By Marc Sluis, Staff Writer
When healthy the Patriots have a solid duo at corner in Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard. However, because of injuries, off field issues or pending free agency New England may be looking to add a young corner to the mix via the draft. The mock drafts of most readers seem to feature the corner spot in the first three rounds.
Here are a few of the possibilities to keep an eye on. Some will be available for the Pats to take in the back half of round one or later, or in the case of Dennard, likely long gone. All these players have the skill set to thrive in a zone scheme with plenty of man to man mixed in, similar to what the Patriots play.
The Complete Package
CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan St.
The Spartans defense was tremendous this past season and Dennard is a major reason why. His size and fluid athleticism allows him to switch from a backpedal to chase mode effortlessly. Those qualities paried with his stellar anticipation skills have created a self proclaimed “No Fly Zone” accurately portraying how teams avoid attacking his side of the field. After making a late rise up draft boards it’s almost certain Dennard will not be available for the Pats to select. Then again ESPN Scouts Inc. breaks the mold and only ranks him #21 overall. So you’re saying there a chance?
vs Ohio St. 2013
> Great start to the game despite having any action his way because of stellar coverage. He played mostly tight press coverage but still blankets his man so well that Braxton Miller has nowhere to go with the football.
> After Miller checks down to Devon Smith Dennard, who was playing off, comes and strips the ball out, but it bounces out of bounds.
> Smith finally gets a step deep but Dennard is right on his tail and as Smith tracks the ball over his head Dennard is able to stick his hand in and prevent the catch.
> Dennard plays loose coverage by design and is able to come up quickly and tackle Miller at the line of scrimmage.
> Wide receiver Spencer runs a stop route at the sticks, but Dennard comes and meets him and is able to close and use an exaggerate wrap up where he violently brings his hands together as the ball gets to the receivers body knocking it free for an incomplete pass.
> Again matched up with Spencer one on one and stays right on his hip as he covers the post route, which is overthrown down field.
CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
Fuller is a versatile corner with the length and willingness to engage physically in run support to excel in a zone based system, but also the athleticism and ability to turn and run with receivers down field to function in man and press schemes. The Pats use both principles and love versatility on their players, especially defenders. At 6’0 189 the thin but long Fuller looks even bigger and does an excellent job using those long arms to extend and make plays to knock the ball away.
vs UNC 2013
> Does an outstanding job as the receiver takes a few steps off the line, hesitates and then runs a fly. Fuller stays with him throughout and jumps across the receiver to bat the ball down with his left hand.
> Comes to the line before the snap and rushes off the edge on the corner blitz. He does a good job of running the pass rush arc and gets very low but looses his leverage and ultimately his footing as he gets taken to the ground by the offensive tackle.
> He starts to follow the receiver heading from towards the middle of the field moving left to right. Once he notices the play is a reverse to the opposite side now coming his way he gets to about midway between the hash and the sideline and uses that good positioning to force the ball carrier inside and is able to hold him up enough issuing a slight shove to the turf.
> Plays way off coverage allowing the receiver to get to the sticks on a 3rd and 14, but comes roaring back to the ball and gets a nice hit on the receiver who is unable to complete the catch and can’t move the chains.
> Doesn’t make the play but shows some toughness and aggression in run support on the edge as he attacks low to erase the lineman.
> Later he gets blocked by a receiver who is out in front of a quick screen to the left, but fights off the block and is able to dive low and bring down the ball carrier.
> Defending the junior tight end Tabb he stays on his hip pocket as he heads over the middle on a possible slant. Fuller reaches out and gets enough of the ball to tip it and then bring it in for a pick after slightly juggling it.
> Makes his first clear mistake attempting to drive on the ball when in fact the receiver was running a stop and go. Allows him to get by him for a easy score.
CB/S Antone Exum, Virginia Tech
Exum will get looks at both safety and corner due to his size, tackling ability and overall athleticism. It also helps that he played both positions in college. While not the fleetest of foot, the 6’0 Hokie shows the ability to turn and run with receivers down field. He’s at his best playing zone where he can read the play and see what’s in front of him, which also can showcase his tackling skills.
vs Clemson 2012
> Plays off of Sammy Watkins but once the ball is thrown he comes up and makes a sound tackle on two early plays.
> Lines up at safety and is unable to makes the tackle on Ellington as a blockers interferes enough to deny a clear path.
