Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Defensive backs fly at combine
By Mike Triplett
The NFL scouting combine wrapped up Tuesday with some impressive workouts from many of the top defensive backs. That's good news for the New Orleans Saints, since I think that position group ranks as their No. 1 need this offseason -- especially when you lump the cornerbacks and safeties together.
I think the Saints will address at least one of those positions in free agency, if not both, since they've got some holes in their starting lineup right now. The Saints have already released longtime starting cornerback Jabari Greer and safety Roman Harper. And they could part ways with longtime starting safety Malcolm Jenkins, too, since he'll be an unrestricted free agent on March 11.
The good news is the Saints are set with their No. 1 cornerback in Keenan Lewis and No. 1 safety in Kenny Vaccaro. And they like the potential of young backup safety Rafael Bush and cornerback Corey White. So they don't need a total overhaul.
However, the Saints will certainly consider adding to their secondary depth in the draft, regardless of what happens in free agency. They know you can never have enough talent in the secondary in today's pass-happy NFL.
Since the Saints are picking 27th, they probably won't get a crack at the top two cornerbacks in this year's draft class -- Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard. But they're worth highlighting since it seems like there will be a pretty interesting debate over the next couple months over which should be drafted first.
Gilbert (6-0, 202) is an athletic marvel who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds Tuesday -- the fastest time of any defensive back. He also had one of the strongest bench press performances, among other impressive drills. He also showed big-play potential in college. However, he wasn't as consistent as a “shut-down” corner as Dennard (5-11, 199).
Dennard, meanwhile, seemed to draw just as much praise from draft analysts for posting a time of 4.51 seconds in the 40 Tuesday -- since that's considered fast enough to complement his impressive on-field work in college.
Two highly-touted corners who might be available to the Saints at No. 27 are TCU's Jason Verrett and Ohio State's Bradley Roby, who also posted blazing times in the 40 (4.38 and 4.39 seconds, respectively).
Verrett was a standout cover man in college. NFL teams will just have to get over the fact that he's only 5-9, 189 pounds. That would probably work for the Saints since they use Lewis as their physical press corner against opponents' top receivers. Roby (5-11, 194) was a little less consistent in college but still had a nice career.
The top safety prospects -- Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (6-1, 208) and Louisiville's Calvin Pryor (5-11, 207) -- could also be off the board before the Saints pick. Both of them reportedly helped solidfy their first-round status with impressive workouts at the combine, including matching times of 4.58 seconds in the 40.
Check out this piece by ESPN.com's San Diego Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams for an even more thorough look at how the secondary prospects fared.