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Analyzing the Draft: Cornerbacks

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  April 18, 2011 02:59 PM

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As part of the run up to the NFL draft, a lot of you will give your opinions on where and when the Patriots need to draft certain players. Do they need to grab an outside linebacker first? Or maybe a running back? How about a defensive end? Can they wait on safety help?

To that end, we'll take a look at each position and break down where the 2010 opening day starters (some were altered based on the season) on each NFL team came from in the draft. We’ll also identify where each of the Pro Bowlers – the starters and backups on the initial team, not injury replacements – and All Pro players came.

This is the type of “study” that almost every team does before the draft. It’s a valuable, if blunt, tool to see where value can be had at each position. (I use the term “study” loosely because I only did this past year, not a three- to five-year stretch most teams have personnel department interns do).

I think you’ll see some surprises along the way.

PART V: Cornerbacks

One note before we take a look at this. You might be saying, ‘This looks like the other positions.’ That’s true in a sense. Considering the money invested in first-round draft picks – along with the physical attributes that lead them to be picked that high – those selections are always going to have an edge on the field. What we’re looking for, using a handicap like in golf, are the subtle shifts within the numbers to give us a few indications on where the talent can be had.

Like with the cornerbacks. The 40.6% percent of starters coming out of the first round is the highest concentration we’ve seen so far. That’s not really a surprise considering this is a position where measurables – speed, vertical jump, foot quickness – are important and there’s a commodity for those numbers.

One thing is obvious at this position more than others: you will not be able to find cornerbacks beyond the third round in the draft. If you’re looking for starter material, you’re going to have to take it in the first three rounds. An amazing 78.1 percent of NFL starting cornerbacks were taken in the first three rounds.

Only 15.6 percent were selected in the fifth round or later, including undrafted free agents. That’s why it’s either great scouting or just incredible luck that the Falcons and Packers found Brent Grimes and Tramon Williams, respectively, among the undrafted. Probably the latter. It just doesn’t happen very often these days.

Another thing on the cornerbacks that was clear when looking at the players themselves and where they were drafted: NFL teams aren’t great at identifying the really good ones from the mediocre ones in the draft process. Consider the cornerbacks taken 16th overall or higher the last several years (using profootballfocus.com and footballoutsiders.com, and we considered how high the player was picked in the rough evaluation):

2010: Joe Haden, CLE, 7th – Hit
2008: Leodis McKelvin, BUF, 11th – Miss
2008: D. Rodgers-Cromartie, AZ, 16th – Hit/Medicore (PFF had him 100th out of 100)
2007: Darrelle Revis, NYJ, 14th – Hit
2006: Tye Hill, STL, 15th - Miss
2006: Jason Allen, MIA, 16th – Miss
2005: Pacman Jones, TEN, 6th – Miss
2005: Carlos Rogers, WAS, 9th – Medicore
2004: Sean Taylor, WAS, 5th – Hit*
2004: DeAngelo Hall, ATL, 8th – Miss
2003: Terence Newman, DAL, 5th – Miss
2003: Marcus Trufant, SEA, 11th – Miss
2002: Quentin Jammer, SD, 5th – Mediocre

Cornerback, when you go through the list of players and where they were drafted, has to be among the top positions in which a redraft would cause a ton of movement. Many of the top picks would go later, and some taken in the late first through the third round would go higher. I mean, Nnamdi Asomugha went 31st.

So while nearly all starting cornerbacks are clumped together in the first few rounds, it seems a waste to take a cornerback very high in the first round. You’re more likely to miss than hit. Appears the sweet spot for corners is the bottom of the first round through the second.

Here are the positions we've looked at so far:

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