NFL Combine Edition: Top 10 Defensive Backs in 2013 NFL Draft

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SEC Defenders Headline Deep,Versatile Class of Defensive Backs

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NFL passing offenses are getting more sophisticated each year and the role of the defensive back has never been more vital to a team’s success.

Cornerbacks have the daunting task of guarding the likes of Calvin Johnson, AJ Green, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald among others while faced with unfair rules putting the defensive backs in an untenable position.

Safeties have it even harder as they are asked to come up in run support and take on running backs like Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster as well as quarterbacks running out of the pocket like Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton. As if all that wasn’t enough they have to cover tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham in the pass game.

Half of the defenders on my list come from the SEC where many of the nation’s top defenses called home this past season including the Thorpe award winner, a possible top-five pick and three of the top four safeties. You will see the increased emphasis on the safety position due to the added responsibilities they carry in the new age of the NFL and I would not be surprised to see all four hear their names called in the first 32 picks.

These rankings are sure to change after the combine when the results of the 40-yard dash are revealed, which has been known to be a dramatic influence in the final evaluation of cornerbacks. But those teams in need of solidifying their pass defense will have a talented and deep group to pick from in April.

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10. Xavier Rhodes-CB/S-Florida State

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Rhodes has exceptional size for a cornerback at 6-2 and 217-pounds, but I doubt he will be able to stick at that position and will be forced to move to safety because he doesn’t possess great ball-hawking skills and has shown to be a willing participant in run support. Isn’t great in man-to-man coverage and doesn’t have that second gear you like to see in corners. I think he will be able to handle coverage duties as a safety where he can cover a deep half of the field and not be forced to run with a receiver all over the field.

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9. David Amerson-CB-North Carolina State

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Had 13 interceptions in 2011, but has found 2012 to be a bit of a struggle as quarterbacks have picked on him at times, especially vs. Miami, when the Hurricanes threw for more than 500 yards. A bit of a free lancer who has not taken the next step in his development and has been passed as the premiere corner in the draft class. Would have been a top-15 pick last year as a sophomore had he been eligible, but is now likely to be drafted in the middle of the second round. Will he be the player that dominated in 2011 or the 2012 version?

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8. Shawn Williams-S-Georgia

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Williams is a fiery and emotional player that has developed into a leader this season for the Bulldogs. Is one of the best in run support in this year’s group of safeties and at 219 pounds can deliver quite a shot to receivers or ball carriers. Can make plays in the passing game and pick off passes when he is in control of his body, which he needs to improve upon, but has fluid hips and above-average instincts to improve in coverage.

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7. Blidi Wreh-wilson-CB-Connecticut

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At just under 6-1 and 190-pounds Wreh-wilson has great size for a cornerback and the two-time captain at UCONN is a prospect that will need a strong workout at the combine to solidify a spot in the top 45 picks. He excelled against less-than-stellar competition this year, but will need to show he has good speed, acceleration, and change-of-direction skills during positional drills at the combine to put to rest questions about his athleticism. He does a fine job in reading the quarterback and has exceptional instincts and play recognition which allows him to break on passes and close on the ball carrier in run support. Has a wealth of experience as a starter and could be counted on in nickel coverage as a rookie before ascending into a starting job.

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6. Eric Reid-S-LSU

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LSU just seems to turn out defensive backs year in and year out and Reid is one of the finer safeties in this class who has shown to be a terrific leader at Baton Rouge with incredible instincts and recognition skills--which make up for his less-than-elite speed. Is a very smooth athlete who looks like the game slows down for him. Has great height at 6-2 and has shown the propensity to make a big interception, like he did with an interception at the goal line vs. Alabama last season. Like most college safeties could improve in the run game as he is neither a consistent nor violent tackler.

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5. Will Davis-CB-Utah State

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The 6-0 186-pound Davis was the best player on the 11-2 Aggies and really dominated late in the season as Utah State made a push for the conference title. He had interceptions in his team’s last five regular season games and had 17 passes defensed this season. He could enter the first round conversation when scouts see him at the combine, because not many know about the unheralded Davis and should be one of the faster risers up draft boards after February’s combine.

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4. Matt Elam-S-Florida

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One of the toughest dudes in college football and plays bigger than his 200-pound body would suggest. Has a knack for making big plays in critical situations and forced a big fumble in the LSU game this year. Elam is a true leader with great heart and intangibles who makes his teammates better. Willing to come up and help in the run game and has good change-of-direction skills to cover the deep half of the field. Elam played with a lot of talent at Florida and arguably was the best defender on one of the three best defenses in college football this season.

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3. Kenny Vaccaro-S-Texas

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Vaccaro is likely to be the top safety off the board in April, because coverage skills are elite and rank among the best at the position in the last few years. He is reminiscent of former Longhorn Earl Thomas who has developed into a Pro-Bowl player in the NFL, and like Thomas has excellent range and the ability to flip his hips and change direction quickly to close on the ball while in the air. Confident player who relies on his knowledge of the game to make plays with his inherent instincts which are vital at the safety position. Can stand to get better in run support, but is a safety best-equipped at making plays in the passing game.

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2. Johnthan Banks-CB-Mississippi State

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Banks won the Thorpe award given to the nation's best defensive back after returned to school after potentially being a first round pick a year ago. He has superb ball-hawking skills and can take it to the house when he gets the ball in his hands. His experience on special teams as a returner will improve his already high draft stock. Some believe he could be a safety because of his height (6-2) and length, but I believe he is a corner in the mold of Charles Tillman. Banks has had success covering AJ Green, Julio Jones and Percy Harvin among others in the uber-competitive SEC while helping to the renaissance and changing of the culture at Mississippi State. Banks is tied with former first round pick, Walt Harris for the school record for interceptions.

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1. Dee Milliner-CB-Alabama

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Milliner just edges out Banks for the top spot on the rankings because he looks like a more fluid athlete on film. A tick under 6’1 and a biscuit under 200 pounds, Milliner has been taught well by Nick Saban at Alabama. Makes plays in the run game that few corners can make and can run with the top receivers in the SEC. Has above average ball skills and his instincts in reading the quarterback are among the best in the nation. A winner of multiple national titles in college will bring a winning attitude and confidence to whichever team drafts him.