The cornerback position was an obvious weakness for the Carolina Panthers last season. Several players tried their best to man the position but holes were continually exploited by accurate quarterbacks and explosive wide receivers. Although the team finished 4th overall in passing yards allowed per game, there is still a lot of room for improvement.
Bad corner play cost the Panthers in several tight games. Coverage breakdowns resulted in last-minute losses to both the Saints and Cowboys. In 7 of the Panthers losses, the leading receiver for each opponent averaged over 100 yards per game and a touchdown.
Heading into the upcoming draft, Coach Jon Fox realizes this is a spot that needs attention. While offense is the main priority, I would not be surprised to see Fox's staff take a quality defensive back on day one.
That said, here are a few breakdowns of the likely candidates available in rounds 2 and beyond:
Dejuan Groce, Nebraska (5-10, 190) – Groce is a very smooth cover man, and can tackle adequately. His overall corner skills need work, but his value as an incredible return man (4 punt returns for scores in 2002) will definitely help his stock.
Julian Battle, Tennessee (6-3, 205) – Possessing very good size, Battle started for two years at the University of Tennessee as a juco transfer. Has experience playing both strong safety and cornerback. A physical player, Battle is equipped to press wide receivers and has decent enough speed to run with them. Struggles finding the ball at times, and is susceptible to double moves. Needs a lot of coaching at the next level but has the physical tools to succeed.
Roderick Babers, Texas (5-10, 185) – Very underrated. Has played corner with past first rounder Quentin Jammer ('02) and possible future first rounder Nathan Vasher during his stay at Austin. Despite the hype his teammates receive, Babers is definitely good enough to hold his own. Has experience and moves fluidly. Not the greatest size however and even labels himself "stone hands" in regards to his interception abilities.
Ricky Manning, Jr., UCLA (5-9, 181) – Another experienced senior. His strength is tight man coverage, and he is willing to be aggressive. Manning uses his superior technique and footwork to stay with most wide receivers. His size is a problem though, as he had trouble with larger receivers such as Rashaun Woods. Although he may never be an NFL starter, he could definitely find a place as a quality nickel corner.
Torrie Cox, Pittsburgh (5-10, 185) – A former running back who was converted to corner in college, Cox became one of the better corners in the Big East. Led the team in pass breakups and can deliver a big hit. He also has value as a dangerous kick returner.
Sammy Davis, Texas A&M (6-0, 180) - A sleek cover man who has been a starter since his sophomore year. Davis favors man coverage, where he uses his agility best. A gambler at times, his aggression will sometimes result in pass interference penalties. Has had trouble with taller receivers over the years and could use work on his fundamentals. It is important that he impress at the combine with a strong 40 time.
Bryan Scott, Penn State (6-2, 215) – Scott has been turning heads recently. He was a solid player on a very good Penn State defense this past year. Excellent size for the cornerback position. If Scott runs well at the combine he could really make a name for himself on draft day.
Shane Walton, Notre Dame (5-10, 185) – Walton was the leader of a resurgent and quality Notre Dame defense this past season. An experienced senior, Walton always seemed to find himself in the right place at the right time. He doesn't have great height and is not a burner. Had trouble one-on-one with explosive receivers and will get beat peeking into the backfield. A smart player who will find a way to contribute.
Jason Goss, TCU (5-11, 189) – Goss is a talented cornerback who was a consistent playmaker last year. A big part of the Horned Frogs' top ten defense. Goss is a very quick player with speedy recovery time. A standout in a talented TCU secondary. He has good hands and is always ready to make an interception. Has experience returning punts.
Lynaris Elpheage, Tulane (6-0, 190) – Excelling as a highly dangerous return man throughout his career, Elpheage ranked second in the nation with 8 interceptions. His coverage abilities aren't very refined, and he uses his speed to cover up a lot of mistakes. More promising as a return man prospect than strictly as a cornerback.
Kevin Garrett, SMU (5-9, 196) – Blazing speed. Garrett had a productive career at SMU, starting all four years. He did suffer a severely sprained ACL in the middle of last season but has made a full comeback. His incredible recovery speed is one of his strongest qualities. Like many other corner prospects, Garrett's height is not ideal. He showed toughness against the run but can bite on double moves and play-action.
Drayton Florence, Tuskegee (6-0, 190) – A small-school prospect, Florence has shown NFL ability throughout his career as a Golden Tiger. Exhibits decent tackling ability in run support and is very quick to the ball. His size is a definite plus and certainly helps his draft stock. Florence had a solid week at the Senior Bowl and showed he could compete with top-tier competition.