Pro Football Weekly Draft Prospects DB
This year’s group of defensive backs is very deep at cornerback and extremely thin inside at safety. At cornerback, excluding juniors, there may not be any sure-fire first-round picks, but there are an inordinate number of players rated to go in the first three rounds.
Of the top juniors, scouts say players such as Wisconsin’s Jamar Fletcher and Ohio State’s Nate Clements could go ahead of all the seniors if their measurements and combine workouts measure up, but both would benefit from another year in school. Clements especially would benefit because one week he looks like another Shawn Springs and the next he looks like a very mediocre player (vs. Miami of Ohio and Minnesota). Scouts also say Minnesota junior Willie Middlebrooks would be making a huge mistake coming out now after breaking his left ankle midway through the season vs. Indiana.
Everyone wants big corners, and at 6-0¼ and 200 pounds, Mississippi’s Kenny Lucas has the size everyone is looking for. He also has legitimate CB speed and enough quickness to go with it, good hands, quick feet for a man his size and good enough hips for a cornerback.
However, Lucas was a receiver his first two years, and with just two years experience at cornerback, he still is very raw around the edges, needs technique development and more consistency. Right now he has good grades but not first-round grades. With a good Senior Bowl week, he could move into the first round very quickly.
Mississippi State’s Fred Smoot is another player who could jump into the first round with a big Senior Bowl week. However, the cocky Smoot feels he belongs in the first round already. A junior-college transfer, Smoot stepped in and started every game in 1999, picked off five passes and won All-Southeastern Conference honors.
Smoot only has average size, but he is very athletic, has good cover skills, has the quick twitch and ability to break on the ball quickly — which you look for in a corner — and has make-up speed. While he will hit, he is not a great tackler or run-support player, and he is a big trash-talker.
Smoot’s strength is bump-and-run coverage, but he should be a good man-off defender if he can master a straight backpedal technique instead of using a side-shuffle style. That style is popular with some college coaches but not favored by the defensive coaches in the NFL.
Tennessee’s Andre Lott was one of the best cornerbacks in the country last year and a much better player than the Vols’ other corner, Dwayne Goodrich, who was the Cowboys’ second-round pick in the 2000 draft. Lott showed cover skills, a smooth backpedal and a willingness to hit.
However, this year he had to move inside because the Vols lost both their starting safeties and needed a leader. He has had to play both free and strong safety and missed a lot of time in practice with nagging injuries. He can rebound, if he goes to the Senior Bowl, where he will be worked at cornerback, and has a big week.
Syracuse’s Will Allen has pretty good coverage ability, very good athletic ability, potential and great stopwatch speed. He has run 4.3 on a very fast surface. If he can run under 4.4 at the combine, he will probably go quite high, but he still needs work on his techniques and must learn to play the deep ball better. Allen does not always do a very good job of jamming the receiver at the line of scrimmage and has some lapses in his play.
If you want to start an argument among scouts, mention the name of Baylor’s Gary Baxter. At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Baxter has the size scouts look for and has been a three-year starter who has gotten rave reviews for his work ethic and leadership from his coaches this year.
However, while Baxter appears to have the measurables scouts look for, he may not have the explosive, quick movements your best cornerbacks have. Baxter also will struggle to find the ball when he is playing with his back to the quarterback and, like most big corners, does not turn his hips and burst to the ball as well as you would like. Since he will hit and tackle, some feel his best pro position may end up being strong safety, but others question his instincts inside.
Florida State coaches will not tell you Tay Cody is the best cornerback they have ever had, but they will tell you he is the best tackling corner they have ever had, although he is only 5-foot-9¼, 175-180 pounds. A four-year starter, Cody is very tough and aggressive, generally a sure tackler and a pretty good cover man who shows good awareness. However, his size is a concern, and while he is quick and has a short-area burst, he may not have great long speed. Some scouts call Cody a poor man’s Antoine Winfield.
Tennessee State’s Ligarius Jennings is viewed as an up-and-coming player on a down program who could really move up in the ratings if he has a strong postseason. Scouts like Jennings’ raw tools, but feel he needs refining. He has speed, quickness and good hips, but at 5-foot-9¼ he is on the short side, though he is a very solidly built player.
Southern Mississippi’s Raymond Walls is a converted wide receiver who moved to cornerback in the spring of ’99. He has big-time speed but lacks great awareness, and there are too many plays when he is right on his man but still lets him make the catch. Walls needs to learn not to let up on plays and keep his full attention and focus on the task at hand. If he can do that and have a good Senior Bowl, he could make himself a lot of money.
Utah’s Andre Dyson (Titans WR Kevin Dyson’s younger brother) had high grades going into the 2000 season because of his top speed and cover skills, but he had a terrible game against Washington State. He lost his confidence, got flustered and has not played nearly as well as he played as a junior. At 5-foot-10, 175, he has to make his living as a cover corner.
At safety, the more you see of many of the top players, the less you like them. Florida State’s Derrick Gibson has excellent size and very good timed speed. He can run and hit and has been a three-year starter at strong safety-rover for the Seminoles. However, he is a late reactor with questionable instincts and anticipation who does not seem to have really good awareness in coverage.
Clemson’s Robert Carswell may have gotten too big. As a result, it has really hurt his range in pass coverage and made him a very questionable prospect. Alabama’s Tony Dixon was benched at the start of the year and has a mediocre 40-time, but he is a big-time hitter and one of the few players on Alabama’s defense this year who does things that catch your eye.
Kansas State’s Jarrod Cooper has had some injury problems (shoulder) and is much more effective when he plays up near the line of scrimmage like a linebacker. He is a big hitter and competitor, but he looks a little stiff and slow in coverage.
Virginia Tech’s Cory Bird is a LB-SS type who is only about 5-9¾ but weighs in at 218 pounds and plays more like a linebacker than a safety. However, he does have stopwatch speed, though he is a thick-hipped, husky athlete. Washington State’s Lamont Thompson will redshirt this year with a neck injury, and Oregon State’s Terrence Carroll seems to be suffering from senioritis.
Perhaps the two most interesting prospects are Arizona State’s great little LB Adam Archuleta and Notre Dame’s Tony Driver. Archuleta makes a ton of plays and flies all around the field, but at a pumped-up 6-0, 206 pounds, he is not going to be big enough to be a linebacker in the NFL. He does not have the speed and athleticism of a Carnell Lake or Darren Woodson, but he runs well and is very football smart. Driver has spent his college career bouncing back and forth between running back and defensive back. He is a very good athlete with speed and range.
Kansas’ Carl Nesmith is a big, big-time hitter who lacks discipline in his play and is very raw around the edges. While he is big, athletic and the type of hitter who has receivers hearing footsteps, his hitting is a lot better than his tackling because he is more concerned with getting the knockout than wrapping up and making sure he tackles the man.
It would not be an upset if no placekickers are taken in this draft. However, California P Nick Harris could be a first-day pick. While Harris may not have a gaudy average, he does have a very strong leg, generally gets good hang time and has learned how to put a spin on the ball that allows it to hit and then come back so it does not go into the endzone. He has worked with and for Ray Guy, and scouts really like his work ethic and technique and rate him as a pretty good athlete.
The other punter scouts seem to like a lot is Wisconsin’s left-footed P Kevin Stemke. Stemke is a good athlete who was a quarterback and safety in high school. He has good leg strength, gets good hang time and is helped by the fact he is a left-footed kicker: Return men often have a hard time handling his punts because of the reverse spin on the ball. He also is a good holder on placekicks.