ESPN ranks the defensive backs
By Len Pasquarelli
Here is how ESPN.com rates the top 13 defensive back prospects in the draft:
[img]http://espn.starwave.com/i/media/ncf/2003/1011/photo/a_taylor_il.jpg[/img][font=verdana, arial, geneva][size=1][color=#666666][b]Sean Taylor has been compared to Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott.[/b][/color][/size][/font][b]FS/SS [url="http://proxy.espn.go.com/nfldraft/draft04/tracker/player?id=7405"][color=#00009b]Sean Taylor[/color][/url][/b] (Miami)
[b]Vital statistics:[/b] 6-feet-2 ½, 230 pounds, 4.51 in the 40, and 35 ½-inch vertical jump.
[b]Numbers game:[/b] Totaled 188 tackles, 14 interceptions and 28 passes defensed in 34 appearances and 25 starts. Bypassed final year of eligibility to enter draft. Had four touchdowns, three on interception returns, one on a punt runback. For career, had eight punt returns for 19.3-yard average, also caught one pass for 47 yards in 2002. Was the Big East defensive player of the year for 2003.
[b]Upside:[/b] Fluid athlete with great natural size and rare combination of all-around skills. Built like a mini-linebacker, and plays well in the box, but also has superb range for a player who lacks eye-opening straight-line speed. Will go sideline to sideline chasing the ball and able to get a jump because of his football instincts. Well developed coverage skills and has shown flashes, given his "ball' skills, that he can play some man-to-man. Very flexible, a good knee-bender, nice body control and can get through traffic. Natural interceptor and has returned punts.
[b]Downside:[/b] For all his explosiveness, will miss some tackles, because he occasionally gets too preoccupied with making the big hit rather than the sure hit. Might need a little more upper body strength. Has had some shoulder injuries.
[b]The dish:[/b] An elite defender who could be a special player, is often mentioned in terms of Ronnie Lott, and certainly is in a class with former Hurricanes safety Ed Reed, now a Pro Bowl player for the [url="http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/clubhouse?team=bal"][color=#00009b]Baltimore Ravens[/color][/url]. Likely to be among top five or six players chosen.
[b]CB [url="http://proxy.espn.go.com/nfldraft/draft04/tracker/player?id=7270"][color=#00009b]DeAngelo Hall[/color][/url][/b] (Virginia Tech)
[b]Vital statistics:[/b] 5-feet-10, 202 pounds, 4.34 in the 40, and 39-inch vertical jump.
[b]Numbers game:[/b] Played in 36 games in three seasons, had 24 starts over last two years. Notched 190 tackles, eight interceptions and 20 passes defensed. On interception returns, averaged 20.1 yards and had one touchdown. Also played on offense at times, and had seven catches for 86 yards and a touchdown, and two rushes for 21 yards and a score. Returned 56 punts for 15.0-yard average and five touchdowns.
[b]Upside:[/b] Not as tall as the prototype, but a cocky, confident cornerback with all the kind of big-play mentality you want at the position. Quick-footed and fluid, smooth in backpedal, then can turn his hips and go deep when necessary. Will burst to the ball in front of him and closes quickly. Good hands, will snatch the ball at its highest point, and certainly knows the way to the end zone when he grabs an interception. Excellent redirection ability, strong enough through the hands to turn a wide receiver, and to deliver a physical jam. Not shy about supporting the run, doesn't try to avoid contact, and a more than adequate tackler. Explosive punt returner and that just adds to his value.
[b]Downside:[/b] Needs some, but not much, work on techniques. Plays a lot of "feel" and on instinct and could afford to be a tad more fundamental. Occasionally bites on the double move and quarterbacks will take advantage of his aggressiveness.
[b]The dish:[/b] The kind of cocky cornerback everyone wants, with selective amnesia, very little fear. A likely top 10 pick.
[b]CB [url="http://proxy.espn.go.com/nfldraft/draft04/tracker/player?id=7272"][color=#00009b]Dunta Robinson[/color][/url][/b] (South Carolina)
[b]Vital statistics:[/b] 5-feet-10 5/8, 186 pounds, 4.34 in the 40, and 36-inch vertical jump.
