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PACKERDRAFT 2008 CORNERBACK

By Jerry Gilbert

The Green Bay Packer cornerback situation is well known to Packer fans. Al Harris, age 33, and Charles Woodson, only 31 have to be rated one of the best starting tandem in the NFL. However, last year, as in previous years, the nickel cornerback was not nearly as effective. Jarrett Bush began the season, but as the year went on, a total unknown named Tramon Williams stepped in and, after a brief learning experience, he brought solid play to the position. Also in the mix for next season is the best athlete of the group, Will Blackmon, but Blackmon has, over the last two seasons, has spent more time recovering from injuries than playing. He needs to show the world that he can stay healthy.

Even if the starters were not candidates to hit the point of diminishing ability in the next couple of years, it would be a good idea to add a potential starter to this mix. Because they are both over 30, the addition of at least one new cornerback is a high priority for the upcoming draft. Fortunately, there are a number of former collegians who could fit in.

While watching the Senior Bowl, I became a huge fan of Dominique Rogers-Cromartie 6-2 184 Tennessee State. Some of my evaluation may have come from the last name. I was a huge fan of Antonio Cromartie two years ago. He was drafted by San Diego 13 picks after Green Bay selected A.J. Hawk, and Cromartie became a star. The younger Cromartie is his cousin, and the knock on this outstanding athlete was his small college background. At the Senior Bowl, he easily covered all the big name receivers, stepped up and tackled big running backs and made game changing interceptions. At the Combine, he was the fastest and the most impressive competitor. Unfortunately, Cromartie will be gone long before the Packers select at number 30, unless General Manager Ted Thompson breaks a career long tradition and trades up in the first round. Watch for flying pigs if that happens.

On the positive side, the first round and later rounds will provide a number of quality cornerbacks who could help the Packers Most mock drafts predict that Leodis McKelvin of Troy and Mike Jenkins of South Florida will join Cromartie as early choices in the first round. Three additional cornerbacks are placed in the first round by some mocks. They are Antoine Cason 6-0 191 Arizona, Aqib Talib 6-1 202 Kansas and Brandon Flowers 5-10 189 Virginia Tech. Any of the three could be available at number 30, and each has supporters and detractors.

My pick would be Aqib Talib who has the best size, and he produces turnovers. He is only a junior, and films show games where he gave too much cushion or gave up a long touchdown. On the other hand, the young man has started for 2 seasons and covered all the big name receivers. In 2006, he led the country with 22 pass deflections along with an impressive 6 interceptions. In 2007, there were 13 deflections and 5 interceptions including a huge 60-yard interception return in the Orange Bowl. Talib may have maturity issues, but his best days playing cornerback appear to be ahead of him.

Antoine Cason is another impressive prospect A consistent and durable college cornerback, Cason started 46 games for Arizona beginning honorable mention all-conference as a freshman, second team as a sophomore, and first team as a junior. As a senior he was again all-conference and was also selected to some All- America teams and received the Thorpe award as the top defensive player in the country. The 2007 numbers for Cason show 5 interceptions and 14 deflections He was also the Pac Ten's top punt returner. Cason is a hard-nosed technically sound cornerback with adequate athleticism. If he is there, he could be the selection.

In the second round, Green Bay might look at Antwaun Molden 6-1 198 Eastern Kentucky. While he presents excellent size and speed, Molden was not a consistent starter for a second tier school until his senior year. Slowed early by academic issues, Molden took time to develop. He did turn heads at the Texas vs the Nation All Star game displaying excellent bump and run skills. A willing tackler throughout his career Molden was also a gunner on special teams. He needs some coaching, but Molden is an athletic and aggressive cornerback.

Two players rated in the second to third round area are top athletes with undeveloped skills as cornerbacks. Justin King 5-11 192 Penn State ran a 4.31 forty at the Combine. One scout described him as everything you would want in a cornerback except for the way he has played. Charles Godfrey is a converted safety and a strong physical presence. He may be a step slow, but 9 deflections and 5 interceptions in 2007 placed him in the first day of the draft.

Another player who did not start until his senior year is Patrick Lee 6-0 200 Auburn. In that 2007 season he intercepted 4 passes and knocked down eight. Those who like Lee describe him as an excellent bump and run corner. At the same time, his Senior Bowl performance has been described as tentative, following rather than mirroring receivers, and slow to close on the ball. Lee had average numbers at the Combine. The fourth round seems about right.

Late rounds are the place to take a chance, and Wisconsin cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu 5-11 194 is that type of player. After a sophomore campaign in which he may have been the best cornerback in the Big Ten, Ike regressed last season with mediocre play, legal difficulties and finally, a knee injury this January after he had declared for the draft. Assuming he can resolve his pending criminal charges in Illinois, Ikegwuonu could be a quality NFL cornerback.

Given the need to add a cornerback, the Packers will likely try to draft such a player in the first two rounds. I would not be surprised to se a trade that lands a cornerback early in Round 2.

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