Cornerbacks can be difficult to evaluate because often times high school teams do not have the personnel to match up and run a ton of true zero or Cover 1 man coverage. It can be a struggle to get a feel for a player's true cover skills. Cover 3, Cover 2, quarters and other versions of zone coverage are more the norm in high school. However, recruiting the elite cover corner is not always the main concern. A well-rounded, scheme-versatile corner that can fit into different defenses and sub-packages has become coveted at the college level.
As you will see below, this year's cornerback class is deep and versatile in skill set but undersized. Only two prospects in the top 10 check in at over six feet. Competitiveness and intangibles may define the class more than pure speed and physical attributes. The 2011 group, which includes eight ESPNU 150 prospects, is mentally and physically tough and, as usual, has a few prospects playing safety or another position, making the projection to corner a bit more difficult.
If a program in is need of a corner, it already may be too late because there are only three uncommitted corners rated in the top 25.
Some prospects could have fallen into several categories, but with so many talented cornerback prospects we've limited it to a one category maximum, and even with that some fine players were left out. A few prospects evaluated as athletes were included.
Best coverage skills
What we look for: The ability to plant, pedal and turn fluidly in coverage when locked up against a wide receiver. Smooth transitional quickness, hip-fluidity and sharp redirection skill is a must when mirroring receivers tightly out of their breaks. Top-end speed and ability to recover if caught out of position are key. Sudden quickness and closing burst on the ball are important, but polished technique and natural coverage-awareness skills coming out of the high school level are often what separates the good cornerback prospects from the great ones.
Nick Waisome (Groveland, Fla./South Lake)
One of the more natural cover corners in the class. Waisome has great closing and breaking skills and decreases receiver separation as quick as any in the 2011 class. The recent Florida State Seminoles commit has great hip-fluidity and movement skills, which allow him to stick tightly to a receiver's hip, and he's one of the best at reading and feeling routes develop. Waisome's a true cover corner who can lock down and allow front-seven defenders to remain aggressive.
Doran Grant (Akron, Ohio/Saint Vincent-St. Mary)
The top corner out of the Midwest is well-rounded from a coverage standpoint. He has great quickness and hips to mirror and can play physical and take away a receiver's leverage. The highly athletic Grant makes a ton of big plays in coverage with his keen instincts, great anticipation skills and overall savvy. He's one of the best in this class in terms of a blend of physical ability and intangibles. This highly sought-after corner is set to make his decision at the Under Armour All-America Game.
Charles Jackson (Klein, Texas/Klein Collins)
Jackson simply finds the football in coverage and makes plays. What stands out about the future Nebraska Cornhuskers corner are his great coverage skills at all levels of the defense. He can adjust his body, track and accelerate to get under the deep ball or close with striking burst in perimeter pass support. His field awareness in coverage is excellent ,and his ability to press receivers and play aggressive or mirror fluidly in off-man coverage should allow for early playing time in Bo Pelini's scheme.
Best ball skills
What we look for: These guys play the ball, not the man, in coverage with receiver-like skills. They have soft hands, sound concentration tracking the deep throw and know how to adjust their bodies to high point the football. They always seem to be around tipped balls with uncanny natural instincts. Good arm extension and leaping skills are key attributes for making plays on the ball.
Josh Turner (Oklahoma City/Millwood)
When you put in tape on Turner all you see is production and a great comfort level around the football. He's a versatile offensive and defensive skill player and returner. We feel he'll move to a full-time role at corner in Austin, Texas, and continue coming up with the big plays because of his great hands. He has a feel for the ball when its in the air, body control and athleticism. It helps that Turner has excellent burst to get into proper position on the pass, too.
Jonathan Rose (Leeds, Ala./Leeds)
It's hard to find tall, physical corners that have great hands and athleticism, but Rose fits the bill. The future Auburn Tigers corner is a gifted defensive back with natural awareness skills around the ball with big, soft hands and long arms that allow him to effectively defend and win most jump-ball matchups. Good ball skills are not just about having good hands they are about adjusting the body to the throw and coordination. Rose has it all, which is rare at his height (6-foot-1).
Damian Swann (Atlanta/Grady)
He was originally listed as a defensive back in our database until we saw in person how great his hand-eye coordination and ball skills were. With some polish as a route-runner, Swann could play receiver at the next level. He has excellent hands and body control. However, we still feel like his natural home will be corner in college, and he will provide valuable deep zone and jump-ball coverage with his great leaping and high-pointing skills.
Best run-support skills
What we look for: The ability to set the edge. With Cover 2 being so prevalent, run support is becoming more of a factor for today's corners. Being big, strong and having the ability to out-muscle receivers on the stalk block is important, but not imperative. A player must be physical, aggressive and a strong tackler, particularly in the open field. Explosive plant and drive skill and closing burst are key attributes to excel in run support.
Quandre Diggs (Angleton, Texas/Angleton)
The younger brother of former Texas Longhorns and current San Diego Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer is a compact, explosive package. Diggs lacks ideal height, but he's stacked with muscle and is a physical, ball-hawking defender in the mold of a nickel back. The Texas commit shows great underneath range, burst to the football and strength at the point of attack as a force defender.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Chino Hills, Calif./Chino Hills)
The Oregon Ducks certainly have some game-changers on offense and a future one on defense in Ekpre-Olomu. He is physical, well-built safety we feel will play corner in Eugene or a nickel-type position in sub-packages. He's a ball hawk who thrives on collision-type tackles with his quick-twitched explosiveness. Not just a hitter, the California native takes great pursuit angles without wasted motion.
Tevin Mitchel (Mansfield, Texas/Mansfield Legacy)
One of the better Cover 2 corners in the class, the former Nebraska commit was a great fit for Pelini's scheme but should still challenge for early playing time with the Razorbacks. The recent Arkansas commit is aggressive and physical out on the perimeter. He has long arms and the strong hands needed to fight off the stalk block, plant and drive on ball carriers as good as anyone. He is a strong, reliable tackler who drives through and limits second efforts.
Best recovery ability
What we look for: These players have great burst, acceleration and explosion to the ball when caught out of position. This is where the short-shuttle test can sometimes determine a player's ability to catch up even more so than the 40-yard dash time. Recovery speed is not just measured on go routes but on deep comebacks -- in routes and corner routes. The ability to transition without wasted motion helps close the cushion quicker.
Sheroid Evans (Missouri City, Texas/Dulles)
We still feel like Evans is a track athlete playing football, but when healthy he shows great flashes of football speed. The Texas commit displays great makeup acceleration tracking down the football in deep coverage and when getting back in the play. He's one of those guys who doesn't always look like he's going fast because of his long stride and high-cut body but simply covers a ton of ground in his pursuit to the football.
David Jenkins (Carrollton, Texas/Hebron)
He's another 10.5-second 100-meter guy who has made major improvements as a football player between his junior and senior seasons. Jenkins has an explosive first step for a tall, angular athlete and shows excellent burst jumping and undercutting routes. Like Evans, the LSU commit is a long strider who can cover the field and get over the top of deep outs and go routes or break quickly and close the cushion underneath.
Demetrious Nicholson (Virginia Beach, Va./Bayside)
The coveted cornerback prospect actually has a contrasting style of recovery, compared to the taller Evans and Jenkins. On film, you can see there is a reason why this guy seems to always be around the ball making plays. Nicholson has great quickness and sharp redirection skill out of his breaks and makes few wasted steps. He lacks ideal long speed but possesses some of the best short-area recovery quickness, burst and reactive skills.
Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for ESPN Recruiting and has close to a decade of coaching experience at the college and high school levels.