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St. Louis Rams Position Needs: Cornerback

Stacy Revere

Fads in the NFL crop up from time to time, and they create shifts in how teams build their rosters.

Starting in 2012, the NFL began to slide into "Tall Corner Back" mode" to counter the increasing success of athletic tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, let alone the 6'4"-plus wide receivers like Calvin Johnson. Seattle led the way, and now has one of the better defensive secondaries in NFL history. Richard Sherman stands at 6'3", and should've been the first ever player at the NFL Combine to have his mouth measured - 14". Arizona drafted the 6'1", 219 lbs Patrick Peterson in the same 2011 NFL Draft as Sherman, who was taken in the 5th round to Peterson's 5th overall in the first. Both players have made their marks on the NFL, and helped the NFC West to gain national notice for their tough defenses.

The trend for teams and fans alike to to search for tall corner backs, and it isn't as easy as some might think. CBS Sports' Pat Kirwan notes:

"After watching the "Legion of Boom" many have concluded they need big corners like Richard Sherman . Good luck finding them. Phil Savage, director of the Senior Bowl, put as many tall safeties as he could in the corner back group just to beef up the potential pool of tall corners. There are more than 50 wide receivers in the 2014 draft class over 6-1 and there are fewer than 20 corners that are over 6-1. Getting tall corners who can't flip their hips, close on a receiver or run isn't going to solve the problem. No doubt there will be teams that acquire tall corners but they will not be even close to Sherman."

Tall, fast and athletic corner backs are rare indeed. I think quite a few teams will use "project player" status on this position more and more. They'll snag a tall defensive back, and hope he'll turn from undrafted refuse into a pot of Sherman-esk gold. It's not going to happen often, but they'll gamble. Unique athletes like Sherman and Peterson don't come along everyday. But in the NFC West, it appears to be a hallmark trend that'll continue to be at the forefront. The St. Louis Rams selected Trumaine Johnson - 6'2", 204 lbs - in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. The choice has worked out well, with Johnson taking over for a declining, injured Cortland Finnegan to great effect.

With the NFL Combine coming up at the end of this month, I thought I'd take a peak at corner back prospects. The NFL has invited 60 defensive backs to show off their talents. 60!! Here's the list:

Defensive backs

Mo Alexander (SS), Utah State
Ricardo Allen (CB), Purdue
Dion Bailey (SS), USC
Deion Belue (CB), Alabama
Bene Benwikere (CB), San Jose State
Nat Berhe (SS), San Diego State
Tre Boston (SS), North Carolina
Bashaud Breeland (CB), Clemson
Terrence Brooks (FS), Florida State
Deone Bucannon (SS), Washington State
Travis Carrie (CB), Ohio
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (FS), Alabama
Ross Cockrell (CB), Duke
Aaron Colvin (CB), Oklahoma
Chris Davis (CB), Auburn
Darqueze Dennard (CB), Michigan State
Pierre Desir (CB), Lindenwood
Ahmad Dixon (SS), Baylor
Brandon Dixon (CB), Northwest Missouri State
Jonathan Dowling (SS), Western Kentucky
Antone Exum (CB), Virginia Tech
Kyle Fuller (CB), Virginia Tech
E.J. Gaines (CB), Missouri
Phillip Gaines (CB), Rice
Justin Gilbert (CB), Oklahoma State
Demetri Goodson (CB), Baylor
Dre Hal (CB), Vanderbilt
Victor Hampton (CB), South Carolina
Marqueston Huff (FS), Wyoming
Bennett Jackson (CB), Notre Dame
Kendall James (CB), Maine
Stanley Jean-Baptiste (CB), Nebraska
Dontae Johnson (CB), North Carolina State
LaMarcus Joyner (CB), Florida State
Kenny Ladler (FS), Vanderbilt
Nevin Lawson (CB), Utah State
Isaiah Lewis (SS), Michigan State
Craig Loston (SS), LSU
Dexter McDougle (CB), Maryland
Keith McGill (CB), Utah
Terrance Mitchell (CB), Oregon
Jabari Price (CB), North Carolina
Calvin Pryor (FS), Louisville
Loucheiz Purifoy (CB), Florida
Keith Reaser (CB), Florida Atlantic
Ed Reynolds (FS), Stanford
Rashaad Reynolds (CB), Oregon State
Marcus Roberson (CB), Florida
Bradley Roby (CB), Ohio State
Daniel Sorensen (FS), BYU
Dez Southward (FS), Wisconsin
Vinnie Sunseri (SS), Alabama
Jemea Thomas (CB), Georgia Tech
Brock Vereen (FS), Minnesota
Jason Verrett (CB), TCU
Jimmie Ward (SS), Northern Illinois
Todd Washington (CB), Southeastern Louisiana
Jaylen Watkins (CB), Florida
Lavelle Westbrooks (CB), Georgia Southern

Now take a peak at the Top 30 defensive backs Mocking the Draft has, and see if there's a tend in size:

