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Todd McShay analyzes the defensive backs, giving detailed breakdowns of the cornerbacks and safeties from the combine with insight on whose stock is rising and who is sliding on draft boards. To see this and more, become an ESPN Insider.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It was a photo finish between the cornerbacks and the running backs for most disappointing position at this year's combine. The backs won that dubious distinction by a nose, but the corners were undeniably underwhelming.
Take the 40-yard dash. The average 40 in last year's cornerback class was run in 4.45 seconds. There wasn't a single attempt that fast among the 36 cornerbacks at this year's combine.
Another big reason for the disappointment was the poor showing from top prospect Malcolm Jenkins (Ohio State). One of the scouts we spoke with clocked Jenkins' two 40-yard dashes at 4.55 and 4.56. That should translate to official times in the low 4.6 range. That's not top-10 cornerback material, folks. Even worse was the lack of fluidity he showed during drills, in which he struggled to open his hips and change directions smoothly. He struggled so much that we now feel safety is a better fit for him.
Utah's Sean Smith, on the other hand, posted a similar 40 time (an unofficial 4.46) but looked far more comfortable flipping his hips in space. Add in his rare size (6-foot-3½, 214 pounds, 34.5-inch arms), and Smith leaves Indianapolis as the fastest-rising corner prospect in the draft.
Smith's exceptional upside is intriguing, and he could go late in the first round. However, it's important not to lose perspective here. While we believe he's a better fit at safety than corner, we still think Jenkins will be the first defensive back off the board in 2009. Why? He is a big hitter who can stuff the run and make big plays in coverage when he keeps the ball in front of him. Besides, Ohio State lined Jenkins up at safety a fair amount of the time, and he reminds us of Arizona's 2005 first-round pick, Antrel Rolle, who has fared better at safety than he has at corner in the NFL. As a result, we think Jenkins will come off the board in the middle of the first round. Meanwhile, Smith doesn't look as fluid on film as he did in shorts Tuesday, so teams aren't going to just slide him ahead of Jenkins.
And don't forget about Illinois CB Vontae Davis. As expected, Davis impressed teams with his athletic prowess during his time in Indianapolis. He finished with the most reps (25) of 225 pounds on the bench press for his position and measured in at a solid 5-11⅛ and 203 pounds. He posted the second-fastest 40 time (4.49) among the corners, sixth-best three-cone drill time (6.75 seconds) and fifth-best 20-yard shuttle time. (4.07 seconds). In other words, he clearly has the natural ability to make an immediate impact and quickly develop into a starter.
On the other hand, teams are justifiably concerned about him reaching his awesome potential, and he did little to ease those concerns during drills. While he flashed excellent athletic ability and quickness, his technique was awful at times, just as it's been on film. It also is important to point out that he's the younger brother of San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who was drafted with the sixth overall pick in 2006. Vernon had a memorable workout at the combine that year, but he hasn't come close to realizing his potential since. Right or wrong, people are going to compare Vontae to his older brother, so he has to show teams he's willing to work at the game and not rely on his raw talent, which he failed to do Tuesday.