New Orleans Saints CB Tracy Porter was a second-round pick out of Indiana in 2008, and his game-clinching interception of Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLIV was a perfect example of the value solid cover corners have in the NFL.
Porter did a great job recognizing the situation and anticipating and jumping the route of Colts WR Reggie Wayne, and he showed the closing burst, ball skills and finishing speed teams covet in their cornerbacks.
Unlike other skill positions at which teams can find hidden gems in the middle or late rounds -- such as running back or quarterback -- starting cornerbacks almost always seem to come from the early rounds. The good news for NFL defenses is that this year there are seven corners we project as first- or second-round picks who could become starters early in their careers. Here's our breakdown of that group:
Joe Haden, Florida (5-foot-11⅜, 191 pounds); Scouts Inc. grade: 96 -- Haden is the best cover man in the 2010 class. He is physical in coverage, flips his hips easily and is smooth changing directions, and he makes plays in run support as well. He will be the first corner off the board and should be gone in the first 10 picks.
Kareem Jackson, Alabama (5-11, 195); Grade: 92 -- Jackson always puts himself in good position. He plays with balance and keeps his feet underneath him, and his excellent change-of-direction skills help him break on out routes quickly. Jackson also has good ball skills and should be drafted in the middle of the first round.
Kyle Wilson, Boise State (5-9.5. 184); Grade: 91 -- Wilson has moved into the late-first-round discussion with a tremendous showing during Senior Bowl week. His hips and closing burst are very quick, and he shows good instincts.
Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State (6-foot, 192); Grade: 88 -- Cox also showed well at the Senior Bowl. He and Wilson have the quickest hips in this year's class, and Cox plays the ball extremely well. Some off-the-field baggage will likely keep him out of the first round, but Cox certainly has all the physical tools.
Devin McCourty, Rutgers (5-10⅛, 190) -- He does not excel in any one area, but there are really no holes in McCourty's game. He has good technique, quick feet, plays the ball well and plays bigger than his size because he is always in good position. McCourty also brings special-teams value as a returner, gunner and kick-blocker, and he is solidly in the top half of the second round.
Patrick Robinson, Florida State (5-11⅛, 192); Grade: 86 -- Robinson has jaw-dropping physical tools, including exceptional closing burst and extremely good recovery speed. His instincts, discipline and overall awareness are inconsistent, though, and he is prone to getting caught on play-action and double moves. Likely a mid-second-rounder.
Chris Cook, Virginia (6-2⅛, 203); Grade: 83 -- Cook is an intriguing prospect who reminds us of former Utah and current Miami Dolphins CB Sean Smith. He's a big, physical corner who is at his best in press coverage and uses his hands and size to disrupt receivers at the line of scrimmage. He also shows fluid hips for his size, can mirror receivers underneath and has the ability to high-point the ball down the field, but there are questions about his recovery speed.