Florida’s Joe Haden looks to confirm status as NFL draft’s top cornerback

INDIANAPOLIS — Joe Haden wanted to play quarterback when he arrived at the University of Florida, but his plans quickly changed.
 
"They had somebody named (Tim) Tebow there," Haden said.
 
No worries. Plan B worked out splendidly for Haden. He switched to cornerback, became one of the best in the country and arrived at the NFL Combine hoping to be the top cornerback selected in the draft.

A quick 40 time could erase the doubts about Joe Haden.
A quick 40 time could erase the doubts about Joe Haden.

Haden could be a top-10 pick, but the cornerbacks work out Tuesday and the competition at that position is intense.  Here’s a rundown on some top prospects, all likely to be gone by the end of the second round:

Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State

What’s to like: Cox can help a team immediately as an explosive returner. That skill alone should keep him from dropping lower than the second round.

What’s not to like: Cox raised a red flag at the Cotton Bowl, when he was suspended for the game for missing curfew twice. And even Cox admits that his play fluctuated from game to game in college. To be a first-round pick, he needs a strong workout Tuesday and to convince teams he will not cause distractions. "He’s got first-round talent, but I give him a second-round grade," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said.

Who might take him: Ravens, Packers

Joe Haden, Florida

What’s to like: A tremendous athlete who is also physical, Haden is generally considered the top cornerback prospect. "I knew he had great feet and change of direction skills just seeing him on film," Mayock said. "What I really liked when I put on the tape was how physical the kid is, both in run support and tackling in the open field. He’ll take on blockers."

What’s not to like: There are still questions about Haden’s speed. He needs a sub-4.5 40-yard dash on Tuesday to erase them. (UPDATE: Haden did not crack 4.5 in his 40-yard dash on Tuesday)

Who might take him: Browns, 49ers

Kareem Jackson, Alabama

What’s to like: Jackson tackles well and his technique is sound, which should help him during Tuesday’s workouts. After playing in Nick Saban’s defensive system, he should be more NFL-ready than most corners. "We play the NFL-type defense," Jackson said. "It shows my mental capacity is maybe a lot stronger than some of the other players in the draft."

What’s not to like: Jackson may have benefited from staying another year in school. Leaving early may make him a second-round pick rather than a first. "He (Saban) thought I should come back, but I was pretty confident in my decision and I stuck with it," Jackson said.

Who might take him: Falcons, Patriots

Jerome Murphy, South Florida

What’s to like: Murphy has good size (6-1, 195) and has shown the ability to play zone, man-to-man or press coverage. He may be the most physical corner in the draft. "I came into college playing safety, so that’s where I get that physical mentality from," Murphy said.

What’s not to like: Murphy must prove he has the speed and agility to keep up with faster wide receivers, which is why Tuesday’s workouts will be important.

Who might take him: Packers, Vikings

Devin McCourty, Rutgers

What’s to like: He is probably the best special teams player among the cornerbacks, which will help him make an immediate contribution. He also knows what it takes to play in the NFL because his twin brother, Jason, plays for the Titans. "It was very beneficial just talking to (Jason) throughout the year about football and life," McCourty said.

Patrick Robinson is a ballhawk and little else, in one observer's mind.
Patrick Robinson is a ballhawk and little else, in one observer’s mind.

What’s not to like: He isn’t considered as fast as some of the other top corners, but he could change that opinion with a quick time during the 40-yard dash. "I know I have to run fast and really excel at all the drills," he said.

Who might take him: Falcons, Jets Packers, Patriots, Ravens 

Patrick Robinson, Florida State

What’s to like: Robinson has excellent ball skills and can bait quarterbacks into throwing interceptions. He had an interception in five consecutive games in 2007, making quarterbacks more reluctant to throw his way.

What’s not to like: He is not a physical player and sometimes allows receivers to break tackles. "The biggest question about him is his lack of consistent technique and lack of physicality," Mayock said. "He’s a gifted, gifted kid, but he’s not a trained killer. He will not consistently hit people."

Who might take him: Ravens, Patriots, Vikings

Kyle Wilson, Boise State

What’s to like: Wilson shined during Senior Bowl week, which increased the talk that he might be a first-round pick. He is also a dangerous return man,

What’s not to like: Some teams wonder if Wilson (5-10, 194 pounds) is big enough to hold his own against tall receivers, particularly in the red zone. "I don’t think I have a lack of size," Wilson said. "I just try to be extra physical."

Who might take him: Falcons, Ravens

This story appears in March 2’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today for free.

