St. Louis Rams: 2014 NFL Draft Cornerback Prospects
St. Louis Rams Have To Fix Secondary
While the St. Louis Rams pass and run defense have improved through the season, they still have a lot of issues in the secondary after Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins. A serious lack of depth in the secondary is a problem for an NFL team. Obviously, veteran corner Cortland Finnegan's $10 million salary is a steep price considering the fact that passers were nearly perfect against him when he was able to find the field in 2013.
Finnegan has been a shadow of himself since Week 6 of last season and St. Louis is facing a salary cap issue heading into the off-season. Ditching his contract could go a long ways in fixing any area of the team. The offensive line has injuries and many parts headed into free agency themselves. The Rams could easily improve their defense by cutting Finnegan and moving on to younger, more talented players available in the draft.
Johnson has come on strong since taking over for Finnegan and is fitting into the No. 2 corner role quite well across from Jenkins. Jenkins hasn't developed into the shut down corner he was envisioned to be, but he has the skills to be a No. 1 corner in St. Louis. Less guess work would go a long ways for Jenkins' improvement. Who can the Rams go to in the draft and where should they expect those options to be? Continue through the slide show to find the top tier, second tier, and corners whose draft stock has taken a hit this year.
Most Physical Option: Darqueze Dennard
Darqueze Dennard emerged as a top corner after his standout performance this season. At 5-foot-11, he has the size to match up with most receivers in the NFL and it appears that he has the speed to hang with the speedier receivers in college. He put up 59 tackles, 10 passes defended, and four interceptions this year. The best of Dennard is his physicality and tight coverage on the outside. He uses his hands in press coverage better than most players on the Rams already. His physical play does have it's drawbacks as he has been called for pass interference a few times this year.
As someone who watches and analyzes the Rams on a daily basis, I know the one thing St. Louis can't afford is more penalties on defense. It has hurt them all season, but they could definitely use an improvement in press coverage. Dennard is lock to come off of the board early in the first round. It really just depends on what team needs the help at corner.
Justin Gilbert Is Big, Talented, And Physical
Justin Gilbert has the good size at six feet and 194 pounds, that a lot of teams are turning to. His size makes him a good matchup against the big receivers St. Louis will face. He has hauled in 6 interceptions this season to go with 40 tackles, 7 passes defended, and 1 kick return for a touchdown. The Rams needs more help in forcing turnovers on defense. Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree have done their part in forcing fumbles, but the pass defense has struggled to bring in interceptions on a consistent basis.
Gilbert's ball skills would come in handy when QBs are pressured by the defensive line and forced into bad decisions. He is god in bump and run coverage and could help out the kick return unit taking pressure off of Tavon Austin next year. It's not all good news when it comes to Gilbert though. He has been ejected this season and he has made mistakes in coverage. Even with that being said, he should go in the first round of the draft. His size, ball skills, and physical presence will have him being the second or third corner off the board.
Slot Corner: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu stands at 5-feet-10, which shouldn't be an issue in St. Louis where he would most likely fit in as the slot defender. He has good speed, ball skills, and the agility to handle most slot receivers. he has managed to collect 78 tackles, three interceptions, six passes defended and a forced fumble this season. Olomu has good instincts that put him in a good position to make plays.
St. Louis will need to find a replacement for Finnegan as he would be penciled in as the slot defender next season behind Jenkins and Johnson. Olomu could fit that role well next season. Most would have him going late first or early second round. If he measures shorter than listed his stock could fall and lock him into the second round.
Stock Is Rising: E.J. Gaines
E.J. Gaines has seen his stock rise after a strong performance against Mike Evans. He was able to limit Evans to four catches for eight yards in their matchup. Gaines has 68 tackles, four interceptions, two passes defended, and returned a fumble for a touchdown. Gaines has plus coverage ability in man and zone and solid ball skills. Gaines fearless mentality serves him well when left out on an island. He has performed on special teams when asked to do so and emerged as one of the better defensive backs in the SEC. He isn't considered to be a first round pick by most so you could see him go in the second or third round of the draft.
Marcus Roberson has decent height at 6 feet, but he only weighs in at 184 pounds. He has the length and quickness to hang with NFL receivers. A plus defender in man coverage helps him out drastically. Unfortunately for Roberson, he has dealt with an strained PCL and a neck injury in his career. The knee injury has limited him this season. Still, he has been effective when on the field this season. A lot of teams are going to pass over him on day one because of the injury history. Roberson has the potential to go late in the first round, but it would be a risky choice when you haven't seen much of him this season.
Stock Value Is Staggering
Loucheiz Purifoy entered the season as one of the most hyped defenders in college football thanks to his electrifying speed. There is no doubt that the 6-foot-1 corner has all of the potential in the world to be the best corner available in the draft. The issue at hand is how little he has actually produced in college. He has 24 tackles, two interceptions, and seven passes defended. Purifoy's production may be a problem from the build up that surrounded him entering the year. He has the elite speed to keep up with anyone and produce on special teams. He plays confident and isn't afraid to be a physical defender. For someone with that much talent to produce as little as he has leads to a dip in his value. It's been predicted that he could go in the first round or the third. It all depends on what teams believe him to be. Can he live up to the hype or is he just another freak athlete that won't perform to the standards set before him?
Bradley Roby is another defensive back that has seen his stock tank throughout the season. His stock first suffered when he ran into trouble for a bar fight in the off-season and then his play this season left a lot to be desired. He has still put up solid numbers 62 tackles, 13 passes defended, and three interceptions. Three horrible games have left many to wonder just how good he is. His college career suggest that he is capable, physical, and skilled enough to be an effective player at the NFL level. Look for Roby to be a mid second round pick or early third round. It would be extremely to find him any later than that.
Kyle Fuller is a solid 6-foot-0 cornerback that has 24 tackles, two interceptions, and 10 passes defended. His length makes gives him leverage at the line in press coverage. He looks to be quick enough to handle receivers one on one. Fuller struggles to make enough splash plays to be a first round choice even though some teams will like his size and length to think about taking him there. One thing is sure when it comes to drafting defensive backs, you want someone that will make a difference each game and Fuller is capable of that if coached up. He hasn't shown the ball skills to be a true first round pick though. Honestly, it would be better to try and wait until the second or third round to see if he falls to the Rams there.
Rashaad Reynolds is probably smaller than his listed height of 5-foot-11. Falling under that height could hurt him when it comes to the draft. He is a gritty, instinctive football player that has racked up 51 tackles, six interceptions, three passes defended, and two forced fumbles this season. He is producing like a top corner this season which definitely helps state his case. Even if he is a bit shorter than listed he would fit well into the slot defender position. Reynolds is probably a late second round or a great third round option. It is hard to ignore good instincts, ball skills, and a fearless mentality just because of arguable size limitations.
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