Jaguars.com draft analyst Tony Pauline expects two defensive backs to be drafted in the top 10 picks, before a day-long run on cornerbacks begins in the second half of the first round.
"Overall, except for one or two players, it doesn't have the real star quality at the top," Pauline said of the defensive backs crop. " There are no Charles Woodsons at the top, but there's a lot of depth that's going to start with the middle of round one and work its way through the third round."
Pauline considers Miami safety Sean Taylor to be the cream of the defensive backs crop. Taylor, 6-2, 230, is a game-impacting defender who combines athleticism with intensity and intelligence for the position. Taylor is also an outstanding special teams player and can play either safety position.
Some believe Taylor might also offer cornerback potential, but Pauline says no. "He's better facing the quarterback than turning his back to the ball. The only flaw in his game is that he doesn't have top man-to-man coverage skills," Pauline said.
Pauline expects Taylor to be a top-seven pick, with Washington, Detroit and Cleveland being the interested parties.
Virginia Tech's DeAngelo Hall, 5-10, 202, is the best of the cornerbacks. Hall's speed separates him from just about anybody in this draft. He's also a record-breaking punt-returner, and he can change the course of the game when the ball is in his hands. Hall's coverage technique offers room for improvement, but his speed and athletic ability allow him to stay with the receiver anywhere on the field, stay with him out of the break, and he should be a starter early in his career. With improvement, Hall can become one of the game's elite defensive players, and Pauline expects Hall to be off the board no later than with Houston's pick at number 10.
The next-highest-rated cornerback, Dunta Robinson, could fall right on Hall's heels. The 5-10, 186-pound South Carolina star has drawn major interest from Pittsburgh at 11 and from the Jets at 12, and if Robinson goes that quickly, he could cause an earlier-than-expected run at the position.
Robinson is a top athlete who has exceptional feet and plays with explosion. He can run with Hall, is more advanced technically and is a far more physical player who will tackle, not just hit. He'll defend the run and the screen, and might be a perfect fit for the Steelers in the physical AFC North. He will hesitate at times, which Hall never does, but Robinson has excellent coverage skills and promises to get better.
Chris Gamble, 6-1, 192, of Ohio State, is a premium player who will represent an element of risk due to his inexperience. He has played the cornerback position full-time for less than two years and may be limited to press coverage early in his pro career. He takes chances and will get into trouble, but Gamble is big, physical and runs well. He turns his hips naturally and has a burst of closing speed. The underlying skills are there. They only need to be developed. Pauline considers Gamble a late-first-round prospect.
Oklahoma's Derrick Strait, 5-11, 195, is also a late-first-round candidate. Strait is a productive four-year corner whose game is fully developed. No mistakes; not spectacular, but very steady. Strait is technically and mentally sound and will play hurt, which he did through most of his senior season. "He's not going to be an All-Pro, but he won't blow coverages," Pauline said. The rap on Strait is that he's a finesse player; he wants to play the pass, not the run.
Will Poole, 5-10, 182, of USC, may determine his draft position today, when he runs for scouts for a second time. Poole ran so poorly at USC's pro day that he needs to improve dramatically in his run today, or fall deep into the first day. He ran in the high 4.6 range in the USC pro day, then blamed it on being ill. Otherwise, he's a natural cover-corner. He's technically sound and makes a lot of plays on the ball. He's tough and totaled 80 tackles last season. A fast 40 time could put him into the first round, or else. Poole went to USC after being expelled from the Boston College program.
Sean Jones, 6-1, 218, of Georgia, will be the second safety to be drafted. The junior-eligible offers a complete package. He's big, good against the run and the pass; will mix it up but also shows good coverage skills. He doesn't have Taylor's explosiveness, but Jones will go at the top of round two.
Ahmad "Batman" Carroll, 5-9, 195, of Arkansas, is an NCAA sprinter who translates his track speed onto the football field. He defends the run as well as the pass and he's a good athlete with a lot of upside, but he needs to iron out the rough edges in his game. Carroll needs to improve his technique and locate the ball in the air. He's an early-to-mid-second-round prospect.
Two small-college cornerbacks round out the top 10 defensive backs class. Tusculum's Ricardo Colclough, 5-11, 186, and McNeese State's Keith Smith, 5-11, 190, are mid-to-late-second-round prospects.
Colclough is athletic, versatile and excels as a kick-returner. He's a developmental guy with a big upside and could develop into a starting cornerback or even better, a star cornerback. He knocked out scouts at the Senior Bowl, when his week-long development put him on a par with the best prospects by the end of the week.
Smith is a natural cover-corner whose fundamentals are outstanding. He was a shutdown corner on the I-AA level and really stood out at the Senior Bowl.
Pauline also considers Nathan Vasher of Texas, Joey Thomas of Montana State, Jeremy LeSueur of Michigan and Keiwan Ratliff of Florida to be first-day corners. Other first-day safeties are Matt Ware of UCLA, Jason Shivers of Arizona State, Will Allen of Ohio State and Bob Sanders of Iowa.