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2013 NFL Draft: Defensive back

By: Robert Davis

The NFL has become a pass dominant league, which has increased the need for playmakers in the secondary. While there may not be an elite prospect in the secondary this year, there are some very good players that will command first round consideration.

Alabama’s Dee Milliner is the likely first defensive back selected. He is an aggressive, physical corner that can do it all on the field. He has excellent size at 6'1 201, is very physical and strong, and active in run support. He is also a good athlete that has a tremendous feel for the game in coverage. While he isn't an elite pure cover corner, Milliner is physical in coverage and can keep receivers from running their route as sharp as they want. He shows the ability to find the ball in the air and has enough speed to close on the ball and make a play. He is a very good all around corner that had a tremendous combine, and has vaulted himself into potential top five status.

CB RANKINGS
  1. Dee Milliner, Alabama
  2. Jonthan Banks, Mississippi St.
  3. Desmond Trufant, Washington
  4. Xavier Rhodes, Florida St.
  5. Blidi Wreh-Wilson, UConn
  6. David Amerson, North Carolina St.
  7. Logan Ryan, Rutgers
  8. DJ Hayden, Houston
  9. Jamar Taylor, Boise St.
  10. BW Webb, William & Mary

Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks is a long and lean corner at 6'2 185, but don't let that fool you. Banks is one of the most physical defensive backs in this draft, and it shows in both pass coverage and run support. His long arms and aggressiveness allow him to jam receivers at the line and steer them off their route, and break up timing routes. He is a good athlete that can turn and run with most receivers, but he matches up better with bigger wideouts. Quick receivers can give him trouble both off the line and when he has to chase them throughout their route. Banks is a great run defender, who is quick to read the action, and loves to come up and hit people. Some added bulk will be needed to help match up with heavier and stronger receivers, but Banks is a solid prospect. He had a subpar showing at the combine, running a 4.61 40, which could push him out of the first round.

Desmond Trufant of Washington has a lot of things in his favor as the draft approaches. He had a fine career with the Huskies, showing off his natural cover skills and toughness. He is a very good athlete, with the quickness and change of direction ability to mirror receivers, and the straight line speed to match them stride for stride down the field. Trufant is also tough and feisty, always looking to make a play. He will need to bulk up and get stronger at the next level, in order to aid in run support and against bigger, stronger receivers. Since the close of his senior season, Trufant has shined at the Senior Bowl and at the combine, clocking a 4.38 40 at 6' 190lbs. He has two older brothers playing in the secondary at the NFL level, and teams do like players with quality bloodlines. Trufant may have elevated himself into the back end of the first round, but if he does last until day two, he will be one of the more attractive options available.

There may not be a consensus position for North Carolina State's David Amerson, but his ball skills make him special no matter where you project him. He has great size(6'1 205), is a very good athlete, and has good straightline speed. His 13 interceptions as a sophomore made him a big name, and that skill is his best trait. He does a great job locating the football and going up to get it and making a play. His ball skills are second to none in this draft. He's a tough kid and willing to come up to the line of scrimmage in run support. The question about his fit as a natural corner stems from some stiffness in his hips and the ground he can give up in and out of a receivers routes. Some may want to shift him to safety, where he has all the physical tools and instincts to be a tremendous free safety. Amerson had a down junior year, as he was often caught going for the big play too often. If he can play more disciplined and let the ball come to him, the sky is the limit. He is a likely second round pick that has a lot of potential.

Xavier Rhodes of Florida State may face some of the same questions as Amerson. He has the size, athleticism, speed, and aggressiveness to play corner or safety in the NFL. He is athletic enough to cover most receivers, he can find the football, and he is great in run support. But, he too can have trouble with the smaller, quicker receivers with may lead some teams to project him to safety. He's bulkier than Amerson and doesn't quite possess the same ball skills, but may be a better natural athlete. Rhodes had quite the combine, showing off his tremendous physical tools. He ran a 4.43 40 at 6'2 210, and had the second longest arms of any corner. Those rare physical traits at the CB spot will create quite a few suitors, and Rhodes could go as high as the second corner off the board.

UConn has been putting out quite a bit of talent into the NFL lately, especially in the secondary. Blidi Wreh-Wilson is next in line. He is a long, athletic corner, which are at a premium in today's NFL with the size of receivers at the professional level. He has the straightline speed to close on a receiver in front of him, and the speed to recover. He is tough and willing to help out in run support as well. Wreh-Wilson isn't a natural cover man, and will struggle to cover quicker receivers and guys out of the slot. But he will be a fit for teams needing size on the perimeter. He should hear his name called on the second day of the draft.

Rutgers' Logan Ryan is a very active corner. He is one of the better true cover corners in the draft. He is a good athlete that has the quick feet and agility to mirror receivers throughout their routes. He shows good ball skills and will go up and try to make a play on the football. Ryan is also a willing run defender, ranking second on the team in tackles, with five of them coming for loss. Ryan could go higher than a couple of the names above because he is more of a natural cover man. Wherever he lands, he should be able to make an early impact in the NFL.

