Breakdown: Cornerbacks And Safeties

March 28th, 2009
NFL Draft guru Justin Pawlowski explains why Patrick Chung might be a major score for the Bucs in the third round of the draft

NFL Draft guru Justin Pawlowski explains why Oregon's Patrick Chung might be a major score for the Bucs in the third round

The Bucs’ needs in the secondary shouldn’t be overlooked, although it’s easy to gloss over them given the more glaring holes on the defensive line.

But in the off chance Jermaine Phillips’ transition to linebacker is successful, then the Bucs will have an especially thin corps of defensive backs.

Phillips’ move coupled with the loss of Phillip Buchanon to Detroit could have the Bucs targeting one or more of these 14 cornerbacks and safeties in the NFL Draft.

Draft guru Justin Pawlowski, of 620 WDAE-AM, The Sports Animal, gives a complete breakdown of each player below.

There’s no doubt Raheem The Dream, an accomplished secondary coach,  is salivating to land at least one of these guys.{+++}


Malcolm Jenkins – CB – Ohio St.
6’ – 204 lbs – 4.55
Top 20 Pick

Why I’m taking him: Jenkins has been one of the best corners in college football over the past couple of seasons. His size allows him to match up with any receiver. He also is very good in run support as he is an excellent tackler. His size and strength also gives him an advantage at getting a good jam on opposing receivers. Intangibles are excellent, as he brings a very nice work ethic and leadership skills.

Why I’m staying away: I’m still unsure who he is. Is he a corner or a safety? He might have the size, but he doesn’t have the speed or technique to match up with any receiver in football. One of the most important aspects of a corner is being able to flip your hips, and that is one of Jenkins biggest weaknesses.  

Impact on the Bucs roster: Well, the Bucs don’t need a free safety, so if they take Jenkins, it’s strictly as a corner. I do think the Bucs need another corner who thrives in man coverage, but Jenkins isn’t that guy. If the Bucs do take him, he would join the Bucs as a nickel back before eventually replacing Ronde Barber.

NFL Comparison: Antrel Rolle: Almost a perfect comparison here. After not being quick or fast enough to cover NFL receivers, Rolle has saved his career with a move to safety. A similar move could be destined for Jenkins. Rolle, much like Jenkins, was a standout shutdown corner in college, but just wasn’t athletic enough for man coverage in the NFL.

Vontae Davis – CB – Illinois
5’11’’ – 203 lbs – 4.40
1st Round

Why I’m taking him: There’s a lot to like about this kid. We’ll start with his athleticism and speed which might be the best for a corner in this draft. He also has nice size to match up with NFL receivers. Davis is tough, physical, and a reliable tackler. His tackling skills help support the run, but also help him in zone defense. Obviously with his speed and athleticism, Davis can thrive in man coverage as well. I should add that Davis never missed a game due to injury, and his potential might be one of the highest in this draft.  Davis is one of the best athletes in this draft.

Why I’m staying away: Arrogance is big with Davis as he loves himself. Now, this can be good for a defensive back, but Davis still has a lot to learn at the position to be good in the NFL. Speaking of learning, Davis has clashed with coaches at Illinois, and doesn’t take instruction very well.

Impact on the Bucs roster: Let me start by saying that the Bucs took a corner last year who had all the same characteristics that Davis possesses. I think Davis, if he gets his head on straight, would be an excellent pick for the Bucs. The Bucs do need another corner who can play in man coverage. Davis would come in as the 3rd corner and nickel back before eventually replacing Ronde Barber.

NFL Comparison: Darrelle Revis: I remember when Revis came out, and I thought that he had all the tools you want in a shutdown corner. Davis possesses all of those same characteristics. Also, that year, everyone thought Leon Hall was the best corner, but I stood by my statement that Revis was and he ended up being selected before Hall. I’m getting similar feelings this year between Davis and Malcolm Jenkins. The difference this year is that Davis might be the best corner available, but Jenkins has the ability to play safety and still might be the best defensive back.

Darius Butler – CB – UCONN
5’10’’ – 183 lbs – 4.53
1st – 2nd Round

Why I’m taking him: Butler’s on the rise, and why shouldn’t he be? He’s got a ton of skill and discipline to play corner in the NFL. He’s an excellent athlete with good speed, but it’s his ball skills and hands that make him stand out. Although I hate to say it because I didn’t get along with him, Butler’s coach Randy Edsall makes sure his players are disciplined when they leave UCONN, and Butler has tremendous discipline. Butler’s also tough and comes up to help against the run.  He’s smart, a team leader, and was a captain at UCONN.

Why I’m staying away: Bulk and strength are my biggest questions with Butler.  With those factors, durability has to come into question until Butler does add some weight. Butler could also improve the technique in his backpedal.