[b]Numbers game:[/b] Played all four years, a rarity, and started 24 games in last two seasons. Had 114 tackles, five interceptions and 22 passes defensed. Also returned four punts for 44 yards and added 92 yards on interception returns. Played safety first two seasons.
[b]Upside:[/b] Smooth in coverage, has loose hips that allow him to turn quickly and run deep. Excellent athlete with superior speed and nice change of direction ability. Can plant and drive forward effortlessly on the ball in front of him. Much tougher than his physical appearance might hint. Surprising strength when he comes up in "press" coverage and has to jam the receiver. Adjusts well to the ball in the air. Notable recovery skills. Hard worker and recognized leader. Overall mechanics might be better than those of DeAngelo Hall and he made transition from safety to corner with little problem.
[b]Downside:[/b] Thin frame and could use a little more bulk. Doesn't have the long arms you want, which some corners use to compensate for height, at the position. Gets his hands on a lot of balls but not a natural interceptor. Will come up aggressively against the run but, because of his size, sometimes gets caught in traffic.
[b]The dish:[/b] There are teams which feel that, in a few areas, he might actually be superior to Hall. Certainly a first-rounder and no worse than the second cornerback off the board.
[b]CB [url="http://proxy.espn.go.com/nfldraft/draft04/tracker/player?id=7273"][color=#00009b]Will Poole[/color][/url][/b] (Southern California)
[b]Vital statistics:[/b] 5-feet-10 3/8, 194 pounds, workout information incomplete, because he was ill on "pro day" and will audition for scouts on Friday.
[b]Numbers game:[/b] Much-traveled defender has played at three schools. Suspended and then dismissed by Boston College after starting as freshman in 2000. Sat out '01 campaign, then played at Ventura Junior College in '02, before moving on to Southern California for the 2003 season. In two Division I seasons, started 21 of 24 contests, had 155 tackles, eight interceptions and 27 passes defensed. Seven interceptions and 19 passes defensed came in 2003.
[b]Upside:[/b] Very aggressive when he gets up on receivers in "press" coverage. Natural cover instincts and good strength for a man of his size. Quick feet and plays on balance. Adjusts to the ball and has nice timing and makeup speed. Feisty and competitive, plays with a chip on his shoulder. Will support the run.
[b]Downside:[/b] The jury is still out for several reasons, not the least of which is that he played just one season of big-time football in past three years, and he has yet to complete a full workout for scouts. At his "pro day," was coming off a stomach virus that cost him 14 pounds and left him weak. He will run again on Friday for scouts. Despite muscular build, smaller than you want, and doesn't have blazing speed.
[b]The dish:[/b] Scouts don't seem overly concerned about past immaturity, but he still needs a strong workout to rehabilitate his standing. Could still sneak into final quadrant of the first round but could drop into the second stanza.
[b]CB [url="http://proxy.espn.go.com/nfldraft/draft04/tracker/player?id=7278"][color=#00009b]Ahmad Carroll[/color][/url][/b] (Arkansas)
[b]Vital statistics:[/b] 5-feet-9 5/8, 195 pounds, 4.38 in the 40, and 41-inch vertical jump.
[b]Numbers game:[/b] Longtime nickname, "Batman," comes from childhood when he would leap over center and into opposition backfield. Started in 29 of 36 appearances in three seasons and skipped final year of eligibility. Had 140 tackles, four interceptions and 25 passes defensed, with two forced fumbles and three recoveries.
[b]Upside:[/b] Former track sprinter has impressive speed and solid build. Excellent overall athletic skills and usually plays up to his stopwatch speed. Long arms help compensate for lack of height. Smooth and fluid and works with an economy of motion. Has estimable twitch on balls thrown in front of him and will burst on the sideline route. Chases plays all over the field. Great leaper and gets to the ball at his highest point.
