Draft Primer: CBs corner the draft-day market

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Apr 23, 2011



By Todd DeVries
Cold, Hard Football Facts Shutdown Corner

Those of you sipping the nourishing nectar of the mighty Cold, Hard Football Facts know that dominance in the passing game is the key to winning in the NFL.
 
When talking about dominance in the passing game, many are conditioned to think solely about sexy quarterbacks and wide receivers. It's an easy trap to fall into as offensive stats can be extremely intoxicating.

Let's not forget there are 11 guys on the other side of the ball who are hell-bent on thwarting these high-flying aerial attacks.

And as our trusty Defensive Passer Rating Quality Stat proves, teams who can shut down the pass win an awful lot of ballgames. In fact, Defensive Passer Rating may be an even better indicator of team-wide success that the much ballyhooed passer rating used to rate individual quarterbacks.

How are defensive coordinators combating the growing trend of three and four wide receiver sets in today's pass-happy NFL? By "cornering" the market (pardon the pun) with as many serviceable defensive backs as possible.

Simply put, defenses are fighting fire with fire. If an offense trots out four wideouts on third-and-10, they're countering with four capable cover guys.

So it should come as no surprise that when the draft rolls around, defensive backs are a popular choice amongst NFL personnel men.

We looked back at the first round picks since 2005 and found that cornerbacks were selected more than any position (offense or defense). Here's how corners stack up against the other chess pieces of the passing game, the safeties and wide receivers:

Draft Picks Since 2005
Position
First round
Total
Cornerbacks
23
181
Wide receivers
21
194
Safeties
10
120
 
While corners have been drafted more often in the first round, receivers edge them out in total draft picks. 

The fact that these two positions go toe-to-toe on draft day is further evidence that teams are coveting speed on the edge more than ever. And going hand-in-hand with the theory that teams build from the outside in, corners are valued more than safeties.

It is worth noting that the positional designations in the secondary can be cloudy around draft time. Some college safeties will eventually convert to corner, and vice versa. But you get the picture. No matter how you slice it, defensive backs are in high demand.

It supports the "fight fire with fire" theory we referenced earlier. 

You're gonna throw a four-receiver set at us? No problem. We'll counter with our dime package and feel pretty damn good about our chances.

It's the attitude that all NFL defensive coordinators must have in this day and age. And it's an attitude that personnel guys will surely take with them into their draft war rooms.

Speaking of the draft, we've identified five secondary prospects who produced at a remarkable level during their college years. If we were asked to pick a handful of rookies to put in our dime package this fall, we'd roll with these guys:
 
1. Patrick Peterson, DB/KR, LSU
2010: 42 tackles, four interceptions, six pass break ups, 1.5 tackles for loss, two punt return TDs, and a blocked field goal

2. Prince Amukamara, DB, Nebraska
2009: five interceptions, two sacks and a forced fumble
2010: opposing teams only completed 18 balls against him the entire season

3. Tyler Sash, S, Iowa
Career: 13 interceptions, 14 pass break ups and two forced fumbles
2009-10: 164 tackles (9 for loss)

4. Davon House, DB, New Mexico State
Career: 11 interceptions (3 returned for TDs), 198 tackles, 46 pass break ups and three fumble recoveries

5. Rashad Carmichael, DB, Virginia Tech

10 interceptions over the past two years (2 returned for TDs), standout on Coach Beamer's special teams units

Now, compare our list to the Top 5 defensive backs projected to go early in the draft by the "pundits":

1. Patrick Peterson, DB/KR, LSU – No. 1 above

2. Prince Amukamara, DB, Nebraska – No. 2 above

3. Jimmy Smith, DB, Colorado
2010: 70 tackles, five pass break ups, for tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery
 
4. Brandon Harris, DB, Miami (FL)
2010: 44 tackles, 10 pass break ups, one interception, one forced fumble

5. Aaron Williams, DB, Texas
2010: 13 pass break ups, 46 tackles, one sack, five tackles for loss, three forced fumbles

Two names found their way onto both lists, Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara. Both of these standouts were top producers in college (what we care about), and also happen to possess the measurables that draftniks crave.  In other words, they are a Mel Kiper wet dream.

So, what have we learned here? 

The Cold, Hard Football Facts tell us that teams win NFL games through the air -- both passing the ball and stopping the pass.

In order to gain air superiority, teams are stocking up on cornerbacks on draft day. It's the most frequently drafted position over the past decade.

When the dust settles on this year's draft, expect the trend to continue.

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