David Amerson, Tyrann Mathieu among top college cornerbacks

Ethan Hyman/Associated Press
At 6-foot-3, North Carolina State's David Amerson is a very enticing prospect to deal with the NFL's big wideouts.


 

Football season is right around the corner! Not only in the NFL, but at the college level, too. As a resident guru of the Saturday standouts, Chad Reuter provides the top draft-eligible college players at each position in a 10-part series. Today's group is the cornerbacks.

Best college football players by position


With the college football season approaching, and the 2013 NFL Draft on the horizon next April, NFL.com draft analyst Chad Reuter is providing the top draft-eligible college players at each position in a 10-part series.

DEFENSE
DE -- Texas' Jeffcoat headlines class
DT -- Ohio State's hulking Hankins paces pack
LB -- Keep tabs on LSU's Mingo, ND's Te'o
CB -- Amerson, Milliner, Mathieu top options
S -- 'DB U' produces another top prospect

OFFENSE
QB -- USC's Barkley leads intriguing group
RB -- Injuries an issue for most top prospects
OL -- O-line prospects strong across the board
WR -- Dynamic Pac-12 duo leads receivers
TE -- Seeking tomorrow's Graham, Gronkowski

The increasing importance of the passing game in the NFL has not only pushed teams to look for more accurate quarterbacks and faster, stronger receivers, but also cornerbacks who can make the connection between those two more difficult.

In the past four drafts, teams have selected 22 percent more cornerbacks than they did in the first six where 32 teams were involved.

Interestingly, the number of corners picked in the early rounds hasn't increased -- meaning teams are not stretching their boards to find those third, fourth or fifth corners, but rather accumulating bodies in the later rounds to see who can step up and fill a need.

But if teams truly want difference makers on the outside taking on the Andre and Calvin Johnsons of the league, they usually have to find talent early in the draft. Nearly three-quarters of the cornerback slots in the past 10 Pro Bowls were awarded to former first- or second-round picks -- that puts CB behind only offensive tackle in terms of dominance by early-round selections.

Unfortunately for NFL teams, there might not be many cornerbacks worthy of a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. One or two of the seniors listed here might sneak into the late first, but even if their average size or speed keep them from reaching that lofty status, don't be surprised if their quickness and unwillingness to back down from challenges allows them to start outside or in the slot.

* Denotes underclassmen.

1. David Amerson, 6-3, 194, North Carolina State*
The 2011 Jim Thorpe Award finalist is tall, physical and has receiver-like ball skills, leading the nation with a whopping 13 interceptions in 2011. Some project him to free safety at the next level because of his size, but Amerson's length will tempt scouts looking for a lock-down outside corner. He has enough hip fluidity and short-area agility to be a difference maker in the right system.
NFL comparison: Nnamdi Asomugha

Dee Milliner should emerge as yet another highly coveted stud on Nick Saban's Alabama defense.
Dee Milliner should emerge as yet another highly coveted stud on Nick Saban's Alabama defense. (Dave Martin/Associated Press)

2. DeMarcus "Dee" Milliner, 6-1, 199, Alabama*
Overshadowed by his high-profile teammates over the past two seasons, Milliner has made plays when given the chance (four interceptions, 16 pass break-ups in 2010-11). This season he'll use his pro-ready size, athleticism and footwork to become a household name on an Alabama team looking to repeat as BCS champion.
NFL comparison: Carlos Rogers

3. Tyrann Mathieu, 5-9, 175, LSU*
The 2011 Bednarik Award winner as the nation's top defender is undersized but ultra-competitive, constantly creating turnovers (six forced fumbles, two interceptions in 2011) and bringing the physicality of a bigger player in his tackles. Mathieu is also a game changer as a punt returner, ranking fourth in the country with 16.2 yards per attempt and scoring two touchdowns.
NFL comparison: Cortland Finnegan

4. Terry Hawthorne, 6-0, 190, Illinois
Hawthorne is a physical defender with the size to start outside against larger NFL receivers, hands and read-and-react ability to make plays in coverage (tied for the led Big Ten lead in passes defended in 2011) and aggressive nature to hold up his end of the bargain in run support.
NFL comparison: Aaron Ross

5. Johnthan Banks, 6-2, 185, Mississippi State
SEC receivers were hoping Banks would head to the NFL after his second-team All-SEC junior campaign, but now they'll have to deal with the tall, lean three-year starter's ball skills and competitive streak for another season before he heads off to challenge pro wideouts.
NFL comparison: Derek Cox

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6. Leon McFadden, 5-10, 185, San Diego State
McFadden is a tenacious two-time All-Mountain West selection possessing the strength, quickness, attitude and ball skills (17 passes defensed in 2011) required of NFL starters, even if his size is not ideal to handle the physicality of veteran wideouts.
NFL comparison: Brent Grimes

7. Johnny Adams, 5-11, 175, Michigan State
This wiry All-Big Ten zone corner owns the athleticism to stick with pro receivers and can make quarterbacks pay for poor throws (intercepted three passes in both the 2010 and 2011 seasons). However, Adams' average size/strength combination and 2009 shoulder injury might prevent scouts from seeing him as an elite prospect.
NFL comparison: Jabari Greer

8. Desmond Trufant, 6-0, 185, Washington
The brother of NFL cornerbacks Marcus and Isaiah Trufant flashes playmaking ability (16 passes defended in 2011) and very good foot quickness, but he must play stronger and more disciplined in coverage to be considered a sure-fire NFL starter.
NFL comparison: Kelly Jennings

9. B.W. Webb, 5-11, 180, William and Mary
A star since picking off Virginia three times in the Tribe's 2009 opening-weekend shocker, Webb has the hands and cover skills (if average size) to be one of the top small-school prospects in the draft, projecting as a reliable nickel back on defense and regular contributor on special teams.
NFL comparison: Lardarius Webb

After a few stops elsewhere, Adrian Bushell has developed into a star at Louisville.
After a few stops elsewhere, Adrian Bushell has developed into a star at Louisville. (David Butler II/US Presswire)

10. Adrian Bushell, 5-11, 184, Louisville
Bushell started his college career at Florida and then transferred to a junior college to get things in order before re-joining his old coach in Gainesville, Charlie Strong, in Louisville. The 2011 All-Big East selection (with only one interception and three pass break-ups) has a lean fame that belies his persistent and confident nature.
NFL comparison: Tramon Williams

11. Jordan Poyer, 6-0, 190, Oregon State
Once drafted as a Major League Baseball prospect, Poyer is now an All-Pac-12 cornerback who uses his athletic prowess to make plays on the ball in coverage (four interceptions in 2011) and to make tacklers miss as a kick/punt returner. He could work himself into a potential starter's grade with more consistent physicality.
NFL comparison: Tarell Brown

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @ChadReuter