[b]Downside:[/b] Very raw and, while he will be a high-round pick, most talent evaluators feel he definitely would have benefited from another year in school. Doesn't get his head around to find the ball and, especially on the deep pass, is unaware spatially of what is going on around him. Not instinctive yet, gets caught peeping in the backfield, doesn't read routes that well. Hardly a square-up, form tackler, doesn't support the run well.
[b]The dish:[/b] Has moved way up draft boards and, given his long-term potential, that is justifiable. Belongs in the second round but some team could gamble on him at the end of the first round.
[b]FS [url="http://proxy.espn.go.com/nfldraft/draft04/tracker/player?id=7406"][color=#00009b]Sean Jones[/color][/url][/b] (Georgia)
[b]Vital statistics:[/b] 6-feet-1 3/8, 218 pounds, 4.48 in the 40, and 36 ½-inch vertical jump.
[b]Numbers game:[/b] Played in 37 games and started 24 over past two seasons. Had 250 tackles, with 121 of them in 2003, along with seven interceptions, 10 passes defensed and three fumble recoveries. In 2002, used as punt returner and averaged 16.0 yards on 10 runbacks. Has a school-record four blocked kicks.
[b]Upside:[/b] Loves to play close to line of scrimmage but has become much better over the last year in coverage. Decent range and certainly can handle most tight ends, and even some backs, in single coverage. Very alert, especially in zone coverage, and gets around the football. Solid build, long arms, functional strength. Has played both safety spots and looked comfortable doing so. A superb special teams player who will contribute quickly on kick coverage and on blocking placements.
[b]Downside:[/b] Not quite fast enough to play up on the slot receiver. Still developing ability to read play-action and will get caught in no man's land at times. A better player moving forward than in reverse. Good but not great tackler, gets himself into hitting position, but sometimes slides off without wrapping.
[b]The dish:[/b] Should be a starter by his second year in the league. Will be part of the usual run on safeties in the second round.
[b]CB [url="http://proxy.espn.go.com/nfldraft/draft04/tracker/player?id=7281"][color=#00009b]Joey Thomas[/color][/url][/b] (Montana State)
[b]Vital statistics:[/b] 6-feet-0 7/8, 195 pounds, 4.45 in the 40, and 38 ½-inch vertical jump.
[b]Numbers game:[/b] Former high school quarterback began career at Washington, and then transferred when coaches wanted him to play tailback or safety. Four-year starter with 42 appearances, 122 tackles, 11 interceptions and 41 passes defensed. In 2003, caught one pass for nine yards.
[b]Upside:[/b] Gifted athlete whose best football is ahead of him. Spent virtually his entire college career playing "Cover 1." Can play up at the line of scrimmage, be physical with receivers, but still back off into coverage. Will hand-check and harass receivers all the way up the field. Long arms and can leap out of the building with NBA-caliber vertical jump. Flashes superior pure ability and shows a willingness to be coached.
[b]Downside:[/b] Typical smaller-school corner who relies more on athleticism than on solid football techniques. Sloppy footwork at times. A hair slow coming out of backpedal and turn-and-go can get a bit tardy. Plays too high and gets awkward when he has to redirect and work back to the ball. Won't defeat many blocks versus the run. Had knee injury two years ago that cost him much of the season.
[b]The dish:[/b] Compelling developmental player who has chance to be a big-time cornerback if some team is patient and works with him on fundamentals. Solidly in the second round.
[b]CB [url="http://proxy.espn.go.com/nfldraft/draft04/tracker/player?id=7271"][color=#00009b]Chris Gamble[/color][/url][/b] (Ohio State)
[b]Vital statistics:[/b] 6-feet-1 ¼, 198 pounds, 4.51 in the 40, and 37 ½-inch vertical jump.
[b]Numbers game:[/b] Had only 18 starts at cornerback, having alternated between defense and wide receiver earlier in career, with 13 of the defensive starts coming in 2003. Posted 65 tackles, seven interceptions and 21 passes defensed. As wideout, caught 490 passes for 609 yards and rushed six times for 68 yards and a touchdown. Averaged 21.3 yards on 18 kickoff returns and 7.8 yards on 60 punt runbacks.
