Draft risk study: Cornerbacks   

Updated: May 9, 2007, 1:47 PM ET

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By position: QB | RB | WR | O-line | DE | DT | LB | CB | S | Study wrap

Their behavior is almost as skittish and self-serving as that of wide receivers. They are, of course, cornerbacks, and a good one can lock down half the field (see Deion Sanders, Champ Bailey).

Success criteria, first-round cornerbacks

As with safeties, this is a tough one to figure. With teams consistently going away from a player like Bailey, interception numbers don't tell the whole story. That said, we've gone with the baseline 80 games played, or at least one Pro Bowl appearance. And for players who are fairly new to the league, we'll use a combination of stats accrued to this point and gut feelings about the player.

1989
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Falcons 5 Deion Sanders, Florida State 189 8 No
Bears 11 Donnell Woolford, Clemson 126 1 No

Deion Sanders is, of course, Deion Sanders -- a Hall of Famer who often led the league in interceptions, punt-return yardage and purple suits. He wasn't big on the tackling aspect of playing defense, but he didn't really have to be. Woolford was a solid (36 career INTs) contributor in Chicago as well.

1990
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Bills 5 James Williams, Fresno State 70 0 Yes
Eagles 22 Ben Smith, Georgia 57 0 Yes

Remember Williams and Smith? Neither do I. Two first-rounders, two busts.

1991
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Falcons 3 Bruce Pickens, Nebraska 48 0 Yes
Rams 5 Todd Lyght, Notre Dame 175 1 No
Packers 19 Vinnie Clark, Ohio State 84 0 No

Pickens goes down in history as a colossal bust, from a franchise that had many in this era (remember Aundray Bruce, Mike Pritchard and Steve Broussard?). Clark barely sneaks over the bust bar with 84 career games.

1992
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Packers 5 Terrell Buckley, Florida State 209 0 No
Cowboys 17 Kevin Smith, Texas A&M 103 0 No
Chiefs 20 Dale Carter, Tennessee 155 4 No

T-Buck was supposed to be the second coming of Neon Deion, which never quite worked out -- however, he did carve out a very long career as a journeyman CB. Smith played more than 100 games, all with the Cowboys, and Dale Carter went to four Pro Bowls.

1993
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Redskins 17 Tom Carter, Notre Dame 118 0 No
Chargers 22 Darrien Gordon, Stanford 138 0 No
Steelers 23 Deon Figures, Colorado 93 0 No
Bills 28 Thomas Smith, North Carolina 137 0 No

Lots of corners here, and not a Pro Bowl -- or a bust -- among them.

1994
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Browns 9 Antonio Langham, Alabama 102 0 No
Jets 12 Aaron Glenn, Texas A&M 196 2 No
Vikings 18 Dewayne Washington, North Carolina State 191 0 No
Bills 27 Jeff Burris, Notre Dame 144 0 No

Glenn was the class of this class. Washington and Burris, while unspectacular, both enjoyed long careers as starters, though Langham was probably a reach at No. 9 overall.

1995
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Panthers 22 Tyrone Poole, Fort Valley State 130 0 No
Patriots 23 Ty Law, Michigan 173 4 No

Two completely different players -- one a small guy from a small school, the other a big corner from a big program. Both have had good careers with four-time Pro Bowler Law arguably a future Hall of Famer.

1996
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Saints 11 Alex Molden, Oregon 98 0 No
Bears 13 Walt Harris, Mississippi State 162 0 No

Harris once had T-shirts printed to the effect of "two-thirds of the world is covered by water, the other one-third is covered by Walt Harris." Perhaps it should have read: "Occasionally, one-third of the NFC Central is covered by Walt Harris." He was just OK. Ditto for Molden, who didn't do much as a Saint and, for a No. 11 overall, comes dangerously close to bust status.

1997
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Seahawks 3 Shawn Springs, Ohio State 132 1 No
Lions 5 Bryant Westbrook, Texas 71 0 Yes
Cardinals 9 Tom Knight, Iowa 73 0 Yes
Falcons 11 Michael Booker, Nebraska 73 0 Yes
Steelers 24 Chad Scott, Maryland 94 0 No
Patriots 29 Chris Canty, Kansas State 61 0 Yes

This was the year of the corner, with six guys off the board in the first. Unfortunately, only Springs has even come close to living up to the hype. Westbrook was a big disappointment for a Detroit organization that knows a lot about big disappointments. Knight, Booker and Canty were all busts as well. Sam Madison and Ronde Barber went later in this draft. Coincidentally, Westbrook and Booker were teammates at El Camino High in Oceanside, Calif. While it's no secret, it's worth mentioning that the Falcons and Cardinals have really drafted horribly through the years.