Other notable corner prospects: Robert Alford, SE Louisiana, DJ Hayden(Houston), Jamar Taylor(Boise St), BW Webb(William & Mary) Jordan Poyer(Oregon St), Nickell Robey(USC), and Tyrann Mathieu(LSU)

SAFETY RANKINGS
  1. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
  2. Matt Elam, Florida
  3. Eric Reid, LSU
  4. Johnathan Cyprien, Florida International
  5. Phillip Thomas, Fresno St.
  6. Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse
  7. TJ McDonald, USC
  8. Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
  9. Shawn Williams, Georgia
  10. Duke Williams, Nevada

There are a number of safety prospects that carry a borderline first round or second round grade whose ranking will depend on what teams are drafting.

Texas' Kenny Vaccaro is one of the better cover safeties in recent memory. He a good athlete that can cover a lot of ground in coverage. His natural athleticism and agility allow him to glide across the field, changing direction with ease in space. Vaccaro has no problems picking up tight ends and receivers in deep coverage and staying in their hip pocket. He's not just a great cover man though. Vaccaro is tough and aggressive and willing to come up and throw his body around at the line of scrimmage. Despite a less than impressive 40 time of 4.63 at the combine, Vaccaro looks like a safe bet to be the first safety selected, and could land in the top 20.

Matt Elam of Florida is the top draft eligible strong safety this year. He has a very sturdy build, which allows him to be a force near the line of scrimmage. He is quick and aggressive when in the box, and can pack a punch when he gets to the ball carrier. He's hard to pick up as a moving target and can really wreak havoc in the backfield. Elam is a very good athlete and can coverage a lot of ground in coverage. He closes on the ball well, and does an excellent job running step for step in coverage with backs and tight ends. He is a complete safety prospect, although there may be come concerns about his lack of height being a problem against taller tight ends in the NFL. While that is a legitimate concern, Bob Sanders and Troy Polamalu have been standouts despite their lack of ideal height.

LSU's Eric Reid has had an up and down season this year. He made his name as a sophomore with his instincts and discipline on the field. He did a great job reading the action and keeping the play in front of him. He was aggressive but was still able to keep guys from getting behind him and making big plays. He's been a bit more undisciplined this year, biting on fakes and leaving the back end open for big plays at times. He also hasn't been as big of a factor as a run defender as his size might indicate. Reid can miss some tackles in the open field. With that said, Reid is still a very good athlete that has been a standout for LSU, who has been a DB pipeline to the NFL. Reid has the size, athleticism, and range to be a standout in the NFL. Teams could be a little turned off with the inconsistency, but the physical tools and play from his sophomore year could entice teams to select him in the second round and hope he becomes a more consistent defender.

Florida International's John Cyprien has been a late riser, and is now viewed as one of the better safeties available on draft day. He is a physical, aggressive safety that should thrive around the line of scrimmage. He has a sturdy frame at 6' 217lbs, and is one of the bigger hitters at the position in this years draft. Cyprien is also a good athlete who shows the awareness and short area quickness to make plays in coverage as well, though he is not the type you will ask to match up in man or single coverage very often. His rise as the draft approaches could result in a second or third round selection on draft day.

Fresno State's Phillip Thomas is another safety that can impact the game both as a run defender and in pass coverage. He led the nation in interceptions this year with eight, showcasing his natural instincts in picking up the football. He is a good athlete that always seems to be in position to make the play. As a run defender, he is quick to read run and aggressively attacks the line of scrimmage. He does a great job getting into the backfield to make plays for a safety. Thomas had 12 tackles for loss and four sacks this year, showing his ability to make plays in a variety of ways. While Thomas has good size and is a good athlete, he isn't going to blow anyone away physically. His football instincts allow him to play faster and make plays all over the field. Thomas probably won't be a very high pick, but he's a guy who could really outperform his draft stock.

Shamarko Thomas of Syracuse has a short, compact frame but plays much bigger than his size indicates. His aggressiveness and hitting ability stand out, even at his size. He won't back down from anyone on the field, even when he meets up with an offensive lineman. Thomas is also a great athlete with the speed to cover a lot of ground. He thrives attacking the action near the line of scrimmage, and quickly gets to the ball carrier. His athleticism and speed allow him to be in the position to make plays in coverage, but just two career interceptions raise some questions about his ball skills and big play ability. Thomas has emerged as a leader for Syracuse and he is the type of kid you want to see do well. He lost both his parents in less than a year, and has taken on responsibility of raising his six siblings. He may be a bit on the short side, but he has a passion for the game, is tough, fast, and is a kid you know will do whatever it takes to make a play. He may not carry a prime draft grade, but he could really surprise as a mid round selection who really outplays his draft stock.

USC's TJ McDonald has played free safety in college but could also project as a strong safety in the NFL. He has a big frame, is best moving forward to make plays, and is a violent hitter. He is a fluid athlete that has good range and does a good job keeping the receiver in front of him. McDonald is a versatile defender, as USC used him as a corner in short yardage situations. McDonald has the size(6'3 210), the athleticism, and the bloodlines(dad, Tim, was an NFL DB) teams covet. He doesn't have great straightline speed but it's not poor either. USC safeties haven't fared well lately in the NFL, but McDonald could break the trend. He may never be a big playmaker, but he's a steady, intelligent safety that could play either strong or free safety in the NFL.

Other notable safeties: DJ Swearinger(South Carolina), Shawn Williams(Georgia), Tony Jefferson(Oklahoma), Duke Williams(Nevada), and Bacarri Rambo(Georgia).

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