• Top prospect: Some scouts consider LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson the best player in this draft.
• Overall: Not a good year for upper-tier prospects in the first round, but the Packers showed last year with undrafted cornerback Sam Shields that players can be found anywhere.
• Packers outlook: Teams never can have too many good cornerbacks in the pass-oriented NFL, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see them take one early, especially with Charles Woodson getting closer to the end of the line. The Packers appear fine at safety, where they go at least three deep with Nick Collins, Charlie Peprah, and second-year pro Morgan Burnett, who’s coming off a torn ACL.
• Rising star: Virginia’s Ras-I Dowling missed more than half of last season because of injuries but has great size (6-1 3/8, 198) and worked out well for scouts late this spring to move up to a sound second-round prospect at worst.
• Falling star: Florida’s Ahmad Black was a superb college player, but his surprising lack of speed (4.70 seconds in the 40) has knocked his stock down to a middle-round pick.
• Sleeper: South Carolina’s Chris Culliver began his college career as a receiver but has the size (6-0 3/8) and speed (4.36-second 40) that is intriguing teams that think they can develop him.
• Wisconsin ties: UW cornerback Niles Brinkley, UW-Oshkosh cornerback Nate Heard (Milwaukee Lutheran), UW-Whitewater safety Lance Olson (Racine Horlick), UW safety Jay Valai.
If the 2010 NFL draft were held over again, it’s a good bet Sam Shields would be a first-round pick rather than, amazingly, the undrafted free agent he was.
But even with that incredible find by the Green Bay Packers’ scouting staff and a set top three at the cornerback position going into 2011, it wouldn’t be a shock to see General Manager Ted Thompson use a high pick in this year’s draft for another cornerback.
Yes, the Packers have Shields to replace Charles Woodson in the starting lineup whenever the 34-year-old playmaker slows to where he has to move to safety. But they’ll need a new nickel cornerback when that time comes, and even for the nearer term can always use quality depth at that No. 3 cornerback position, which was on the field for more than 60 percent of their defensive snaps last season.
With that in mind, three cornerbacks figure to be off the board by the time the Packers select at No. 32 overall: LSU’s Patrick Peterson, Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara and Colorado’s Jimmy Smith.
But there’s at least a chance no other cornerbacks will go before the Packers select at No. 32 overall, and if that’s the case, there’s one, Texas’ Aaron Williams, who might appeal to Thompson at the bottom of the first round. Williams lacks catch-up speed for a first-day cornerback prospect, and some teams project him to safety, but he has the size (204 pounds) and physical mind-set that fit defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ zone-oriented 3-4 defense.
“Aaron Williams to me is a Ted Thompson-type corner,” one NFL scout said. “He’s primarily a slot corner there in Texas. He plays with toughness inside the box, and he helps set a strong edge in the run game. That’s what they’d ask him to do in Dom Capers’ defense. How many times do we have to see (Charles) Woodson play up by the line of scrimmage to know they love these kind of guys? Aaron Williams is not as good as Charles, I’m not saying that, but he can play up at the line, come up and support the run, tough, drops into good zone coverage.”
The Packers found out in the Super Bowl just how precarious cornerback depth can be when they lost Woodson (broken collarbone) and Shields (shoulder) in a short span late in the second quarter. Capers had to scrap a huge chunk of his game plan, and the Packers’ chances of winning looked bleak without two key cover men.
Backups Jarrett Bush and Patrick Lee held up well enough for the Packers to win, and with third-year pro Brandon Underwood also back next season, the Packers have some cornerbacks to work with. However, they also have to wonder what might have happened if they’d had to play another game, when an opponent would have had a full week to game plan for Bush and Lee.
That’s not to mention wanting a ready-made replacement for the nickel whenever Woodson moves, whether that’s in 2012 or later. Drafting that player now would give him time to grow into the role.
Williams isn’t necessarily the fourth-ranked cornerback on most teams’ boards – many scouts, for instance, like Miami’s Brandon Harris better. Harris, in fact, might be selected in the mid-to-late 20s of the first round, though it’s a good bet he’s not a high-round prospect on the Packers’ board because of his height (5-feet-9½).
Ron Wolf established a height minimum at cornerback of about 5-10½ when he became the Packers’ GM late in the 1991 season, and would only consider players shorter if they had exceptional compensatory traits such as long arms and extraordinary speed and jumping ability. Thompson, a Wolf protégé, has stuck to that rule of thumb.
