 broad jump, 4.08 short shuttle, and a 6.97 3-cone drill). He backed all that up by showing good footwork and quickness in position drills. Although he showed some tightness making sudden turns and transitions, he shows sound fundamentals for the position and should quickly acclimate to the speed of the NFL.
Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
After thriving as a lock-down "press" corner in the Big 12 the past two seasons, scouts wanted to see if Smith had the skills to function in a zone-heavy system. More importantly, they wanted to check out his footwork, transition ability and ball skills. Based on his solid workout, he certainly has the potential to blossom as a pro. He displayed quick feet, fluid hips and good ball skills in the positional workout, and posted outstanding numbers in the drills. His times and measurables were at the top of the charts, and his athleticism shows up on tape. If he can get past the looming character concerns, he could solidify his spot in the upper half of the first round.
Curtis Brown, CB, Texas
He has created quite a buzz since the combine. He not only tested well in the athletic drills (4.53 in the 40, 39 ½-inch vertical, 10-8 broad jump, 4.0 short shuttle and 6.59 3-cone drill), but he was one of the smoothest corners in the positional workout. His quick feet, fluid hips and explosive closing speed stood out, and he appears to have better skills than he displayed on tape. While a strong showing in shorts won't erase four years of game film, it has put Brown squarely on the radar of teams looking for an intriguing prospect with immense potential.
Chris Culliver, CB, South Carolina
If a stellar workout on a big stage can send a prospect's stock soaring, then Culliver should certainly move up draft boards across the league. His outstanding workout in Indy included a 4.40 40-yard time, and featured exceptional numbers in all of the athletic drills (38 ½-inch vertical, 10-foot, 3-inch broad jump, 4.08 short shuttle and 6.88 3-cone drill). He complemented those numbers by looking smooth and fluid in the positional drills. His quick feet and transitions were among the best in attendance, and he has of the necessary traits that you look for in a potential starter at the position. If he can overcome his injury issues, he could be one of the best kept secrets in the draft.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.