Friday, February 28, 2014
Combine countdown rewind: Bengals CBs
By Coley Harvey
Last week, in the days leading up to the start of on-field workouts at the NFL combine, we counted down five of the top position needs for a Cincinnati Bengals team that will go into May's draft looking to build depth instead of trying to find immediate starters.
As part of the countdown, I listed three players from each position who I said I would have my eyes on during the interview and testing portions of the event. Now that the combine has ended, let's look at the players who were part of the countdown. Each day this week, we've been doing a rewind of the countdown, analyzing how well the players who were in it worked out.
When the draft begins the second weekend of May, the Bengals can go to any number of directions. Right now, they have seven selections with possibly three more coming in compensatory picks. For a team that doesn't necessarily need to draft players who can start right away, 10 picks is a lot. And chances are good those 10 picks will come from positions not listed in this countdown. Outside linebackers certainly are draft options, as are safeties, as are receivers. The big question is when will the various selections be made. Cornerback is the top draft priority for the Bengals this year, but does that mean they'll like the players who are available when they pick 24th overall? If not, they might wait until the second round to make their corner selection, and use the first-round pick on someone else.
Who might the Bengals draft if we assume they do use pick 24 on a cornerback? It stands to reason that they should have quite the selection when the latter picks of the opening round come up. One of the deepest positions in this draft, the top five cornerbacks at the combine (plus Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller, who is rated lower by ESPN's draft team) certainly each looked like first-round talents.
The big question the Bengals need to ask themselves when it comes to cornerback, though, is what type of player are they looking for? Do they want versatility? Do they want a player who can play nickel, shift over to safety and occupy one of the boundary corner spots? Do they desire a taller corner with size to pair with Dre Kirkpatrick? Could a shorter corner fit? Do they want a physical, jammy corner? Or will one who is simply a ball hawk suffice? The answers to those questions could lead to any number of cornerback possibilities.
Aside from the three who we looked at in last week's pre-combine countdown (Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State; Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State; Stan Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska), keep an eye on several others who flat-out showed out in Indianapolis. As mock drafts start taking shape and teams' draft needs start changing, it's becoming more and more apparent that the likes of TCU's Jason Verrett and Fuller could be around when the Bengals make that late first-round selection. For this post, though, we're looking specifically at the three mentioned above.
Here are numbers (per NFL.com) from that trio's combine workouts:
-- Dennard didn't participate in every measurement drill, but he did go through all the field workouts that required him to show off his hip-turn, backpedal ability and catching ability. With respect to opening up his hips and having to turn his body quickly in a 180-degree fashion, he didn't appear quite as fluid as some of the other defensive backs. His 4.51 40-yard dash was fast, but got a little lost because of the sub-4.5 40s that other defensive backs his size and larger had. After Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert, Dennard has been tabbed the No. 2 corner in the draft.
-- Joyner's size (5-8,184 pounds) has been his biggest knock throughout college, and it was part of the reason he decided to come back for his senior season and make the move from safety to corner. He knew NFL teams would have trouble seeing him as a safety because of his height. After covering him for two seasons, I can confidently say he's a cornerback who plays like a hard-hitting safety. His bench reps may have been a little on the low side, but he's definitely strong enough to play in a physical man defense in the NFL. His 40-yard time was a little slow, but he seems to look much faster during games.
-- The more I see Jean-Baptiste, the more I'm convinced he may be moved to safety when he enters the league. At 6-foot-3, 218 pounds, he's got great size to play corner with some of the NFL's taller receivers. But his 4.61 40 time seems to indicate he might struggle keeping up with them off the line of scrimmage. If he remains a corner, the mid-round projection could be one to watch. His vertical was the highest of all DBs. It shows he has great athleticism and could be good against jump balls deep downfield.