> Matched up one on one with Watkins who gets a half step but Exum stays with him and is able to break up the downfield pass nicely.
> Lined up off the line and Watkins comes across on a slant. After the ball is caught Watkins makes an improvised spin back to the outside which effectively shakes off Exum.
> Plays tight at the line on Watkins and shows a little bump and run. Exum stays with Watkins for the most part but because Sammy is talented and quick all he needs is the half a step he gets as Boyd throws a perfect ball dropping it over Exum’s shoulder for a solid gain. It was a complete pass but you can’t realistically ask for better coverage.
> Lined up as a safety as Boyd takes it on a designed run through traffic up the middle. Exum comes over and as Boyd is about to cross the front of the end zone he sticks his arm in and is able to pull it out of Boyd’s grasp.
CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
Immediately evident is the former wide out’s over-sized 6’3 frame, something scouts crave in a corner nowadays. Of course that size only has actual value if the prerequisite athleticism is also in place. SBJ really seems to still be adjusting to the defensive side of the ball, especially in terms of having a physical mindset. Despite a guaranteed size advantage he is tentative and rarely takes on tackles with the necessary aggression and physicality. His length and height to challenge taller receivers are valued but he needs considerable refinement understanding coverages and being disciplined and able to avoid biting on double moves.
vs Penn St. 2013
> Let Allen Robinson get free deep. He stayed with him well, but when Robinson paused and looked back. SJB stopped for a second and that allowed Robinson to get to open space. The ball was overthrown.
> On a few occasions SBJ did struggle to track Robinson deep, but that’s against a big time wide receiver prospect. He did do a great job of sticking with Robinson on an out route near the goaline that required him to react and change directions quickly while breaking on the ball to deflect it away.
vs Southern Miss 2013
> Read the play and jumped in front of a lazy square in by the wide out and takes it in for a score. > Shows a solid backpedal before breaking on an out route to challenge at the catch point and cause an incompletion.
> WR runs a pretty stop and go that catches SBJ flat footed for a split second, yet SBJ is able to getting going quickly and track him down field reaching up to knock it away.
> Twice he’s missed tackles diving low at the opponents feet without drawing much contact.
> Stays right with the WR as he runs a corner route to the back left end zone and high points it pretty well almost making the pick.
> Bubble screen in a two receiver set left where one is lined up directly behind the other. SBJ defeats the block dismissing the front receiver with some arm fighting and makes a quality form tackle around the waist.
> Lets a receiver get behind him as he tries futilely to make a play in front of him. Catch made and taken in for a score and Southern Miss’ first TD.
CB Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
Successful corners need to be good athletes with the flexibility and coordination to change directions quickly. They also need to be fast in order to keep up with receivers down field. Andre Hal has all those qualities. A smooth athlete with quick feet, speed and decent height he has the ability to play man or zone at the next level.
vs Ole Miss 2013
> Able to crash on a read option and help deliver a blow to QB Bo Wallace.
> Gets away with a little bit of a bump to impede Donte Moncrief on a go route, no call and it falls incomplete.
>Able to give Moncrief a big pop as another defender slows him up allowing Hal to come full speed and jolt Moncrief to the turf.
> Again matched up with Moncrief who is streaking across the deep middle. Hal follows him step for step then reaches across Moncrief’s body to knock the ball away. He was called for pass interference but ESPN’s Matt Millen is probably right calling it “good football”.
> Moncrief runs a lackadaisical stop and go to the end zone but Hal reads it and transitions smoothly from a backpedal to a run and gets to the catch point first giving the receiver no chance to make a play on the ball.
> Plays zone and is able to meet Moncrief and bring him down for a short game after a short completion.
> Pure man to man again against Moncrief and Hal is the first to recognize and knock the ball as it was going out of bounds short of the intended target.
> Jeff Scott runs the ball to the left as Hal is lined up to the right. Scott breaks free and races down the field. Hal stays with the play and comes across the field with good speed, dives to make the tackle but comes up just short as Scott scores the go ahead TD with just over a minute to play.
Keith McGill, Utah – 6’3 205
Louchiez Purifoy, Florida – 6’1 189
Deshazor Everett, Texas A&M – 6’0 181
Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma – 6’0 181
Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma St. – 6’0 194
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon – 5’10 190
Keon Lyn, Syracuse – 6’1 200
* Will be discussed in further detail in subsequent posts, but a hat tip to our knowledgeable readers