Darren Page, DLD Lead Scout
An early look at several of the top senior corners entering the 2013 college football season.
Bené Benwikere, San Jose State
An extremely productive junior campaign puts Bené Benwikere on the map of senior cornerbacks who scouts will see plenty of in the months to come. He tallied 7 interceptions and 7.5 tackles for loss in 2012. He’s quite experienced in the Spartans secondary, with 19 career starts to date scattered over his three seasons. Benwikere features as a slot/nickel cornerback primarily, but will play boundary on occasion as well. The first thing that stands out about him is an explosive athleticism when it comes to closing on receivers or closing on ball carriers. He’s able to plant a drive, with an explosive burst and top end speed. The fact that he has a “can’t be taught” trait like this in spades is what allows him to be so disruptive. The rest of his game is mostly question marks. He struggles on the technical side of coverage, where he plays quite high in his backpedal and simply looks uncomfortable. This leads to a tendency to flip his hips prematurely and give receivers big cushions. He even gets spun in complete circles by receivers every once in a while. Benwikere likes to flip his hips to the inside and keep his eyes on the quarterback, so he struggles with out-breaking routes. Against in-breaking routes, he’s able to use his ball location skills and burst to break on the ball and make plays on it. When he arrives, he shows natural ball skills to haul in interceptions and is an explosive leaper who can climb the ladder to get it. He must become a more physical cornerback on all levels though. He seems hesitant to make contact with receivers in their routes and doesn’t show an affinity for press coverage. Benwikere also has an inconsistent streak as a tackler and in run support. There are times where he flies in unabashed and whiffs, times when he tries to avoid contact all-together, and times when he wraps and drives his legs like a seasoned veteran. It’s another inconsistency of Benwikere’s, which is to say he still has quite a ways to go as a cornerback. His athletic ability is going to be the draw, with hopes he can become a menace in man coverage (which he plays mostly for San Jose State). It’s important he develops in the footwork department of his game a senior as well as in the physicality department. Even if that doesn’t happen, you can still bank on some explosive plays that turn games on their heads.
Ross Cockrell, Duke
Coming into his senior season, Ross Cockrell still has big strides to make to become a prospect viewed as any kind of solution for team’s cornerback situations. He’ll be a fourth year starter and the star of the Blue Devils defense in 2013. He’s listed at 6’0” 190, but tends to play much smaller than that in multiple facets. His movement is a positive, with light feet and thin lower half that thrives when it comes to backpeddling and planting to drive on the ball. He’s not the most fluid cornerback in transition, but doesn’t get caught on it often while playing press man. Questions can be asked about his long speed though, where he struggles to keep up with athletic receivers on nine routes and deep posts. Cockrell does the most of his leg work defending receiver in the initial parts of their routes though, which is vital for him. He does well to get his hands to the frames of receivers and limit separation. His foot quickness and ability to maintain contact on receivers with his hands allow him to hang with receivers out of their breaks. Cockrell has a knack for locating the ball in a timely fashion and can make plays on it. Overall, he’s quite an instinctive cornerback who is rarely caught out of position or beaten by double moves. Scouts will have concerns about his build and ability to fight with receivers for balls at the catch point though. He’s quite lean throughout and can be bullied by receivers on occasion. This lack of strength rears its ugly head as a run defender as well. When he comes down into the box to take on blocks and try to make tackles, it rarely goes well. He’s incredibly poor and ineffective as a tackler, diving at the legs of backs and almost always coming up empty. That can only happen if he’s able to shed blocks, which doesn’t happen as often as it should. Taking a big step in the strength and build department is key to Cockrell’s successful transition to the professional game. No matter how agile or instinctive he is as a man coverage cornerback, if he can be consistently pushed aside by receivers without issue then he won’t last in the league. Look for the Duke defender to take a step as a run defender and in the physicality department in pass coverage as a senior. If he can do those things at a higher level, he can become more than just a solid college cornerback.
Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
Will Aaron Colvin be next in the line of disappointing Oklahoma cornerbacks, or can he rise above the rest and prove himself a viable pro prospect? A lot depends on his evolution as a cornerback talent. As it stands, he’s a bit of a one-trick pony who offenses can attack in specific ways. Colvin feeds off predictable quarterbacks with a tendency to stare down receivers. He’s a highly aggressive football player who is an exponentially better cornerback when coming forward than when trailing receivers. He predominantly plays off-man coverage for the Sooners, which allows him to play on his toes. Colvin has light, quick feet to plant and break forward on passes. His instincts are top-notch, picking up on quarterback and receiver tendencies well. When he sees an opportunity to make an interception, he doesn’t hesitate. His confidence and style of always attacking the ball with visions of taking it the other way is commendable. It also gets him into trouble. He can be victimized by double moves and highly skilled quarterbacks may be able to bait him on a more consistent basis. What might be more troubling is a penchant to squat too much on the top of routes, opening himself up to getting beaten over the top when receivers don’t break. He doesn’t have the long speed to make up for it when that happens. His hips aren’t overly fluid, which limits his transition ability to turn and run. For Colvin in pass coverage, it all comes back to getting him into situations where he can make plays on the ball. He’s always aware of where it is, turning his head to locate consistently. He’s even somewhat of an opportunist when situations arise in which he can make big things happen. Colvin offers a bit of reliability as a run defender though. While not overly big or strong, he’s a pretty consistent tackler because of his ability to wrap ball carriers. It’s not always pretty, but he does a good job getting guys to the ground. The Sooners also like to use Colvin as a blitzer from his cornerback spot quite often. He made a number of big plays blitzing quarterbacks as a junior, which can only help his case. Colvin must prove to be cornerback who can take over and play a complete game against #1’s on a more consistent basis. It’s not enough to make one big play before giving up two the other way. He could also help his case by showing an understanding and mastery of zone coverage concepts when given the opportunity, as zone techniques may be more fitting to his skillset at the next level.
Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
Entering his third season as a starting cornerback for the Spartans, Darqueze Dennard is starting to get some attention as an NFL prospect. He’s been a productive member of the Michigan State defense for some time, recording three interceptions in each of his last two seasons. As a whole, Dennard seems to be a better cornerback than the sum of his traits would indicate. That’s probably because of how instinctive and smart he is in coverage. He’s not about to wow anyone athletically, where his feet are a bit slow-reacting, his hips a bit too stiff, and his long speed leaving much to be desired. For a cornerback listed at 5’11”, he seems to have sufficient length though. He does well to maintain contact with receivers without being penalized. He likes to use his hands at the top of receivers’ routes to knock them off balance and negate athletic advantages. When he able to limit the space of a receiver, he’s far more effective in mirroring their movements and redirecting with their cuts. He thrives in zone coverage situations, where he shows a good feel route leveraging and maintaining his position. Dennard loves to read the eyes of quarterbacks and break on the ball to take it the other way. He seems to have a natural feel for doing so. It’s in man coverage situations where he can get into a bit of trouble. He struggles to plant and drive on hook or short routes and can get caught giving too much cushion. He can also be victimized over the top without the necessary recover speed to make up for sloppy transitions. Dennard is a cornerback who coordinators will probably not want in off coverage in many situations. He’s well suited for press coverage and will make the most of his abilities playing zone, especially short zones in a Cover 2 situation. He’s quite reliable as a tackler, but could clean up some inconsistencies. He does well to wrap up and get ball carriers to the ground consistently and flashes an aggressive nature. Overall though, the concerns about Dennard may be that he’s going to max out as a cornerback early. He doesn’t have explosive burst or exceptional athleticism that can take him to the next level, which means his ceiling is lower than a number of other prospects who may not be as effective as he is at the college level. Dennard must maximize the positives in his game as a senior and make progress in the footwork aspect of his game.