1. Jason Verrett | 5'10, 176 pounds | Cornerback | TCU
2. Darqueze Dennard | 5'11, 197 pounds | Cornerback | Michigan State
3. Bradley Roby | 5'11, 190 pounds | Cornerback | Ohio State *
4. Justin Gilbert | 6'0, 200 pounds | Cornerback | Oklahoma State
5. Kyle Fuller | 6'0, 193 pounds | Cornerback | Virginia Tech
6. Andre Hal | 6'0, 183 pounds | Cornerback | Vanderbilt
7. Aaron Colvin | 6'0, 192 pounds | Cornerback | Oklahoma
8. E.J. Gaines | 5'11, 195 pounds | Cornerback | Missouri
9. Marcus Roberson | 6'0, 186 pounds | Cornerback | Florida *
10. Lamarcus Joyner | 5'8, 190 pounds | Cornerback | Florida State
11. Stanley Jean-Baptiste | 6'3, 220 pounds | Cornerback | Nebraska
12. Loucheiz Purifoy | 6'1, 190 pounds | Cornerback | Florida *
13. Antone Exum | 6'1, 220 pounds | Cornerback | Virginia Tech
14. Pierre Desir | 6'2, 206 pounds | Cornerback | Lindenwood
15. Jemea Thomas | 5'10, 195 pounds | Cornerback | Georgia Tech
16. Deshazor Everett | 6'0, 185 pounds | Cornerback | Texas A&M
17. Ross Cockrell | 6'0, 182 pounds | Cornerback | Duke
18. Carrington Byndom | 6'0, 180 pounds | Cornerback | Texas
19. Victor Hampton | 5'10, 202 pounds | Cornerback | South Carolina *
20. Terrance Mitchell | 6'0, 189 pounds | Cornerback | Oregon *
21. Keith McGill | 6'3, 205 pounds | Cornerback | Utah
22. Kenneth Acker | 6'0, 195 pounds | Cornerback | SMU
23. Charles Sawyer | 5'11, 178 pounds | Cornerback | Ole Miss
24. Ricardo Allen | 5'9, 186 pounds | Cornerback | Purdue
25. Bene Benwikere | 6'0, 192 pounds | Cornerback | San Jose State
26. Chris Davis | 5'11, 200 pounds | Cornerback | Auburn
27. Jaylen Watkins | 6'0, 182 pounds | Cornerback | Florida
28. Bennett Jackson | 6'0, 185 pounds | Cornerback | Notre Dame
29. Ciante Evans | 5'11, 190 pounds | Cornerback | Nebraska
30. Deion Belue | 5'11, 180 pounds | Cornerback | Alabama

Hmm... I'm willing to bet Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska and Keith McGill, CB, Utah, are going to get loads of interest, but the elephant in the room is the number of corner backs missing who are under 5'11"... In most years, you'd see quite a few listed in the 5'8" to 5'10" range, but the Sherman world has caused the vertically challenged to hit the unemployment lines.

With the "trend" in mind, who should the St. Louis Rams look at to improve their defensive secondary? Yes, safety is a need, but with the likely exist of Finnegan, the team is thin at corner back. Brandon McGee - who a fellow "Brandon" wrote about recently - has a chance to blossom, but his lack of experience bodes the lack of depth at the position. When I consider the top corner backs listed by Matthew Fairburn over at MTD, as well as the number of teams in desperate need of secondary help, it looks like the Rams may have to use a high draft pick to secure what they'll need. Safety Rodney McLeod could move down in nickle packages, but true depth issues at his position are already glaring.

To my mind, the best corner back prospect in the coming draft is Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert. Size and speed are there, but his ability to turn his hips in coverage is what separates him for me. Darqueze Dennard out of Michigan State has the tools for the NFL, but after watching footage of him he seems maxed out on upside. In fact, after studying the prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft, I've come to believe the big "first day" risers are going to be the very, very few top corner backs available. I think we'll see teams reaching out of pure desperation, and at least three corner backs will go in the first 15 picks.

That said, I don't see a prospect the Rams would be willing to use either their #2 or #13 pick on, which means they'll dive deeper into later rounds to find hidden gold. Jean-Baptiste could very well be a player Les Snead and Jeff Fisher will be studying closely. Remember what I said about a corner back as a project player? Well, Jean-Baptiste is exactly that, and should be around in later rounds if other teams don't reach for him due to his size. This young man SCREAMS possible upside, with his impressive array of athletic skills. But he's more than raw, with tackling skills at the top of his to-do list. What caught my attention is his lack of playing time at the position, and his academic prowess. Give this article a look, and don't be sold by his marginal play against Georgia. If we're going to go to the well of Sherman comparisons, Jean-Baptiste is the one who'll garner some study.

Small school prospect Pierre Desir has attracted some interest too. At 6'2", he's got more than few teams taking hard looks at him following a strong Senior Bowl outing. But he'll still slip to late on day two, or even day three, of the 2014 NFL Draft.

This may be the toughest corner back class to rate that I've seen in a long while. Few jump out at you as instant "Day 1" starters. But if history shows me anything, it's that teams who invest time in slicing and dicing corner back prospects usually find what they're looking for in the long run. Make no mistake: corner back is probably the toughest defensive position to play, let alone excel. They have to have a unique combination of talent and athleticism, with a heavy does of instinct for the game of football. They need thick skins, since the pass-happy NFL can make them a star one week, and a goat the next. They play on an island - for the most part - and can make or break a team's year in the blink of an eye. Yes, the Richard Sherman-s and Patrick Peterson-s are rare gems to find, and they come at draft prices of varying degrees. But the team who finds one is smiling ear to ear...