With the combine a little more than a week away, I thought I’d take a quick peek at some of the small school cornerback prospects that will be looking to improve their draft stock. The Panthers will undoubtedly be looking long and hard at this position, not only because they desperately need another cornerback to mirror Gamble’s production, but because there is a bumper crop of talent at this position by most accounts in the scouting community. This is partly why I believe the Panthers won’t select Dre Kirkpatrick with their first round pick, unless of course they are able to make a deal in a trade-back scenario. With that being said, it is impossible to imagine the Panthers will completely pass on this vital team need in the draft, and that’s why I would like to look at some of the lesser known cornerbacks who may already be on the Panthers radar. Of course, the Panthers will be practicing their due diligence while evaluating the corners at the FCS level as well, and there’s certainly no question that these guys are easier to assess than their FCS counterparts. However, if the Panthers are somehow able to unearth a small school gem, they could end up with a player like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie(Tennessee State).
Justin Bethel Presbyterian- 5’11” 196 lbs.
This South Carolinian boasts some impressive measurables. His wingspan is 76 ½ inches, which is the length you would expect from someone who is 6’4”. This naturally gives him a better range to work with when defending the pass. His vertical could be very well be in the 40+ range, and that’s certainly possible when you see his jumping ability in the video below. He also had nine blocked field goals and 196 solo tackles in his career, which broke two Big South records. He is currently projected to go in the 5th or 6th round, but could move up a round or so with an outstanding showing at the combine.
Chris Greenwood Albion College- 6'1" 195 lbs
Needless to say, this Detroit native worked very hard to produce a stellar three year stint at tiny Division III Albion College in Michigan. Because the NFL combine is mainly loaded with players who have competed at the highest levels in the larger schools of the FBS, there must be something special about this guy to get an invite, and, as you can imagine, that something special comes in the form of speed. He could very well run a sub 4.4 forty, which would place him in the top tier of cornerbacks. This three-time Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association first team All-American was also invited to the East-West Shrine Bowl game where he earned the starting nod for the West team. It will be interesting to see how high or low this kid gets drafted, and which team will take a chance on his services. Check out some of his highlights below.
Ryan Steed Furman 5' 10" 190 lbs
Another South Carolina native has made his way onto the list of outstanding small school corners to get invited to the combine. Scouts have described Steed as a smooth athlete who needs to work on his instincts and read/react ability. This critique seems a bit concerning because some athletes seem to be born with those types of intangibles, and if you weren't one of those guys, you might never develop them. However, he's getting some of the highest grades of all the small school corners out there. Perhaps it's because he caught the attention of scouts with his solid play at the Senior Bowl, and he has also played very well each time he was matched up against Brian Quick, a big standout wide receiver at Appalachian State, who will be vying for high round draft consideration himself. If his forty is above the 4.5 range, he may get a shot at safety with the team that ultimately drafts him, but until then, let's call him a corner on the rise. Check out some of his highlights below.
Asa Jackson 5'10" 188 lbs Cal Poly
This First-Team All-Great West Conference corner is another speedster who plays bigger than his height with an excellent 36 inch vertical, and possesses many of the tools to be successful at the NFL level. He has good foot quickness and can sink his hips and stay down when closing on plays in front of him. Additionally, Jackson is also able to run with most any receiver, can track the ball well in the air, and displays excellent wrap-up ability when tackling. I'll let you be the judge after watching this video below.
Josh Norman Coastal Carolina 6'1" 200 lbs
My last guy is not only another South Carolinian, but could be the best of the bunch. Norman is a tall corner who displays loose hips, which allow him to stay glued to his opponents in and out of their breaks. His physicality in press coverage gives him the ability to interrupt a wide receiver's timing by forcing them to redirect their routes. Throw in the fact that he continued raising his stock by playing well all week in the East-West Shrine practices, and he could find himself being drafted as high as the second round. That's exciting news for a small town player from Greenwood, South Carolina.
Let me know in the following poll which cornerback you would most like to see playing for the Panthers next season.