NFL Draft Today’s Focus: Defensive Backs

Former TCU cornerback Jason Verrett says he fits well in Panthers' scheme

jperson@charlotteobserver.comApril 30, 2014 

TCU Oklahoma St Football

TCU cornerback Jason Verrett (2) can't hold onto a pass intended for Oklahoma State receiver Josh Stewart (5), but in the past two seasons he had 38 pass breakups, the most in the country.

SUE OGROCKI — AP

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    The Observer’s top 10 defensive backs available in the 2014 NFL draft:

    Player Pos. School Ht. Wt. Proj. Rd Comment
    1. Justin GilbertCBOklahoma St.6-02021Rangy, with great ball skills (7 INTs last season).
    2. Darqueze DennardCBMichigan St.5-111991Good strength, speed and instincts.
    3. Kyle FullerCBVirginia Tech6-01901Lean frame, but aggressive demeanor.
    4. Ha Ha Clinton-DixFSAlabama6-12081Good field awareness; had a stronger sophomore season.
    5. Calvin PryorFSLouisville5-112071Physical player could go ahead of Clinton-Dix.
    6. Jason VerrettCBTCU5-91891-2Two-time All-American should play immediately as a nickel back
    7. Bradley RobyCBOhio State5-111941-2Recent DUI charge could drop his stock.
    8. Lamarcus JoynerCBFlorida St.5-81842Tough hitter, plays bigger than his size.
    9. Jimmie WardSSNo. Illinois5-111932Fast enough to play corner in nickel.
    10. Phillip GainesCBRice6-01932Good athlete, ran a 4.38 in the 40 at combine.

     

    PANTHERS’ PERSPECTIVE: General manager Dave Gettleman identified cornerback as one of the team’s biggest needs. Despite the more talked-about holes at offensive tackle and receiver, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Gettleman goes after a corner with an early-round pick. While there are not the elite players at the top of the corner class as in previous drafts, it’s a fairly deep group that could allow Gettleman to wait and still get a quality player.

    LOCAL CONNECTIONS: Duke CB Ross Cockrell, a mid-round prospect, tore knee ligaments during his final game at Charlotte Latin. After struggling early in his career, Cockrell finished with 12 interceptions and a school-record 41 pass breakups. ... Former Independence High CB Victor Hampton had a solid career at South Carolina but has a history of off-the-field issues. ... Liberty CB Walt Aikens, who played at Harding, is a mid-round prospect who was kicked off Illinois’ team following a theft arrest. Aikens was not invited to the combine but ran the 40 in 4.47 seconds at his pro day. ... North Carolina S Tre Boston is a former corner projected to be a third-day pick.

    SLEEPER: Pierre Desir, a third-round prospect from Division II Lindenwood in Missouri, was cleaning sewer lines as recently as three years ago. Now the Little All-American, whose parents fled revolution-torn Haiti in 1994, is on the cusp of playing in the NFL. The Panthers had a private workout with the 6-1, 198-pound Desir in March, and he drew eight teams to the school’s first-ever pro day.

    WORTH NOTING: Roby pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol Tuesday. Roby took to Twitter to defend himself after he failed a field sobriety test during an April 20 traffic stop. ... Many draft experts believe there might not be a cornerback taken in the first 10 picks, but project as many as five corners being picked by the end of the first round.

    Joseph Person

Jason Verrett has everything you would want in an NFL cornerback – fluid hips, a great burst and a cool nickname.

The only thing Verrett doesn’t have is size.

A 5-foot-9, 189-pound former Texas Chrtistian standout, he is quick to point out several other short-statured defensive backs who’ve had success in the NFL.

“Captain Munnerlyn, Brent Grimes, Tyrann Mathieu – all those guys are Pro Bowl-caliber guys and make a lot of plays,” Verrett said Wednesday. “Being that they’re about the same stature and size, it only motivates me even more to make plays on the field.”

Verrett potentially could be the Panthers’ replacement for 5-8 Munnerlyn, who signed with Minnesota in March after five seasons in Charlotte.

Verrett, the co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year last season, was upset the Panthers did not formally interview him at the NFL scouting combine. Verrett believed his coverage and tackling skills made him a good fit for the Panthers’ Cover 2 scheme, and hoped to talk to them.

Verrett got his chance when Don Gregory, the Panthers’ college scouting director, and secondary coach Steve Wilks flew to Fort Worth, Texas, in March to work out Verrett the day after TCU’s pro day.

It turned out to be Verrett’s only private workout before he had shoulder surgery March 17 to repair the torn labrum he played through during his final season at TCU.

“Definitely if Carolina wants to take me, I’d love to be out there,” Verrett said during a phone interview from his family’s home in northern California. “I felt like I killed the (dry erase) board work. I understand their defense and their scheme and places where I would fit, whether it’s in the nickel or even on the outside.”

Verrett is projected as a late first- or early second-round pick. Because of Verrett’s height, most draft analysts believe he’ll start his career as a nickel back lined up against shorter, slot receivers.

Munnerlyn followed a similar path before emerging as a starting corner for the Panthers, who did not match the three-year, $11.25 million contract he received from the Vikings.

“Even though they lost him, he had a tremendous year last year,” Verrett said. “I feel like in that Cover 2 scheme where we’re playing a little bit of zone, a little bit of man and a little bit of trail – a couple things I can understand easily – it’s going to be hard for me not to make plays.”

Verrett made plenty of plays at TCU after a difficult debut. In his first game with the Horned Frogs after transferring from a California junior college in 2011, Verrett gave up a couple of big plays to Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.

RGIII threw for 359 yards and five touchdowns in Baylor’s 50-48 win, launching his Heisman Trophy campaign and leaving Verrett feeling despondent.

“I didn’t want to give up and walk away from the game. It was more so just frustration that I gave up two big touchdowns, and then one on a trick play,” Verrett said.

“I was down on myself. It allowed me to mature and learn a lot more about the game – as a corner, learning there’s times when you’re going to get beat and learning how to handle those. It was a tough game, a tough moment, and a tough week. But I was able to bounce back those last two years.”

Verrett led the Horned Frogs in 2012 with six interceptions and 16 deflections. Over the past two seasons, no defensive back in the country had more pass breakups than his 38.

Along the way, he held his own against the likes of Louisiana State’s Odell Beckham. Verrett limited Beckham, one of the top receiving prospects in this year’s draft, to one catch while he was lined up against him.

Verrett ended his TCU career by holding Antwan Goodley, Baylor’s leading receiver, to one catch for 12 yards. The corner known as “Feeva Island” had come full circle.

Verrett said his high school friends used to call him J5 because his first name had five letters. Five became Feeva, which became Feeva Island – not unlike the “Revis Island” handle of New England Patriots corner Darrelle Revis.

“One day I might even try to trademark it,” Verrett said, laughing.

Verrett will be in New York for next week’s draft. And while he is expected to be chosen after top corners Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard, Verrett doesn’t see himself slipping to the second round.

“If it’s in the first round I’m going to be happy, even though pick 32 will probably be a long time sitting in the green room,” he said. “But once that phone rings, I’m going to be crying tears of joy.”

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

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