1998
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Raiders 4 Charles Woodson, Michigan 122 3 No
Ravens 10 Duane Starks, Miami 97 0 No
Lions 20 Terry Fair, Tennessee 59 0 Yes
49ers 28 R.W. McQuarters, Oklahoma State 131 0 No

Woodson thinks he may be the greatest corner to ever play the game, but he's actually just pretty good. Starks has been a solid player, and McQuarters has had his moments for several teams now -- but more importantly, he may have launched the "dreadlocks so long they cover half of my jersey" trend among NFL corners.

1999
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Redskins 7 Champ Bailey, Georgia 126 6 No
Ravens 10 Chris McAlister, Arizona 121 3 No
Bills 23 Antoine Winfield, Ohio State 118 0 No
Jaguars 26 Fernando Bryant, Alabama 94 0 No

This will go down as a banner year for CBs. Bailey is considered the best corner in football, and McAlister and Winfield are very good as well. The only disappointment in this group is (cue ABBA) Bryant, who plays for, you guessed it, the Lions.

2000
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Broncos 15 Deltha O'Neal, Cal 100 0 No
Panthers 23 Rashard Anderson, Jackson State 27 0 Yes
49ers 24 Ahmed Plummer, Ohio State 70 0 Yes

After a slow (read: bad) start, O'Neal has rebounded a bit with the Bengals. This draft brought us Hank Poteat and David Macklin in later rounds, as well as one of my favorite NFL names, Anthony Midget. The question that haunts all of us, though, is, "Where have you gone, Rashard Anderson?"

2001
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Bills 21 Nate Clements, Ohio State 96 1 No
Giants 22 Will Allen, Syracuse 87 0 No
Broncos 24 Willie Middlebrooks, Minnesota 58 0 Yes
Dolphins 26 Jamar Fletcher, Wisconsin 84 0 Yes

According to Fred Smoot, we would be remiss if we failed to mention that Fred Smoot came out of Round 2 of this draft. And for what it's worth, there have been two Will Allens (both DBs) and two Chris Cantys in the NFL.

2002
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Chargers 5 Quentin Jammer, Texas 78 0 No
Raiders 17 Phillip Buchanon, Miami 60 0 Yes
Eagles 26 Lito Sheppard, Florida 66 2 No
49ers 27 Mike Rumph, Miami 43 0 Yes

Buchanon covers more like Pat Buchanan, and is on to his second team. And the other Miami corner, Mike Rumph, has been a disappointment as well. Sheppard, on the other hand, is a Pro Bowler. Jammer really hasn't lived up to top-five billing.

2003
Team Pick Player, School Games Pro Bowls Bust?
Cowboys 5 Terence Newman, Kansas State 64 0 No
Seahawks 11 Marcus Trufant, Washington State 62 0 No
Titans 28 Andre Woolfolk, Oklahoma 39 0 Yes
Chargers 30 Sammy Davis, Texas A&M 57 0 No
Raiders 31 Nnamdi Asomugha, California 62 0 No

Newman had the unfortunate pleasure of dealing with the psychological roller-coaster ride that is playing for Bill Parcells -- hopefully he can still live up to his top-5 status. Asomugha may always be remembered for being one of the Raiders' many "who is that guy?" picks, but he has quietly played well of late.

Crunching the Numbers: First-Round CBs, 1989-2003
Number of CBs drafted: 52

Notable busts: Bruce Pickens, Bryant Westbrook, Tom Knight, Rashard Anderson

Number of busts: 15

Bust percentage: 29 percent

Number of CBs with at least one Pro Bowl appearance: 12

Pro Bowl percentage: 23 percent

Teams with multiple busts: 49ers, Lions, Falcons

For the sake of comparison
Percentage of first-round S busts: 11 percent
Percentage of first-round LB busts: 16 percent

Conclusions
Cornerback proved to be a riskier proposition than safeties or linebackers. We've seen more CBs go in the first round of late, with teams hoping for the next Champ Bailey or Deion Sanders -- but we haven't necessarily seen an uptick in performance. In fact, many of the league's great corners in recent years, such as Ronde Barber and Sam Madison, came out of later rounds.

Ted Kluck is not a scientist, rather he is the author of three books, including "Facing Tyson: Fifteen Fighters, Fifteen Stories" (Lyons Press 2006) and a full-fledged draft geek. He recently spent a season playing professional football as a member of the Battle Creek Crunch (GLIFL) where he was, without a doubt, a bust.


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