[b]Upside:[/b] Has the kind of physique you get when you type the term "new-age cornerback" into the computer and ask for a printout of the prototype. Fantastic size-speed ratio and loads of potential. Competitive all-around athlete who can accelerate quickly. Plays with confidence. Soft hands and a good jumper.
[b]Downside:[/b] Played so many positions that he never really got settled in at cornerback. Started just 18 games, basically the equivalent of one NFL season, on defense. Beyond experience, also lacks polish for the position, and the team that drafts him might have to go back to Square 1 and begin rebuilding from the foundation up. Seems hesitant in almost everything he does at cornerback. Kind of clumsy coming out of backpedal and gets himself twisted, no feel for how much cushion to allow.
[b]The dish:[/b] Might still be the best cornerback in this draft, two or three years from now, but workouts have really revealed his shortcomings. Beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder and there are some franchises that might still take him in the bottom of the first round. Has really slipped since the combine.
[b]FS/CB [url="http://proxy.espn.go.com/nfldraft/draft04/tracker/player?id=7277"][color=#00009b]Matt Ware[/color][/url][/b] (UCLA)
[b]Vital statistics:[/b] 6-feet-2 3/8, 209 pounds, 4.54 in the 40, and 39 ½-inch vertical jump.
[b]Numbers game:[/b] Has spent last two summers playing the outfield in the Seattle Mariners' minor league system. Played in 35 games, starting all but one, and finished career with 117 tackles, eight interceptions, 13 passes defensed, and three forced fumbles. Rushed four times for 22 yards in 2001 and had 49-yard reception that same year.
[b]Upside:[/b] Outstanding size so, while he probably will end up at free safety, most teams will start him out at cornerback in hopes of developing a big, physical outside cover man. Tall and durable, long arms, strong through the upper body. Good enough speed to play on the corner because he can bully receivers and, once he gets his hands on wideouts, can nudge them out of pass routes. A flexible knee-bender with decent range. Simply a savvy, alert athlete, and a guy with tons of potential.
[b]Downside:[/b] Plays a bit upright and, like most corners in this draft, seems vulnerable to the double move. Doesn't quite play the run, or tackle, as well as he should. Lacks real burst and gets lost in space. Might not be physical enough to play consistently in the box.
[b]The dish:[/b] Probably projects best as a centerfielder-type free safety but will still get at least a cameo at cornerback. Solidly in the second round.
[b]CB [url="http://proxy.espn.go.com/nfldraft/draft04/tracker/player?id=7274"][color=#00009b]Derrick Strait[/color][/url][/b] (Oklahoma)
[b]Vital statistics:[/b] 5-feet-11 1/8, 196 pounds, 4.51 in the 40, and 35 ½-inch vertical jump.
[b]Numbers game:[/b] Won both the Jim Thorpe Award and Bronko Nagurski Award in 2003. Four-year player, started in every one of his 51 appearances. Had 264 tackles, a school record for a defensive back, with conference record 14 interceptions, 54 passes defensed, six fumbles forced, seven recoveries. Scored four times on interception or fumble returns.
[b]Upside:[/b] In terms of playing time and career starts, certainly the most experienced corner in this draft, and a very savvy performer. Aware and diagnostic. Can move to a point and get in front of a receiver because he reads keys so well. Plants and drives nicely on the ball in front of him but still best playing in zone or combination schemes. Active versus the run, strong enough to get through blockers and make a play. A good blitzer.
[b]Downside:[/b] Might lack the quick, hair-trigger twitch to ever be an elite cover man. Even though he is physical with receivers, allows too much separation, and plays too cautiously at times. Could move to safety but has to improve his tackling.
[b]The dish:[/b] Has dropped some since last spring, when a lot of scouts felt he might be the top corner candidate in this draft, but should still be chosen in second round.
[b]CB [url="http://proxy.espn.go.com/nfldraft/draft04/tracker/player?id=7275"][color=#00009b]Ricardo Colclough[/color][/url][/b] (Tusculum)
[b]Vital statistics:[/b] 5-feet-10 5/8, 194 pounds, 4.51 in the 40, and 39 ½-inch vertical jump.