Clifton Brown covers the NFL for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.

INDIANAPOLIS — Joe Haden wanted to play quarterback when he arrived at the University of Florida, but his plans quickly changed.
 
"They had somebody named (Tim) Tebow there," Haden said.
 
No worries. Plan B worked out splendidly for Haden. He switched to cornerback, became one of the best in the country and arrived at the NFL Combine hoping to be the top cornerback selected in the draft.

A quick 40 time could erase the doubts about Joe Haden.
A quick 40 time could erase the doubts about Joe Haden.

Haden could be a top-10 pick, but the cornerbacks work out Tuesday and the competition at that position is intense.  Here’s a rundown on some top prospects, all likely to be gone by the end of the second round:

Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State

What’s to like: Cox can help a team immediately as an explosive returner. That skill alone should keep him from dropping lower than the second round.

What’s not to like: Cox raised a red flag at the Cotton Bowl, when he was suspended for the game for missing curfew twice. And even Cox admits that his play fluctuated from game to game in college. To be a first-round pick, he needs a strong workout Tuesday and to convince teams he will not cause distractions. "He’s got first-round talent, but I give him a second-round grade," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said.

Who might take him: Ravens, Packers

Joe Haden, Florida

What’s to like: A tremendous athlete who is also physical, Haden is generally considered the top cornerback prospect. "I knew he had great feet and change of direction skills just seeing him on film," Mayock said. "What I really liked when I put on the tape was how physical the kid is, both in run support and tackling in the open field. He’ll take on blockers."

What’s not to like: There are still questions about Haden’s speed. He needs a sub-4.5 40-yard dash on Tuesday to erase them. (UPDATE: Haden did not crack 4.5 in his 40-yard dash on Tuesday)

Who might take him: Browns, 49ers

Kareem Jackson, Alabama

What’s to like: Jackson tackles well and his technique is sound, which should help him during Tuesday’s workouts. After playing in Nick Saban’s defensive system, he should be more NFL-ready than most corners. "We play the NFL-type defense," Jackson said. "It shows my mental capacity is maybe a lot stronger than some of the other players in the draft."

What’s not to like: Jackson may have benefited from staying another year in school. Leaving early may make him a second-round pick rather than a first. "He (Saban) thought I should come back, but I was pretty confident in my decision and I stuck with it," Jackson said.

Who might take him: Falcons, Patriots

Jerome Murphy, South Florida

What’s to like: Murphy has good size (6-1, 195) and has shown the ability to play zone, man-to-man or press coverage. He may be the most physical corner in the draft. "I came into college playing safety, so that’s where I get that physical mentality from," Murphy said.

What’s not to like: Murphy must prove he has the speed and agility to keep up with faster wide receivers, which is why Tuesday’s workouts will be important.

Who might take him: Packers, Vikings

Devin McCourty, Rutgers

What’s to like: He is probably the best special teams player among the cornerbacks, which will help him make an immediate contribution. He also knows what it takes to play in the NFL because his twin brother, Jason, plays for the Titans. "It was very beneficial just talking to (Jason) throughout the year about football and life," McCourty said.

Patrick Robinson is a ballhawk and little else, in one observer's mind.
Patrick Robinson is a ballhawk and little else, in one observer’s mind.

What’s not to like: He isn’t considered as fast as some of the other top corners, but he could change that opinion with a quick time during the 40-yard dash. "I know I have to run fast and really excel at all the drills," he said.

Who might take him: Falcons, Jets Packers, Patriots, Ravens 

Patrick Robinson, Florida State

What’s to like: Robinson has excellent ball skills and can bait quarterbacks into throwing interceptions. He had an interception in five consecutive games in 2007, making quarterbacks more reluctant to throw his way.

What’s not to like: He is not a physical player and sometimes allows receivers to break tackles. "The biggest question about him is his lack of consistent technique and lack of physicality," Mayock said. "He’s a gifted, gifted kid, but he’s not a trained killer. He will not consistently hit people."

Who might take him: Ravens, Patriots, Vikings

Kyle Wilson, Boise State

What’s to like: Wilson shined during Senior Bowl week, which increased the talk that he might be a first-round pick. He is also a dangerous return man,

What’s not to like: Some teams wonder if Wilson (5-10, 194 pounds) is big enough to hold his own against tall receivers, particularly in the red zone. "I don’t think I have a lack of size," Wilson said. "I just try to be extra physical."

Who might take him: Falcons, Ravens

This story appears in March 2’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today for free.

Clifton Brown covers the NFL for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.

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