Impact on the Bucs roster: Butler is definitely on the rise and could go somewhere in the 20’s of the 1st round. So, do the Bucs draft him at 19? It’s possible, but I wouldn’t call it probable. Butler would be a good fit though, with his ability to play man coverage.

NFL Comparison: Asante Samuel: With proper time to develop, Butler has the potential to be a shutdown corner like Samuel. Butler reminds me of a player Bill Belichick or Bill Parcells would draft. Both Samuel and Butler excel in man coverage.

Sean Smith – CB/S – Utah
6’3’’ – 214 lbs – 4.47
1st – 2nd Round

Why I’m taking him: I’m not sure how you could not love Smith’s combination of size and speed. With that size, Smith matches up great with taller receivers, and really gives his defense an advantage in the red zone against teams with taller receivers for just that. Also, being a former receiver himself, Smith has excellent ball skills. He is very quick to support the run and uses his speed to attack screens and passes in the flat. Yes, he is a reliable tackler.

Why I’m staying away: This is another player who we don’t know which position he’s going to play, either corner or safety. Although he does have a lot of natural gifts, his hips are not fluid, and he does not transition well to run with a receiver.  He’s also extremely raw and needs to get better technique.  By saying he’s raw, what I mean is he’s only played defense for 2 years. That includes college and high school.

Impact on the Bucs roster: I was poking around different websites the other day and one had Smith rated as a 2nd or 3rd round pick. If he’s available in the 3rd round, I’d be shocked if Raheem The Dream didn’t pull the trigger on a position he knows best.  Don’t bank on him being there.  Smith needs to improve his technique, but the natural gifts are there.  If drafted by the Bucs, he could come in and learn behind Ronde Barber before starting opposite Aqib Talib.

NFL Comparison: Nnamdi Asomugha: When drafted, no one knew who Asomugha was, and some people still don’t. Since then, he has improved his technique and is now one of the top corners in the NFL. If given the chance, Smith could follow this path. It will come down to the team that drafts Smith and whether they view him as a corner or a safety. Personally, I’d try him at corner.

Alphonso Smith – CB – Wake Forrest
5’9’’ – 193 lbs – 4.53
1st – 2nd Round

Why I’m taking him: Smith has terrific technique, and might have the best footwork of any corner in this draft. He is an excellent athlete who displays outstanding instincts and superb hands. He’s also a physical corner who will come up and help against the run. Smith has a ton of experience and is a very confident player, but not overly confident.

Why I’m staying away: We start here with Smith’s lack of ideal height and speed. However, unlike DJ Moore below, Smith has excellent technique and footwork to allow him to still be successful in either man or zone coverage.  With his lack of size, Smith won’t match up well with taller receivers and might get overpowered by stronger receivers.

Impact on the Bucs roster: The 19th pick might be a little high for Smith, and I don’t see him falling to the third round, so unless a trade is made, don’t expect him in pewter and red. If he did somehow get drafted by the Bucs, expect him to be the Bucs nickel back in 2009 before battling for the starting job in 2010.

NFL Comparison: Antoine Winfield:  Smith and Winfield both lack ideal size, but make up for it with physical play, technique, and ballhawking skills. Winfield has gone on to have a very successful career, and I expect much of the same from Smith.

DJ Moore – CB – Vanderbilt
5’9’’ – 192 lbs – 4.57
2nd Round

Why I’m taking him: Work ethic stands out when breaking down Moore. He is a very intelligent kid who was a member of the French honors organization and always did whatever the coaches told him to. He also has very good quickness and agility. Moore has great hands and rarely drops a pass in his hands. Because of this, he has played both defense and offense. His quickness and agility also make him a threat on punt returns as he always makes the first defender miss.

Why I’m staying away: I’m worried about Moore’s straight line speed. With his lack of speed, I have doubts he can keep up with the faster receivers on seem routes. He also lacks ideal height to battle taller receivers. Moore’s probably not a good fit for defenses with man coverage, and might not be a good fit on any defense, and might have to try offense due to his excellent hands.

Impact on the Bucs roster: I’m projecting Moore as a 2nd round pick because even though he lacks ideal height and speed, he does have a lot of positives on his side. The Bucs don’t have a 2nd round pick, but if Moore falls to the 3rd round, I’d be interested to see if the Bucs would consider him.  He isn’t a perfect tackler, but his skill set reminds me a lot of Ronde Barber.

NFL Comparison: Ronde Barber: Well, I guess I should have saved my last sentence for this section. The year Barber was drafted, he was not tall enough, was too slow, and couldn’t cover NFL receivers. It worked ok for him. I see a lot of similarities with Moore. He possesses so many top intangibles including an amazing work ethic and intelligence that should help him progress as a player.