It’s hard to see Thompson violating it for Harris, knowing Packers draft history as he does. Wolf went against his own guidelines in the 1992 draft when he used a first-round pick on Terrell Buckley, who was under 5-10 and ended up a bust. Also, former coach Mike Sherman used a first-rounder in 2004 on 5-9 5/8 Ahmad Carroll, another bust.
For a while this offseason, it looked like Colorado’s gifted Jimmy Smith might fall to the bottom of the first round because of character concerns – he had multiple positive tests for marijuana plus two underage drinking arrests in college. But as the draft gets close it looks like he’ll go in the middle third of the first round. Thompson might have knocked him off the Packers’ first-round board for character reasons anyway.
Williams’ long speed is marginal – his mediocre 40 time of 4.55 seconds accurately reflects his play speed – but for teams like the Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, who like bigger, physical corners, he has more value.
“He’s going to look better at a corner position in those types of defenses because they don’t put as much priority on speed,” another scout said. “They’re looking more for tackling-type guys to play within the scheme, have good ball skills, that type of thing.”
Another corner with an outside shot at getting late first-round consideration is Virginia’s Ras-I Dowling. He has great size (6-1¾, 198) and probably is more talented than former teammate Chris Cook, who was the No. 34 pick overall (second pick of the second round) by Minnesota last year.
However, Dowling looks like more of a second-round prospect than late first. He missed seven of 12 games last season because of hamstring, knee and ankle injuries, so the lack of quality film from the 2010 season and the medical risk will move him down most draft boards.
“You go back and look at junior film and you see a much better player,” a national college scout said. “He’s got the size and length and the speed. It’s just a matter of, can you ignore what you saw this year before the injuries? And if you do then he’s definitely a solid second-round player.”
1. Patrick Peterson, LSU, 6-0¼, 219, Round 1: True junior entry is a cousin of four current NFL players, including Washington Redskins receiver Santana Moss. Considered among the top two or three prospects in this draft by many scouts. “Peterson and (Alabama defensive lineman) Marcell Dareus are the two most talented players in this draft,” one national scout said. Has great size, speed and athleticism. Ran the 40 in 4.31 seconds, which tied for second-fasted among all players who ran at the combine, and had a 38-inch vertical jump. As a starter the last two years had 19 passes defended and six interceptions. Performed well against elite competition, namely Georgia’s A.J. Green and Alabama’s Julio Jones, who probably will get selected in the first 12 picks. “If you’re (grading) Patrick Peterson, you just turn on the Alabama game versus Julio and the Georgia game versus A.J. and that’s all you need to see,” another scout said. Reportedly tied for the lowest Wonderlic score (9) among defensive backs, which raises the possibility a reading or learning disability. Has all the movement traits of an excellent cover man, and also might be the best return man in this draft (29.1-yard average on kickoffs, 16.1-yard average on punts). But not everyone is convinced he’ll be a top player. “He’s a gifted athlete, (but) I like tough guys, and I don’t know how tough this guy is,” a third scout said. “He argues with the referees and other players too often, and he’ll draw penalties in the NFL with his attitude. Doesn’t play to his size or speed consistently. He’ll go (top 10) because of the rare size, speed, athletic ability. But he has to mature and become tougher, and I’ve never known a person to (suddenly) get a taste for contact once he gets into the NFL.”
2. Prince Amukamara, Nebraska, 6-0, 206, Round 1: Son of Nigerian parents, grew up in Arizona. Big, fast and strong cover man with questionable ball skills (five interceptions in three years as a starter, including none as a senior). “There’s nothing this guy can’t do, nothing,” one scout said. “He’s 6-foot, 200 pounds, (runs) 4.44 all day long. He’s athletically gifted, primarily lines up at left cornerback, but when he was used to match up in certain games he was aggressive, smart. Can play both off as well as up in press man with the same high level of productivity. I really like this guy.” Extremely smart (35 on the Wonderlic). Probably will be the second corner off the board because of his squeaky-clean background. “I like (Colorado’s) Jimmy (Smith better) personally,” another scout said. “I think he has that confidence that a corner needs, and I don’t think Prince has it. Prince has just as good physical skills and he’s pristine off the field, so he’ll get drafted higher just because of that.”
