Draft prospect analysis: Defensive backs

Posted Apr 22, 2012

Ranking the defensive backs:

1. CB Morris Claiborne LSU 6-0/171 4.5
2. CB Dre Kirkpatrick Alabama 6-1/186 4.49
3. S Mark Barron Alabama 6-1/214 4.56
4. CB Stephon Gilmore South Carolina 6-0/190 4.43
5. CB Janoris Jenkins North Alabama 5-10/191 4.46
6. S Harrison Smith Notre Dame 6-1/213 4.57
7. CB Josh Robinson UCF 5-10/181 4.33
8. CB Brandon Boykin Georgia 5-10/183 4.44
9. CB Trumaine Johnson Montana 6-2/204 4.61
10. CB Alfonzo Dennard Nebraska 5-10/200 4.55

Others: CB Dwight Bentley, Louisiana-Lafayette; S Brandon Taylor, LSU; S Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State; CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech; CB Josh Norman, Coastal Carolina; CB Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma; CB Chase Minnifield, Virginia; CB Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt; S Antonio Allen, South Carolina; S Trenton Robinson, Michigan State.

(Note: Position ratings on are based on research with no input from Lions coaches or scouts.)

Lions depth chart: The Lions return 21-of-22 starters from last year's 10-6 team. When Eric Wright left in free agency to sign with the Buccaneers, it left the starting right corner spot vacant. Aaron Berry, Jacob Lacey and Alphonso Smith will all be competing for that spot, but expect a rookie cornerback – or two – to be in the mix, too. Chris Houston, who's entering the final year of his contract, returns as the starting left cornerback. Louis Delmas and Amari Spievey return as the starting safeties. Erik Coleman, Don Carey, John Wendling and Ricardo Silva are in reserve. Expect the Lions to add talent and depth to both positions in the draft.

Reviewing the 2011 DB draft: 53 were drafted – 39 cornerbacks and 14 safeties. Of the three cornerbacks taken in the first round – Patrick Peterson (Cardinals), Prince Amukamara (Giants) and Jimmy Smith (Ravens) – only Peterson had a big impact for his team.

Peterson started at cornerback for the Cardinals and was a solid starter, but his true impact came on special teams. He tied the NFL record with four punt return touchdowns in season and was named to the All Pro and Pro Bowl teams as a returner.

2011 marked the third-consecutive draft that saw cornerbacks selected more than any other position. The evolution of the passing game, and the fact that cornerbacks are often the most injured players on the field, has made cover men a valuable asset in the draft.

Lions 2011 pick: The Lions didn't select a cornerback or safety in last year's draft. It's been since 1998 (Terry Fair) since the team selected a cornerback in the first round of the draft. The Lions selected Amari Spievey in the third round of the 2010 draft as a cornerback, but converted him to safety in training camp.

Tim and Mike on the linebacker Class

Twentyman on the 2012 draft class: In terms of talent, there are four players who have separated themselves from the rest of the cornerback class, but only three – Morris Claiborne, Dre Kirkpatrick and Stephon Gilmore – will be drafted in the first round. The fourth, North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins, is probably the second-most talented corner in the draft, but is on a free fall because of character concerns. If Jenkins is able to clean up his act, some team is getting a heck of a football player, and a heck of a bargain, in the second or third round. This cornerback class is deep and teams might able to snag a starter from the second-tier pool of players led by Central Florida's Josh Robinson, Georgia's Brandon Boykin and Montana's Trumaine Johnson.

The safety class is the weakest in years, but is headlined by a top 15 pick in Alabama's Mark Barron.

O'Hara on the 2012 draft class: Detroiters should be able to identify what the Big 3 means, and in this case it's the top three cornerback prospects – Morris Claiborne, Dre Kirkpatrick and Stephon Gilmore. Janoris Jenkins of North Alabama has been recalled before getting to the showroom. He has first-round talent but the drug and off-field issues that got him booted out of Florida make him a risk.

There are intriguing prospects after the first round, including lanky Trumaine Johnson of Montana and speedster Josh Robinson of Central Florida. Mark Barron is the best in a class of safeties that isn't particularly strong.

Twentyman on the DB draft impact on Lions: Lions head coach Jim Schwartz was candid about his secondary at the NFL league meetings last month when he said, "We still have work to do there."

The Lions are in need for an upgrade in both talent and depth at cornerback and safety. The Lions didn't have the depth to overcome injuries to Delmas and Houston at the end of last year and were torched because of it. The Lions likely address the secondary in the first two rounds of the draft. Best-case scenario is that Gilmore or Kirkpatrick are available, either at No. 23 or via trade. Would Jenkins come into the conversation in the second round?

O'Hara on the DB draft impact on the Lions: Getting shredded by Matt Flynn for six TD passes and Drew Brees for three in the last two games pointed up the need to upgrade the secondary. Peter King of Sports Illustrated projected trading down six spots on the first round to draft an offensive linemen. It would make more sense to trade up six spots to draft Gilmore or Kirkpatrick.