Coye Francies – CB – San Jose St.
6’ – 185 lbs – 4.56
2nd – 3rd Round

Why I’m taking him: I think physically, there isn’t anything to dislike about Francies. He is gifted. He’s got great height with long arms; he’s very athletic, excellent speed, great feet, and changes direction well.  Francies is also very physical and a good tackler.  Francies has tons of upside and potential, and is willing to work to achieve it.

Why I’m staying away: Experience is a concern with Francies since he only played in two complete seasons during his collegiate career. That brings us to my other concern with Francies; his character. Francies was dismissed from Oregon St.  for being arrested and charged with possession of a loaded firearm. He must improve his technique and footwork.

Impact on the Bucs roster: Where Francies goes depends on which team is willing to give him the time to grow.  The payoff could be huge if allowed to work towards potential. If available in the 3rd round, Francies would have a good opportunity here to learn behind Ronde Barber for a few years before taking over.

NFL Comparison: Al Harris: Al Harris came into the NFL as a 6th round pick by the Bucs out of Texas A&M-Kingsville needing time to develop into what he became. I see a lot of those same characteristics in Francies; however, Francies won’t last until the 6th round of this draft. Francies might have more potential then Harris ever had.

Victor “Macho” Harris – CB – Va. Tech
5’11’’ – 198 lbs – 4.51
2nd – 3rd Round

Why I’m taking him: When watching Harris, the thing that pops off the screen is his toughness and physical play.  Also, I was impressed with his ball skills. I thought he found the ball well, and made some impressive plays. He’s got great size and can deliver the big hit at anytime. With that being said, he’s obviously great in run support and an excellent tackler.

Why I’m staying away: I’m afraid Harris could be limited to a “Tampa 2” type of defense in the NFL. Although he ran a 4.51 40-yard dash at his pro day, he ran it on turf which is a much faster surface making his time deceiving. That lack of speed might make it tough to turn and run with some of the faster receivers in the NFL. He can also play way to emotionally and draw penalties because of it.

Impact on the Bucs roster: Although I love the toughness Harris brings, I don’t think he’d fit in with what the Bucs are doing on defense now.  He’s a much better fit for a “Tampa 2” defense which, oddly enough, is not run by Tampa anymore.  If selected, I’d hope it would be later rather than earlier.

NFL Comparison: Charles Tillman: Obviously, Tillman playing in the “Tampa 2” defense in Chicago is a good match for Harris.  Who knows, Chicago might be a good fit for Harris as well.

Jairus Byrd – CB – Oregon
5’10’’ – 207 lbs – DNP
3rd Round

Why I’m taking him: Byrd’s a physical player who’s had a lot of success at Oregon over the course of his collegiate career. He’s never been injured, so durability is a big plus. He’s a ball hawk who locates the ball in the air and goes for it, but also is excellent in run support. He takes excellent angles and delivers big hits.

Why I’m staying away: Speed’s the big question with Byrd. He lacks a burst to close on receivers. He also lacks a 2nd gear to keep up with the faster receivers down the field.

Impact on the Bucs roster: Byrd probably won’t thrive in man coverage in the NFL. With that being said, he’s a good player, and if he falls to the 4th round, I’m not opposed to the Bucs taking a flyer on him. He’d be a nice nickel back for the Bucs.

NFL Comparison: Cedric Griffin: The Vikings corner has fit in very well with the “Tampa 2” defense.  Byrd might have to eased into the line up, but has the ability to start in the right system.

Mike Mickens – CB – Cincinnati
5’11’’ – 184 lbs – 4.53
3rd – 4th Round

Why I’m taking him: I’m taking Mickens because I feel I can get good value on a player with nice height, long arms, and good ball skills. I also like the way Mickens helps in run support and that he’s a very reliable tackler. You can’t forget experience either as Mickens was a 4-year starter at Cincinnati.

Why I’m staying away: I’m not a fan of Mickens lack of strength and bulk. This will hurt him against stronger receivers in the NFL. I also don’t like Mickens lack of straight-line speed. This will hurt him against faster receivers.  In conclusion, Mickens should do fine against taller lanky receivers with no speed.

Impact on the Bucs roster: Mickens is not a good fit for the Bucs. He doesn’t have the speed or strength to play man coverage in the Bucs new defense.  If they selected him, he would be a solid nickel back.

NFL Comparison: Jabari Greer: Like Greer, Mickens won’t be more than a solid backup and solid special teams player. Mickens does have some playmaking ability, but his lack of strength and speed will hurt him.


Louis Delmas – FS – Western Michigan
5’11’’ – 202 lbs – 4.53
2nd Round

Why I’m taking him: I like my safeties to be tough and physical. Delmas is just that. He fills nicely against the run and delivers the big hit. He also has excellent awareness and instincts which help him in the pass game. He possesses great hands and always seems to find himself around the action. Delmas has proved over his collegiate career that he has a will to be the best he can be, and he displays that with a great work ethic and excellent leadership skills.

