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2014 NFL Draft: Defensive back

By: Robert Davis

The secondary is not deemed a premier position in general, but it's importance in today's NFL cannot be understated. Offenses are being opened up and the responsibility in the secondary is rising. You can't have enough talented defensive linemen is mentioned quite a bit, but the same can be said for talented cover men as well.

Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert may be the closest thing to a shut down corner in this year's draft. He definitely jumps out at you with his size, speed, and athleticism. He checks in at 6' 200lbs, allowing him to match up against bigger receivers and be a factor against the run. He also possesses standout athleticism, with the ability to flip his hips and run with receivers down field. He's also a big play threat on special teams, giving him even more value. He is the complete package physically, but there are a lot of questions about how he handles adversity. Gilbert had a great sophomore season and was poised for a huge junior year, but he appeared to buy his own hype. He got beat quite a bit and lost confidence, and tumbled down draft boards, causing him to return to school for another year. He has bounced back with a big senior year, so he's rising back up draft boards. The upside is there to be a playmaker at the next level. He can match up with different types of receivers, can play the run well, and can impact the game on special teams. He could be a top 15 pick based on talent and upside, but that tape from 2012 may worry some.

CB RANKINGS
  1. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma St.
  2. Darqueze Dennard, Michighan St.
  3. Bradley Roby, Ohio St.
  4. Jason Verrett, TCU
  5. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
  6. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida St.
  7. Keith McGill, Utah
  8. Marcus Roberson, Florida
  9. Bashaud Breeland, Clemson
  10. Marqueston Huff, Wyoming

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu of Oregon isn't quite the physical specimen Gilbert is, but he's much more consistent. He has only average size at 5'10 190, but he's physical and aggressive, allowing him to play bigger than his size indicates. He can jam at the line and is active in run support. Ekpre-Olomu is also an excellent cover man, showing the quickness and change of direction ability to mirror receivers. He's also shown the ability to locate the ball in the air and go up and get it. His average height will limit him against some of the larger receivers, but he won't back down from a challenge. He has a good chance to be the first corner selected in April and his all around skills will make him a coveted prospect.

Alabama's Ha'Seean Clinton-Dix is the draft's top safety, and it isn't even close. He's the prototype at free safety with his cover skills. He's a ballhawk in coverage, and shows tremendous anticipation and play recognition on the field. He's rarely out of position, and his size and athleticism allow him to make a lot of plays. While he is no threat to move to corner, he has the quick feet and athleticism to match up with bigger receivers in man coverage, and covers a lot of ground closing on the ball in the air. Clinton-Dix is also physical and willing to come up and support for a free safety. He is the complete package at the free safety position. Just a junior, Clinton-Dix doesn't have a lot left to prove in college. Couple that with his short suspension for receiving money from an assistant, and he seems like a safe bet to declare. With the lack of elite talent at the position, teams may have to select him earlier than expected to make sure they get their man.

Loucheiz Purifoy of Florida is another corner with immense potential based on his physical ability. He's tall and lanky, standing 6'1 190lbs. The cover ability is obvious: he's got great feet and agility to blanket receivers, and the speed to stay with them step for step down the field. Florida has even dabbled with him on offense because of his athleticism. His size and natural cover skills could make him a shut down type of corner at the next level. In order to reach that status though, he will have to bulk up to match up better with stronger receivers. There is also some question about how many big plays he can come up with. He has just one career interception, which came this year. Teams want playmakers in high picks, and Purifoy simply hasn't made enough of them. He is a junior and could elect to return to school, but with the season the Gators are having, expect him to jump ship. He will be in high demand in April and should hear his name called in the first round.

TCU's Jason Verrett is arguably the top cover man in this year's draft. He has tremendous quickness and hips, and sticks right in the receiver's hip pocket. He's hard to shake in coverage. He does a great job in man coverage with his ability to stick with receivers throughout the route. Unfortunately for Verrett, he lacks one thing you can't teach: size. At 5'9 175, he simply lacks the size and strength to match up with many receivers at the next level. He doesn't give up anything in aggressiveness, but he will struggle against bigger, stronger receivers in the NFL. That limits his upside to a certain extent, but his cover skills and toughness could give him a long career in the NFL.

Bradley Roby of Ohio St entered the year in the discussion as the draft's top corner. His play hasn't quite lived up to that billing, despite great natural ability. Roby is very fluid and agile, with great closing speed. He is a standout in coverage and can really close on the ball quickly. He has decent size and is physical with receivers and as a run stopper. Where he has struggled this year is at giving up the big play. He's been undisciplined, biting on fakes and double moves, giving up too much space. Giving up a big play in the NFL can cost your team the game so he's going to have to not be so aggressive in coverage or in looking for the football. The skills are there to be a standout, but he needs to play it safe a little more often. He's an excellent second round prospect that could test very well leading up to the draft.

SAFETY RANKINGS
  1. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
  2. Calvin Pryor, Louisville
  3. Deone Bucannon, Washington St
  4. Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
  5. Terrence Brooks, Florida st.
  6. Dion Bailey, USC
  7. Brock Vereen, Minnesota
  8. Dez Southward, Wisconsin
  9. Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama
  10. Jonathan Dowling, Western Kentucky

Marcus Roberson teams with Loucheiz Purifoy at Florida to form college football's most talented corner tandem. Much like Purifoy, he is a great cover man. He has tremendous quickness and agility, as well as the speed to run with receivers and close on the ball. A healthy Roberson has the cover skills to be a top 20 pick. However, health is a big concern for Roberson. He injured his neck as a freshman, but did bounce back as a sophomore. But he's endured knee and ankle injuries this year, limiting his effectiveness and missing time. Durability is a concern with his injury history, but his frame also raises questions. He is on the lean side and must get stronger to handle the beating and physical demands the NFL will bring. Roberson is a gifted cover man with a lot of upside, but he could use another year at the college level to develop his skills and get stronger. However, the turmoil at Florida could cause him to jump ship, and test the NFL waters. If he can stay healthy and get stronger, Roberson has the talent to be as good as any corner in this draft.

Inch for inch, the best defensive back in the draft is Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner. He can cover, he can hit, he's smart, and he's a playmaker. He's also short, listed at just 5'8. He has experience as a corner and safety, but has really taken off as a safety. Joyner is an explosive athlete, with tremendous quickness and change of direction ability. He has the skills to cover man to man, but his experience at safety also has allowed him to excel in zone and playing in space. That type of versatility and experience is a plus. He could play in the nickel and fit in any scheme with his ability to play corner and safety. He's a physical and aggressive player as well, never backing down from a play and throwing his body around. That does lend some concern about how his frame will hold up in the NFL, as long as the obvious matchup problems because of his lack of height. The lack of height pushes him into day two, but Tyrann Mathieu's success may help convince teams he can be an every down player as a safety despite his lack of ideal size. Whoever gets Joyner is getting a great football player no matter what role he plays.

Cornerbacks to keep an eye on: Darqueze Dennard(Michigan St), Aaron Colvin(Oklahoma), Antone Exum(Virginia Tech), Rashaad Reynolds(Oregon St.)

Safeties to keep an eye on: Dion Bailey(USC), Craig Loston(Alabama), Ty Zimmerman(Kansas St.), and Deone Bucannon(Washington St)

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