3. Jimmy Smith, Colorado, 6-2¼, 211, Rounds 1/2: A major talent but character risk on and off the field. Had two underage drinking arrests, and at least two and reportedly up to four positive marijuana tests while at Colorado. Probably off some first-round boards, but still looks likely to be gone by the middle of the first round. “Very concerned,” one scout said of Smith’s character. “When you’re talking about multiple failed drug tests, questionable work ethic, just one bad thing after another, it is concerning. On the flip side, this is a down year for corners, you only have three top guys. He’s going to get drafted higher than in normal years because of the lack of top corners.” Has outstanding size and cover skills, and in his last two seasons as a starter had 15 passes defended and two interceptions. Ran well (4.42 seconds at the combine) and showed good strength (his 24 bench-press reps was second most among all defensive backs at the combine). Shut down Georgia’s A.J. Green, who’s a likely top-10 pick, in the first half of a game last season. “A.J. Green wasn’t sniffing the field until they moved him to the other side, once they got him away from Smith,” another scout said. “Jimmy Smith blankets everybody he plays. If he didn’t (test positive), they’d be talking about him as a top-12 pick, no doubt in my mind. If you really need a corner you’ll take this kid. It’s a matter of getting to know him. He’s as good a player at corner as I’ve seen in a long, long time. He covers everybody. He can play man, he can play off, he drives on the ball, anything thrown his way he can knock down. He’s just a hell of a football player.”
4. Aaron Williams, Texas, 5-11 7/8, 204, Rounds 1/2: Strong, physical junior entry might end up at safety before long. “He could either be an average to good corner, or a very good safety,” one scout said. “That’s why he’ll end up moving to safety. The lack of top-end speed is going to hurt him at corner, but he has the ball skills to get away with that for a while.” Is entering the draft as a true junior, and as a starter the last two years had 20 passes defended and three interceptions. Showed his questionable long speed at the combine (4.55 seconds in the 40) but otherwise tested well – his 37½-inch vertical and 10-7 broad jump were among the top six defensive backs at the combine. “I don’t know if you’ll leave him on an island to play man up press coverage, I’m not sure he can do that,” another scout said. “But in some systems he doesn’t have to do that a lot. This guy will tackle, very good toughness, solid (special) teams player. The way he plays defense is smart.”
5. Brandon Harris, Miami, 5-9½, 191, Rounds 1/2: A true junior entry who’s father was his high school coach in Florida. Short but a natural, quick cover man. “I wouldn’t think Teddy (Thompson, the Packers’ GM) would (touch him),” one scout said. “I think the kid will go before it gets to Green Bay anyway. He can play in the slot, and he’s of those guys that’s really comfortable playing man coverage. He’s very good at moving around and taking on guys. He’s 191 pounds, he’s not a small guy, he’s got some thickness to him, and he has the ability to turn and break. The only thing about him is he’s 5-9½.” Part-time starter as a freshman, then in two years as a full-time starter had 27 passes defended and three interceptions. Runs fairly well (4.46 seconds in the 40). “Great physical ability, very smart kid,” another scout said. “Not the toughest nut in the world, but that’s true of most corners. Physically he does (look like a late first-rounder), and when you see him at times on film. I know he studies the game. He could be (a first-rounder). But I studied the Florida State game, he was pitiful, he wouldn’t hit anybody. Their whole team wouldn’t hit anybody. Virginia threw a couple jump balls and they out-jumped him.”
6. Ras-I Dowling, Virginia, 6-1 3/8, 198, Rounds 1/2: Started for most of his four years and has great size and good talent for the NFL but has a notable injury history. Had a broken hand and knee injury in high school, a hamstring injury that cost him a game as a freshman, and played in only five games last season because of a strained hamstring and knee, and later broken ankle. “The only thing about Dowling, he can’t stay healthy, but it’s not major stuff, it’s just soft-tissue stuff,” a scout said. “He’s got to get over that at the next level, because you can’t make the club from the tub. If you’re not healthy they’ll find a way to get rid of you.” In ’08 and ’09 combined had 19 passes defended and six interceptions, then 15 and one in five games last year. At the combine ran a strong 4.40-second 40 despite straining his hamstring, couldn’t do any more running tests until a campus workout in early April, when he tested great (4.3s in the 40, 38-inch vertical, 10-8 broad jump). “I thought he was better than Brandon Harris, from what I saw,” another scout said. “He’s more physical, he’ll hit you. People are going to make your corners tackle, when you’re playing quarters and bring those safeties up, people are going to crack those safeties, they’re going to make your corners tackle. If you have a corner with his purse and high heels, they’re going to expose him. This kid tackled people, he put his face in people’s numbers. There are some guys in this draft that don’t.”
