Joe Haden (Florida): With outstanding ball-hawking skills, 4.35 speed and an excellent ability to diagnose what's being thrown his way, Haden has all the tools. No true freshman corner had ever started a game for the Gators until Haden did it, and he went on to start 40 games in three seasons. Haden plays zone well, but his primary attribute -- and this is one that has become more visible and prevalent with the rise of Darrelle Revis(notes) -- is the ability to trail a receiver in straight-line man coverage. If the man he's defending does get separation (which doesn't happen too often), Haden can make up short ground in a hurry and had a great ability to jump routes for interceptions. Not a bad tackler for his 5-foot-11, 190-pound frame, but it's in coverage that Haden will excel, and that's what will probably put him in the top 15 come draft day. A strong combine, especially in the speed and agility drills, could put him in rarefied air.
Kyle Wilson (Boise State): I have Wilson higher than other lists I have seen, but it's hard to ignore what he brings to the table. The only real knocks I could put on him were the occasional tendency to get beaten by bigger receivers, and a slightly offhand approach to tackling, but when it comes to coverage technique, he's as close to an instruction manual as you'll find on this list. He made his presence felt during Senior Bowl practices, leading North (Detroit Lions) receivers coach Shawn Jefferson to say, "That's the guy that's been a pain in my ass so far." He won't win any medals for his run support, but once you watch him shut down a receiver, you won't care. Wilson is a weightroom freak whose name you should hear quite a bit at the combine, as he's a favorite of the NFL Network's Mike Mayock.
Earl Thomas (Texas): He's perhaps best known for getting basted by Michael Crabtree(notes) on a catch-and-run in 2008, but Thomas was far from the only victim on Crabtree's list. Thomas declared for the draft after his redshirt sophomore season, a decision in which economics certainly played a part (is this where I get on my soapbox about how paying college players is the only equitable thing to do at this point? Perhaps not). Thomas might be a tweener in the NFL -- there are concerns about his ability to play elite corner in the NFL, but those who would keep him at safety have to factor in the missed tackles against Alabama in the BCS Championship game. He would be a good fit as a developmental zone corner, and will grow into man coverage with a few technique fixes. In the end, perhaps he's best optimized as a range safety in the Antrel Rolle(notes) mold.
Patrick Robinson (Florida State): Robinson was caught up in the recent Florida State academic scandal, but managed to put up six interceptions in only five starts around suspensions in 2008. When he returned for his junior year, he became a more complete player, amassing career highs in tackles (47), solo tackles (37), passes broken up (11) and forced fumbles (two), per NFLDraftScout.com. People might balk at his limited experience (24 starts), but his athleticism, instincts and willingness to play physically will trump other concerns.
Dominique Franks (Oklahoma): Franks is following Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham out of Norman after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL advisory committee and most likely being spooked by the injuries that his teammates suffered. Like Robinson, he'll be a developmental prospect in the NFL to a certain point, but will be worth the effort.
- Joe Haden