|Class:||Senior||40 time:||4.52 (proj.)|
Perhaps more than with any other position group, the standings in the cornerback group for the 2014 NFL Draft are up for grabs. While there are plenty of players who potentially have first-round talent, each of them has their fair share of concerns. Loucheiz Purifoy and Bradley Roby had shaky seasons, Aaron Colvin and Marcus Roberson shot up draft boards and seem to have come back down, and Jason Verrett and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu both are small enough that there are concerns about their ability to hold up in the NFL. In recent weeks, the player who seems to have gained the most popularity, along with Michigan State‘s Darqueze Dennard, is Oklahoma State‘s Justin Gilbert.
Gilbert has the best size of any first-round-worthy cornerback in the draft class, and he complements it with superior physicality and athleticism. He consistently shuts receivers down when he plays back in man coverage, and he’s very good at positioning himself to get interceptions. Perhaps the area where he is most effective is in the end zone where he’s able to box receivers out and use his physicality and jumping ability to prevent them from making touchdown catches. As if he wasn’t valuable enough just as a cornerback, Gilbert is also an explosive kick returner and has returned six kicks for touchdowns during his college career.
While there are plenty of good qualities to Gilbert’s game, he also has some things he needs to work on. He’s a liability when he plays up in press coverage, as he doesn’t usually get a good jump off the ball and tends to let receivers get past him. Relative to other cornerbacks, he doesn’t have the greatest on-field speed either, and he can have a hard time catching up to those receivers. He’ll need to improve on this in order to consistently shut down NFL receivers.
Gilbert’s vaulted to the top of many draftniks’ cornerback boards due to his size as well as his productivity in 2013. While he isn’t as consistently dominant in coverage as Ekpre-Olomu or Verrett his physicality gives him the potential to be a great pro if he can correct his mistakes, and that may be enough to vault him ahead of them come draft time.
- Has a high success rate in man coverage, with his skills being best used when he lines up 7-8 yards off the receiver
- Takes full advantage of his big body and is a heavy hitter
- Vertical jumping ability enables him to go up high for contested balls
- Long arms and has a propensity for swatting balls down
- Especially effective in the end zone where he can get receivers in a box and take advantage of his athletic ability
- Positions himself very well; is always in the right spot to make tackles on receivers or to take the ball away from wide receivers
- Decent tackling form; dives for legs but is physical enough to make it work
- Consistently the first man down field when acting as a gunner on punts
- Has experience returning kicks and has run back six kicks for touchdowns over his four years at OSU
- Doesn’t always get a good jump off the snap and ends up getting burned more than most top cornerbacks
- A liability in press coverage
- Non-factor as a run defender
- Lack of elite game speed
- Change of direction speed leaves something to be desired
- On-field discipline is questionable; takes too many unnecessary penalties, most notably an ejection earlier this season for repeatedly punching a West Virginia receiver
Gilbert has rebounded in 2013 after a rather rough 2012 season which saw him go the entire year without an interception and have some rough games in coverage. This year, Gilbert has six picks, good enough for fourth in the FBS, and he’s returned two of them for touchdowns. Though he’s had some rough patches, such as his game against West Virginia, Gilbert has taken a step forward overall and has been a big part of Oklahoma State’s successful season. It will be a big test for him when he faces Missouri‘s talented passing offense, led by 6-foot-6 sophomore receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.
2014 Draft Projection: Late First/Early Second Round