[b]Numbers game:[/b] Played one season at Kilgore (Texas) Junior College before transferring to Tusculum, where he started in all 20 appearances in two years. Shut out opposing receiver to whom he was assigned in 11 of 20 games. Finished with 106 tackles, 15 interceptions, 25 passes defensed. Had 11 interceptions in 2003. Returned 23 kickoffs for average of 28.7 yards and two touchdowns and 24 punts for 14.4-yard average and two scores.
[b]Upside:[/b] About as raw as Steak Tartar, but showed at the Senior Bowl he could compete with players from higher-profile schools, and never backed down. Plays under control at all times and seems to float to the ball. Physical with receivers and will use his hands and arms to bounce them around. Makes a lot of plays on the ball. Has played single coverage almost exclusively and can shadow all over the field. Good speed and jumping skills. Had been a big-time return specialist and should contribute there immediately.
[b]Downside:[/b] Does not have great makeup speed. Much better playing the ball in front of him than the one thrown over his head. Sometimes loses touch when running deep and, when he looks back, has trouble relocating the football. Needs some more muscle.
[b]The dish:[/b] Return skills should help move him into the second round.
[b]SS [url="http://proxy.espn.go.com/nfldraft/draft04/tracker/player?id=7407"][color=#00009b]Bob Sanders[/color][/url][/b] (Iowa)
[b]Vital statistics:[/b] 5-feet-8 3/8, 204 pounds, 4.40 in the 40, and 41 ½-inch vertical jump.
[b]Numbers game:[/b] Played in 45 games and started 36 times. Finished career with 348 tackles, seven interceptions, 30 passes defensed, four fumble recoveries, and school-record 13 fumbles forced.
[b]Upside:[/b] Super-aggressive, physical in everything he does, loves to compete. Loves to attack the ball, can play down in the box, but still back out into coverage. An explosive tackler who strikes with the textbook rising blow and always seems to be broken down in classic hitting form. Low in his backpedal and, despite some rough edges, will get out of his turn well enough. Plays with economy of motion because he rarely takes an errant angle and has a great feel for where the ball is going. Just a natural playmaker. Leaping ability allows him to play bigger than he is.
[b]Downside:[/b] Height will always be a concern for some teams although there have been safeties, like former Pro Bowl performer Blaine Bishop, who had similar frames. Will get overmatched against bigger wide receivers in man coverage. Doesn't always play as fast as his stopwatch speed. Will sometimes go for the big "kill" hit and miss the tackle entirely. Has to get into the right system. Missed a lot of time in '03 with foot injury and that will have to be double-checked.
[b]The dish:[/b] The kind of player who might not fit the mold but is far too productive to simply judge on measurables alone. Should be taken in the second round.
[b]FS [url="http://proxy.espn.go.com/nfldraft/draft04/tracker/player?id=7408"][color=#00009b]Stuart Schweigert[/color][/url][/b] (Purdue)
[b]Vital statistics:[/b] 6-feet-2, 218 pounds, 4.45 in the 40, and 38-inch vertical jump.
[b]Numbers game:[/b] Was a semifinalist in 2003 for Jim Thorpe Award. Started 45 times in 49 appearances. Had 360 tackles, 17 interceptions, 23 passes defensed and three forced fumbles. Ranks among leading career tacklers for a defensive back in Big 10 history.
[b]Upside:[/b] Textbook size, a wealth of experience, given his four years as a starter. Good awareness. Competitive and plays hard. Above average athlete at his best when he is close to the line of scrimmage.
[b]Downside:[/b] Has had a lot of off-field problems, mostly the combination of drinking and driving, and had to undergo considerable alcohol counseling. Involved in some scuffles and served probation in the past. Not as physically strong as he looks and certainly does not play as fast as he tests. Very inconsistent in pass coverage. Misses tackles when he gets too excited and overextends.
[b]The dish:[/b] Has workable tools but figures to undergo lots of scrutiny. If he has finished counseling for off-field problems, should be a first-day choice.
[i]Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com[/i]
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