Why I’m staying away: I’m slightly worried, after watching film, about his consistency in taking proper angles.  To me, this is extremely important for a safety. What also hurts Delmas is that he tends to be overly aggressive at times putting him out of position.  I also feel it might take Delmas some time in adjusting to the NFL.

Impact on the Bucs roster: I grade Delmas as a pure 2nd round pick. He might sneak into the 1st round, but he has 2nd round value. With that being said, and the Bucs not desperate for a safety, odds are that Delmas won’t be wearing a Bucs uniform in 2009.  

NFL Comparison: Michael Griffin: When the Titans drafted Griffin a few years back, he had a lot of the same qualities as Delmas, not to mention the same hair. Griffin has learned to control his aggression and take better angles, and I expect Delmas to do the same.  It might just take some time.

William Moore – FS – Missouri
6’ – 221 lbs – 4.49
2nd Round

Why I’m taking him: At the safety position, you have to love the size and speed combination Moore brings. He’s an intimidating hitter over the middle that’s always looking to deliver the big blow. The good part with Moore is that he also has the speed to cover deep.  Moore was very productive at Missouri, but his interception numbers dropped in 2008 as he was told to play closer to the line of scrimmage because the Tigers front 7 needed help against the run. This tells me that Moore is willing to do whatever it takes to help his team win.

Why I’m staying away: I guess the main concern with Moore would be durability. He’s dealt with injuries to his legs, feet, and shoulders. He isn’t the best cover safety either, as he plays best with the action in front of him. Remember when I called him a big hitter? He is. The problem is that he fails to wrap up some times, and this leads to missed tackles.

Impact on the Bucs roster: Much like Delmas, I see Moore as a solid 2nd round selection. The Bucs don’t have a 2nd round pick or a need for safety, so the likelihood is that Moore will be drafted by another team.

NFL Comparison: Kerry Rhodes: I’ve felt Rhodes has gone under the radar in the NFL. He’s a big hitter and a very good safety for the Jets. Moore’s play reminds me a lot of Rhodes.

Patrick Chung – SS – Oregon
5’11’’ – 212 lbs – 4.54
2nd – 3rd Round

Why I’m taking him: Chung reminds me of the prototypical strong safety. He is very tough and physical, and is a very reliable tackler. He had an extremely productive career at Oregon, never missed a game due to injury. Unlike some of the other safety prospects, I feel Chung can bring an impact as a special teams player as well. He’s got a hell of a work ethic, and is a hell of a leader.

Why I’m staying away: Chung isn’t the fastest player on the field, and because of this, he might lack a little in coverage. Another thing I noticed is that Chung tends to play too aggressively and bites on play action passes.

Impact on the Bucs roster: I want the Bucs to draft Chung, maybe more than any other prospect in this year’s draft.  The main reason I’d want this is because I’ll be the first one buying a jersey with “Wang-Chung” on the back.  Anyways, I like Chung. And his potential value to the Bucs would increase if Jermaine Phillips does, in fact, move to linebacker. If available in the 3rd round, I would not mind one bit to see Chung in a Bucs uniform.

NFL Comparison: Gibril Wilson:  Wilson’s never been the biggest safety, but always seemsto play big.  Chung plays a similar brand of football.  

Rashad Johnson – FS – Alabama
5’11’’ – 203 lbs – 4.53
3rd – 4th Round

Why I’m taking him: Instincts stand out to me when watching Johnson play. He is so quick to recognize either run or pass, and always puts himself in position to make a play. He is also very smooth and has fluid hips helping him in coverage. He’s a sure tackler, tough, smart, and an outstanding leader.

Why I’m staying away: I’m not overly enthused with his size. Even though he measures in at the same size as Delmas, he seems to play a lot smaller, and that’s not good. Because he doesn’t play as big as he should, he sometimes gets caught up in the wash of the offensive and defensive lines, preventing him from making a play.  Character could be an issue as well, as Johnson was arrested in February of 2008 for disorderly conduct.  Then again, I always feel I’m exuding “disorderly conduct.”

Impact on the Bucs roster: I’m not so sure Johnson would be a good pick for the Bucs. With the Bucs having so many other pressing needs, Johnson doesn’t impress me enough to forget about other areas of need to draft him.

NFL Comparison: Tyrell Johnson:  The Vikings have had high hopes for Tyrell Johnson, who will finally get an opportunity to start consistently in 2009 with the departure of Darren Sharper. Rashad Johnson could be in a similar boat.  He’s got talent and good instincts, but it might take a few years until he gets on the field.

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