7. Jalil Brown, Colorado, 6-0 5/8, 204, Rounds 2/3: Two-year starter and team captain in ’10 with good size, speed and intangibles, but shaky ball skills. “I just like this kid,” one scout said. “As a zone corner, if this kid goes to Indianapolis or Tampa Bay or Pittsburgh, he could be a heck of a player. He’s a tough zone guy.” Was a special-teams standout early in his career, in his final two seasons had 20 passes defended and five interceptions. Tested OK at the combine – 4.52 seconds in the 40, 35½-inch vertical, 9-8 broad jump. Lacks catch-up speed. Struggled when matched up regularly against likely top-10 pick A.J. Green in the second half against Georgia. “A.J. had his way with a lot of guys,” one scouting director said. “I don’t think Jalil is a top-level guy. I think he had a better junior year than he did senior, he was a much more efficient player. He’s got good size, good speed, not great speed but good enough. He’s a solid player. He’ll probably be a starter at some point in his career, I don’t think it’s going to be early, but I also think he’s not going to be a front-line player by any means.”
8. Curtis Brown, Texas, 5-11 5/8, 185, Rounds 2/3: The second of three Texas cornerbacks likely to get drafted – Aaron Williams is a possible late first-rounder, and Chykie Brown (no relation) is probably a late-round pick. “He flashes the tools to think he could become a solid corner,” one scout said. “He’s inconsistent. He has good size and quickness and burst in man coverage, and he does a good job at the line of scrimmage to shadow guys. The question is his ball instincts, he’s often late to turn and pick up the ball.” Played in rotation his first two years, then started the last two and had 15 passes defended and one interception. Also averaged 14.9 yards on 13 punt returns. Ran only OK at the combine (4.51 seconds in the 40) but showed explosiveness with a 39½-inch vertical, which was best among defensive backs at the combine, and 10-8 in the broad jump, which was second best. “Just lacks the total game to be a full-time starter,” another scout said. “Not to say he won’t, because there’s guys in the league that have to start because of the lack of depth at the position for different teams. A guy like that can play and play for a while. But he’s one of those starters you’re going to look to replace early in his career.”
9. Shareece Wright, USC, 5-10 7/8, 185, Round 3: Tough bump and run cornerback who lacks instincts. “You see the tools, but he has to get stronger and read routes quicker if he’s going to be a player,” a scout said. “He has good quickness and balance at the line of scrimmage to mirror receivers, which is kind of a rare thing these days, not a lot of corners play with really good balance and that kind of quickness. This guy has it. I like that.” Had a hairline fracture in his neck that ended his sophomore season after two games, and was academically ineligible for all but the bowl game in the ’09 season. Last year had 10 passes defended, no interceptions and 2½ sacks. Ran a surprisingly fast 4.41-second 40 at the combine but strained his hamstring, then aggravated the hamstring at his campus workout. “He’s going to have to fit a certain scheme, you’re not going to want him playing off (coverage), he’s a man-to-man kind of cover guy,” another scout said. “He’s got a little bit of an injury thing that has to be settled before he gets drafted, which has hurt his stock. The toughest thing with USC corners, you just don’t see them get challenged very often. It’s very tough to evaluate those guys because of it. Just the receivers they’re playing against aren’t top-level kind of guys.”
10. Johnny Patrick, Louisville, 5-10 5/8, 191, Rounds 3/4: Switched from receiver to cornerback after his redshirt freshman season, and came on late in his career. “Had a pretty good junior year but got better his senior year,” a scout said. “He’s a solid player, a nickel kind of corner, spot starter, and if he does start, kind of in that group (where) you’ll want better in a couple years.” Last summer had an altercation with a woman and eventually pled guilty to charges of harassment and physical contact. Last season had 12 passes defended, five interceptions and 6½ tackles for a loss. Showed his lack of catch-up speed at the combine (4.59 seconds in the 40), had only a 32-inch vertical jump and sprained his knee while doing agility drills. “Johnny’s got a nice little skill set,” another scout said. “He doesn’t have great speed, he’s got average size. He has some off-the-field issues that are a little bit of a concern, he’s just got a history of getting into little things.”
