Ed. note—The following is the eighth installment in a nine-part series previewing the 2006 NFL draft. This installment features defensive backs.
An abundance of quality cornerbacks and the usual demand at the position could cause a run on cornerbacks late in the first round of this year's NFL draft.
"It's a very good crop; good talent through the first part of the fourth round. You're going to have a lot of starters come out of this group. You're going to have starters who were 'nickel' backs in college; very underrated class," jaguars.com draft analyst Tony Pauline said of this year's class of defensive backs.
The class is headed by Michael Huff of Texas, a safety whose coverage skills are good enough that he'll probably get a look at cornerback first. Huff, 6-0, 204, has 4.35 speed and is fundamentally and mechanically sound. Huff can be used over the slot receiver and figures to be used in "nickel" situations, at the least, if he doesn't make the full-time move to cornerback. Huff supports well against the run but doesn't have classic safety size. Expect Detroit to pick Huff at number nine overall.
Jimmy Williams, 6-2, 213, of Virginia Tech is the opposite of Huff. Williams is a cornerback who will probably make the move to safety. He's got safety size, likes to hit and plays the ball well when facing the quarterback. Williams lacks a backpedal and that'll probably necessitate the move to safety. He's a good candidate to go to Baltimore at number 13.
Tye Hill, 5-9, 185, of Clemson is a track star whose speed translates to the football field. Hill is a classic shut-down corner who quarterbacks avoided last season. The only knock on him is his size. Expect the Chargers to be interested at pick 19.
Jason Allen, 6-1, 209, of Tennessee is a cornerback who runs in the mid-4.4's and would've been a top 12 pick this year had it not been for a major hip injury early last season. Allen has excellent size and is a big hitter. He has solid coverage skills and may also interest Baltimore or last into the latter part of the first round.
Donte Whitner, 5-10, 204, is in the tradition of hard-hitting Ohio State safeties. Whitner has outstanding size and speed (4.41) and is a developing player. Some considered Whitner to have been Ohio State's most consistent player on defense last season. Pittsburgh likes him, if he lasts.
Miami's Kelly Jennings, 5-11, 180, is a terrific cover-corner. He's instinctive, fundamentally sound and doesn't give up many receptions. The downside is he's not physical and shies away from contact. His pass-coverage skills make him a late-first round prospect.
Antonio Cromartie, 6-2, 208, of Florida State is the most intriguing prospect in the draft. Cromartie would've been an almost certain top five pick in the draft, had he not suffered a knee injury last summer that required ACL reconstruction. Cromartie missed all of last season, of course, and normally teams would shy away from a guy who hasn't played in a year, but Cromartie's talents are so sensational that it's likely a team will overlook the ACL and pick him in round one. Cromartie has run in the 4.3's at the combine and at his pro day, at which he provided a full, eye-popping workout for scouts.
Johnathan Joseph, 5-11, 193, of South Carolina, has run in the 4.3's and offers a terrific size/speed combination. He's a developing cornerback who played lights out last season, making quarterbacks look in other directions. He's raw and will make mistakes, but his speed gives him make-up ability. Joseph consistently makes plays on the ball and figures to be a late-first or early-second round pick.
Ohio State's Ashton Youboty, 5-11, 189, flashes shut-down cornerback ability. He has good size and speed but his stock has dropped due to a poor performance in the second half of last season. He's prone to blown assignments, but someone is likely to overlook the downside and focus on Youboty's ability.
Ko Simpson, 6-1, 209, of South Carolina is coming out after just his sophomore season. Simpson has great size and is an intimidating force at safety. He's a big hitter who has good ball skills, but he misses tackles and needs to polish his game. He's likely to be an early to mid-second round pick.
Other defensive back notables are cornerbacks Richard Marshall of Fresno State, Alan Zemaitis and Anwar Phillips of Penn State and Charles Gordon of Kansas, and safety Daniel Bullocks of Nebraska.