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Sunday, May 4, 2014
Rams draft preview: Cornerback

By Nick Wagoner

The NFL draft is set to begin May 8 and the St. Louis Rams hold 12 picks. For the next week and a half, we'll take a look at a different position every day with what the Rams have in place, what they need, when they might address it and possible fits. 

We continue the countdown with a look at this year's crop of cornerbacks.

In place: Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Brandon McGee, Greg Reid

What's needed: Jenkins and Johnson are entering their third years and are penciled in as the starting duo after some rough spots in 2013. But the Rams are clearly confident in the pair after choosing not to pursue a veteran in free agency and cutting the chord with Cortland Finnegan. McGee becomes the incumbent nickel corner almost by default unless the Rams envision making that role a full-time one for safety Rodney McLeod, who handled those duties after Finnegan suffered a season-ending eye injury. Reid is a complete unknown trying to break into football after injuries and off-field issues.

A veteran presence here would have been a wise move but the Rams opted to wait. They seem relatively content with who they have in place and hope that the addition of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will be enough for the light to go on for Jenkins and Johnson. But there's still an obvious need for depth at least and a starting-caliber corner at most. I'd lean toward the latter with the idea cornerback should be a top priority, if not the top defensive priority, for the team entering the draft.

St. Louis allowed opponents an average of 15.1 yards per on passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield, the worst rate in the NFL last season.

If nothing else, finding a corner who can handle the nickel role right away would be a good investment.

Possible fits: The Rams appear to be aware of their needs at the position, at least based on reported pre-draft visits to Rams Park. That list includes top corners such as Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, both of whom would require the Rams' No. 13 pick if they don't go off the board sooner. TCU's Jason Verrett would be a great fit for the nickel role but is likely to go in the no-man's land between the Rams' 13th selection and their second-round choice. A trade down from 13 could put him in play, however. The same could probably apply to Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller, though some believe he's the best corner in the draft and worthy of the 13th choice.

The type of corner Williams is looking for remains up for debate. It's widely assumed he wants big, physical press corners so the Rams can be more aggressive in coverage schemes. If that's the case, a player like Dennard fits the bill more than Gilbert, for example. But Williams has proved able to get the most out of any "flavor" of corner as he did last year with Alterraun Verner, who had a great year and doesn't fit as a physical, press corner.

Verdict: The Rams are going to take a cornerback, maybe two, and probably grab one within the draft's first two days. It would not be a surprise to see the team use the No. 13 pick on a Dennard or Gilbert and, failing that, perhaps moving back and grabbing Fuller or Verrett. Barring that, it's a good cornerback class with possible starters available through round three. And with a dozen picks in the draft, don't be surprised if the Rams do what they did in 2012 and double down on the position by adding a potential starter early and depth later.