1. Rahim Moore, UCLA, 5-11¾, 202, Round 2: The top prospect in an unusually weak safety class that probably won’t see a first-round pick for the first time since 2005. Junior entry showed great ball skills at free safety in ’09 with 10 interceptions but had only one last season. Doesn’t run great (4.58 seconds in the 40) but his 4.96-second short shuttle was the fourth-fastest of everyone who worked out at the combine. “I have him in the top of the second round,” one scout said. “He’s a striker, he’s a one-hit slide guy. He flashed some ball hawk, but he’s not cut out of that Ed Reed mold or the guy out of Tennessee (i.e., Eric Berry) last year or even Earl Thomas out of Texas. He’s not those two guys. He is good but I couldn’t put him in the first round because production wise and overall ability he didn’t compare.”
2. DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson, 6-0 1/8, 217, Rounds 2/3: Big, hard hitter who moved from linebacker to safety in ’09. Had 192 tackles, eight passes defended and 12 interceptions the last two seasons combined. Runs poorly (4.63 seconds in the 40). Was arrested in ’08 for misdemeanor assault and battery of his girlfriend, had his record expunged after completing an intervention program. “He will hit you,” a scout said. “Looks like a smart guy. They do a lot of check-with-me stuff (at the line of scrimmage), there’s a lot of mental responsibilities put on the safeties, and he handled it pretty good.”
3. Marcus Gilchrist, Clemson, 5-10, 195, Rounds 3/4: Played safety as a sophomore and junior, then moved to cornerback as a senior. Short and smallish for an NFL safety, but savvy with good coverage skills and a willing tackler. As the starting free safety as a junior had 107 tackles, six passes defended and no interceptions. At corner as a senior had 60 tackles, 10 passes defended and one pick. Averaged 23.7 yards on 27 kickoff returns and 10.1 yards on 23 punt returns. Not dynamic in his play but runs well enough (4.45 seconds in the 40) and had a 38½-inch vertical. Could play some nickel corner early in his career. “Marcus is a good football player, and he’s going to find his spot on a team pretty early because he can do so much,” a scout said. “You’re not going to draft him and say, ‘He’s my starting corner, Day 1.’ But he might start for you because he’s experienced, he can play football, he’s a football player first. You might end up moving him to safety because you like his football ability, and you want him on the field somewhere.”
4. Ahmad Black, Florida, 5-9½, 184, Rounds 3/4: Moved from cornerback to safety as a true sophomore, and produced big as a three-year starter. Had 237 tackles, 15 passes defended and 13 interceptions as a safety. Last year had 11 tackles for a loss, a sack and three forced fumbles. Scouts like his play, but some have major misgivings about his stunning lack of speed (4.70 seconds in the 40 on FieldTurf at the combine, and 4.83 seconds on grass at his Pro Day) for such a small player. “I’ve got him at the top of the third round,” a scout said. “A lot of people have him higher than that around the league, they really like this kid because on game day he has a way of getting to the edges, he can get deep and help the corners on the deep third. And he’s a striker. I think it’s instincts, and at the (college) level of play he knew where the ball was going based on film study, so he could flip his hips, turn and go. Whereas the next level is a little different, plus the receivers are going to be running past you a little faster. So I pushed him down into the third round. Plus his size. A 5-9 safety, at some point they’re going to get busted up.”
5. Tyler Sash, Iowa, 6-0, 211, Round 3/4: Entering the draft after his redshirt junior season, started all three years at Iowa. Had career totals of 217 tackles, 14 passes defended, 13 interceptions and 11½ tackles for a loss. Has great size and smarts but is a mediocre athlete by NFL standards – he ran the 40 in 4.62 seconds and had a 33-inch vertical jump. Some scouts question whether he’s athletic enough to be a capable starter, but others like his physical makeup, intangibles and ability to quarterback a defense. “Is smart, he’s extremely smart,” a scout said. “You can count on the guy being in position, he doesn’t bust. He’s always around the ball, he’s a good tackler in space. He’s just a solid, solid football player.”