The 2008 NFL Draft is deep with talented cornerback prospects. That bodes well for the Texans, who have been focused on upgrading the secondary with starting cornerback Dunta Robinson expected to miss several games in 2008.
"It's a pretty good class from the standpoint there's a lot of depth in the class and there are some guys that will probably be taken in the first round that are extremely talented," Texans defensive backs coach Jon Hoke told Texans TV. "And then as you go through the class, there are some good prospects, second round, third round, fourth round – guys that can come in and help your football team."
To bolster the cornerback position, the Texans already have signed cornerback Jacques Reeves from the Dallas Cowboys. Reeves started 13 games for the NFC East Champions last season, and the Texans believe he is just beginning to realize his potential.
Reeves is the early favorite to start across the field from second-year pro Fred Bennett, but there are several cornerbacks who could vie for those duties should the Texans call their name during the draft.
1. Leodis McKelvin, Troy (5-11, 190):McKelvin cemented his status as a premier cover corner with an All-Sun Belt Conference and All-American senior season in which he picked off two passes, broke up nine and made 60 tackles along with three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Teams covet McKelvin's return skills – he tied the NCAA Division 1-A career record with eight kick returns for touchdowns (seven punts, one kickoff), including three punt return touchdowns during his senior season with the Trojans. He averaged 13.1 yards on 112 career punt returns, and holds the NCAA record for total kick returns (211) and total kick return yards (3,817).
His hard-hitting style of play has earned comparisons to the Texans' Robinson.
"When you watch them play in college, Dunta and Leodis, you could make those parallels very easily," Hoke said. "They're both every good athletes, very fast, have good deep speed, and then the physical standpoint definitely jumps out at you."
After showing 4.38 40-yard dash speed at the combine, McKelvin will almost certainly be the first cornerback taken in this year's draft.
2. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Tennessee State (6-2, 182): Rodgers-Cromartie, cousin of San Diego Chargers Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie, is one of the most dominant cornerbacks to come out of the Division I-AA ranks in years. While not a strong tackler, he boasts excellent speed, cover skills and hands.
Though he only saw 161 passes thrown his way in 39 career starts, Rodgers-Cromartie intercepted 11, deflected 25 and held opponents to 3.54 yards per pass attempt – better than any defensive back in the college ranks over the last three seasons.
He showed he can play with the big boys by winning MVP honors at the Senior Bowl and dominating drills at the combine, where he placed first in four workouts – the vertical jump (38.5"), broad jump (10'11"), 3-cone drill (6.74 seconds) and 60-yard shuttle (11.06) – and clocked a blazing 4.33 40-yard dash, third-best among corners.
"He looks like he fits, and athletically, I don't think there's any question about that," Hoke said. "He'll have a lot of things to learn, from the competition level and all those type things from a week-to-week basis, but athletically, he's going to be one of the top guys."
Rodgers-Cromartie, a phenomenal all-around athlete who returned two interceptions for touchdowns and blocked four punts in his senior year, was the 2007 Ohio Valley Conference indoor track champion in the 60-yard dash, long jump and high jump. He also thrived as a kick returner during his senior campaign.
3. Mike Jenkins, South Florida (6-0, 200): As a senior, Jenkins earned first-team All-Big East Conference and All-American honors after recording a career-high 41 tackles with four stops for losses, plus three interceptions and 12 pass deflections. In Jenkins' final three seasons as a starter, his Bulls ranked in the top-16 in the nation in passing efficiency defense, including eighth overall (105.27 rating) in 2007.
Jenkins can flat-out fly, as he showed with his 4.38 40-yard dash at the combine, and his blazing speed allows him excel in press coverage. He also has dynamic potential as a kick returner, averaging 30.4 yards on seven kickoff returns, including one touchdown, at South Florida. Despite his good size, he is not a very good tackler and scouts say he tends to disappear in run support.
Jenkins was briefly suspended from the Bulls in spring 2007 after being arrested on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence following a fight outside of a bar. Given his reputation as a quiet leader and a mentor for younger players, this likely is not an overriding concern for NFL personnel people.
4. Aqib Talib, Kansas (6-1, 202):A versatile shutdown corner with a great frame, long arms and good speed, Talib might be higher on this list if not for character concerns.
According to a Pro Football Weekly report, the consensus All-American admitted to teams at the combine to that he tested positive for marijuana three times while at the University of Kansas.
While that report standing alone may not have hurt Talib's stock, it doesn't help when coupled with an incident in 2006 in which Talib was suspended from the Jayhawks for two games for poor work habits – although Talib did dramatically improve his attitude over his final two seasons at KU.
That improved attitude led to incredible productivity on the field. The early-entry junior snagged 13 interceptions in his career and was a threat to score any time he got the ball in his hands. In limited action at wide receiver during his junior season, Talib caught eight passes – four were touchdowns. He also had five interceptions and turned returned two of them for touchdowns.
At the combine, he finished just behind Rodgers-Cromartie with a 38" vertical jump and 6.82 time in the 3-cone drill, and matched Rodgers-Cromartie's 10'11" mark in the broad jump.
5. Brandon Flowers, Virginia Tech (5-10, 189):In 41 games at Virginia Tech, Flowers started 28 times, making 158 tackles with 3.5 sacks and 17 stops behind the line of scrimmage. He recorded 10 interceptions, returning two for touchdowns, and deflected 32 passes. Another early entrant, Flowers makes up for what he lacks in size by being one of the hardest-hitting corners in this year's class.
Flowers emulates Texans Pro Bowl middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans in that he spends countless hours dissecting film, which allows him to consistently disrupt receivers' routes and to excel in both man and zone coverage.
He snared five interceptions, deflected nine passes and racked up 86 tackles (eight for a loss) in his junior season, earning All-American honors for the second year in a row.
Honorable mention: Justin King, Penn St. (5-11, 192)has great straight-line speed (4.31 40-yard dash at the Combine, tops among cornerbacks) and lined up on both sides of the ball and returned kicks as a Nittany Lion...Antoine Cason, Arizona (6-0, 190) is an instinctive corner who had 15 intercptions in his Wildcat career. His height, speed and abilities as a punt returner might bring him off the board early in Round 2.
Later-round notables: Charles Godfrey, Iowa (6-0, 207) is a physical corner with room to develop after playing safety for his first three seasons at Iowa who also has the Texans logo tattooed on his right hand…Dwight Lowery, San Jose St. (6-1, 185) had 13 interceptions in just two seasons with the Spartans, but there are concerns about his speed and ability to play against top competition.