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New Orleans Saints: The Quest for Finding a Top Cornerback

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With the NFL Combine over, teams now have a much clearer idea of where players’ athleticism levels lie. If the New Orleans Saints fail to acquire cornerback Malcolm Butler, what rounds of the draft hold the most value at the position, and how high should the Saints consider drafting a corner?

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Cornerback is one of the top needs for the New Orleans Saints this offseason. Whether they choose to address that in free agency or the draft remains to be seen, but all of the top free agent talent has already been signed. We know that the Saints have an interest in acquiring Pro Bowl cornerback Malcolm Butler from the New England Patriots, but there is no guarantee that that will happen. If the Saints enter the draft without having acquired Butler, then it will be safe to assume they select a cornerback with one of the four picks they own in the top 100.

The NFL Combine results are now available, and Pro Day results will continue to come in throughout late March and early April. I have gathered some information on the Top 15 NFL cornerbacks of 2016. I wanted to look at what rounds they were selected in and their combine or pro day results. I also wanted to look at the height and weight of each player, since cornerbacks under 6-foot are often labeled as undersized.

At the end of the article I will break down, by each round, the probability of finding a Top 15 cornerback according to Pro Football Focus’ 2016 rankings. Now, let’s see what we’re working with here and you can make your own comparisons to this year’s draft class.

Carolina Panthers v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

1. Chris Harris Jr., Broncos (5-foot-10, 190-pounds | 2016 PFF rating: 92.9)

Harris was a 2011 UDFA for the Broncos, and showed he belonged in the NFL in his rookie season. In 16 games with just four starts he totaled 60 tackles, one interception, six passes defended and one fumble recovery; and was selected to the NFL’s All-Rookie team. By his second season Harris became a full-time starter for the Broncos and totaled three interceptions, two touchdowns, 12 passes defended and 2.5 sacks.

Pro Day Results: 40-Yard Dash (4.41 seconds), 20-Yard Dash (2.63 seconds), 10-Yard Dash (1.59 seconds), Bench Press 14 reps, Vertical 34-inches, Broad Jump 10-foot-1, 20-Yard Shuttle (4.20 seconds), 3-Cone Drill (7.01 seconds).

2. Aqib Talib, Broncos (6-foot-2, 202-pounds | 2016 PFF rating: 91.3)

Talib was a 2008 first round selection (20th overall) of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In his first season, he played in 15 games with just two starts, but totaled four interceptions, nine passes defended, and 14 tackles. In his second season he started 15 games and totaled five interceptions, 14 passes defended, one fumble recovery and 56 tackles.

Combine Results: 40-Yard Dash (4.44 seconds), 20-Yard Dash (2.56 seconds), 10-Yard Dash (1.51 seconds), Bench Press 10 reps, Vertical 38-inches, Broad Jump 10-feet-11, 20-Yard Shuttle (4.22 seconds) and 3-Cone Drill (6.82 seconds).

Wild Card Round - Oakland Raiders v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

3. A.J. Bouye, Texans (6-foot, 186-pounds | 2016 PFF rating: 90.9)

Bouye was a 2013 UDFA out of Central Florida. He did see playing time in his rookie season, six games, but only totaled two tackles. In his second year, he played in 14 games with six starts and totaled two interceptions, one touchdown, 10 passes defended, one fumble recovery and 52 tackles. He performed well in 2015 given the limited playing time he saw, but in 2016 finally became a full-time starter. He started 11 games and totaled one interception, 16 passes defended, one sack and 48 tackles.

Pro Day Results: 40-Yard Dash (4.55 seconds), 20-Yard Dash (2.62 seconds), 10-Yard Dash (1.50 seconds), Bench Press 18 reps, Vertical 36.5-inches, Broad Jump 10-feet-5, 20-Yard Shuttle (4.04 seconds) and 3-Cone Drill (7.06 seconds).

4. Brent Grimes, Buccaneers (5-foot-10, 180-pounds | 2016 PFF rating: 90.8)

Grimes was a 2006 UDFA for the Atlanta Falcons, but he did not play for the team that year. His path to becoming an NFL starter wasn’t as seamless as guys like Bouye and Harris. Grimes was sent to play in the NFL Europe league for the Hamburg Sea Devils, where he helped lead them to a championship. Following his one year stint in Europe, Grimes returned to Atlanta to play the 2007 season for the Falcons, during which he played only two games. It wasn’t until 2010 that he became a starter, but 2008-2010 he totaled 30 starts, 12 interceptions, 42 passes defended, one fumble recovery and 168 tackles. He made the Pro Bowl for his 2010 performance.

Pro Day Results: 40-Yard Dash (4.57 seconds), Bench Press 4 reps, Vertical 33.5-inches, Broad Jump 10-foot-1, 20-Yard Shuttle (4.25 seconds) and 3-Cone Drill (7.13 seconds).

5. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Giants (6-foot-2, 183-pounds | 2016 PFF rating: 90.7)

Cromartie was a 2008 first-round selection (16th overall) of the Arizona Cardinals. In his rookie season he played in 16 games with 11 starts and totaled four interceptions, one touchdown, 19 passes defended, one fumble recovery and 35 tackles. In his second season (2009), Cromartie performed even better totaling six interceptions, one touchdown, 25 passes defended and three forced fumbles. He was also a Pro Bowl selection.

Combine Results: 40-Yard Dash (4.33 seconds), 20-Yard Dash (2.51 seconds), 10-Yard Dash (1.49 seconds), Bench Press 17 reps, Vertical 38.5-inches, Broad Jump 10-feet-11, 20-Yard Shuttle (4.17 seconds) and 3-Cone Drill (6.74 seconds).

6. Casey Hayward, Chargers (5-foot-11, 188-pounds | 2016 PFF rating: 88.9)

Hayward was a 2012 second-round (62nd overall) selection by the Green Bay Packers. In his first season he played in 16 games, but with only seven starts. Hayward put up exceptional numbers with six interceptions, 21 passes defended, one forced fumble and 35 tackles as a rookie. He was selected to the NFL All-Joes team.

Combine Results: 40-Yard Dash (4.57 seconds), 20-Yard Dash (2.65 seconds), 10-Yard Dash (1.62 seconds), Bench Press 19 reps, Vertical 34-inches, Broad Jump 9-feet-11, 20-Yard Shuttle (3.90 seconds) and 3-Cone Drill (6.76 seconds).

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

7. Malcolm Butler, Patriots (5-foot-11, 190-pounds | 2016 PFF rating: 88.6)

Butler was a 2014 UDFA signed by the New England Patriots. He quickly worked his way up into the starting lineup by his second season, starting all 16 games. That year Butler was selected to the 2015 Pro Bowl and was key to the Patriots’ Super Bowl win. In 2016, his third NFL season, Butler was a Second Team All-Pro and helped lead the Patriots to another Super Bowl win. In 2015-2016 he totaled 32 starts (not missing any games), six interceptions, 31 passes defended, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, one sack and 104 tackles.

Pro Day Results: 40-Yard Dash (4.62 seconds), 20-Yard Dash (2.75 seconds), 10-Yard Dash (1.62 seconds), Bench Press 13 reps, Vertical 33.2-inches, Broad Jump 9-feet-10, 20-Yard Shuttle (4.27 seconds) and 3-Cone Drill (7.20 seconds).

8. Janoris Jenkins, Giants (5-foot-10, 191-pounds | 2016 PFF rating 88.4)

Jenkins was a 2012 second round (38th overall) selection of the St. Louis Rams. He was an immediate starter his first year in the league and was selected to the NFL’s All-Rookie team. In his rookie season, 14 starts, he totaled four interceptions, three touchdowns, 14 passes defended, one fumble recovery, one fumble recovery for a touchdown and 64 tackles. Jenkins was also selected to the PFWA All-Rookie team.

Combine Results: 40-Yard Dash (4.46 seconds), 20-Yard Dash (2.58 seconds), 10-Yard Dash (1.55 seconds), Vertical 33.5-inches, Broad Jump 10-feet-1, 20-Yard Shuttle (4.13 seconds) and 3-Cone Drill (6.95 seconds).

9. Terence Newman, Vikings (5-foot-11, 188-pounds | 2016 PFF rating: 86.4)

Newman was the fifth overall selection in the 2003 draft. He was an immediate starter for the Dallas Cowboys. In his rookie season, 16 starts, he totaled four interceptions, 20 passes defended, one fumble recovery, one sack and 66 tackles.

Combine Results: 40-Yard Dash (4.37 seconds), 20-Yard Dash (2.61 seconds), 10-Yard Dash (1.56 seconds), Vertical 41-inches, Broad Jump 11-feet-4, 20-Yard Shuttle (3.83 seconds) and 3-Cone Drill (6.88 seconds).

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

10. Marcus Peters, Chiefs (6-foot, 198-pounds | 2016 PFF rating: 85.1)

Peters was a 2015 first-round (18th overall) choice out of Washington. As a rookie he was voted to the Pro Bowl, and in 2016 followed it up with another Pro Bowl selection. In his rookie season, 16 starts, he totaled eight interceptions, two touchdowns, 26 passes defended, one forced fumble and 53 tackles.

Combine Results: 40-Yard Dash (4.53 seconds), 20-Yard Dash (2.66 seconds), 10-Yard Dash (1.60 seconds), Vertical 37.5-inches, Broad Jump 10-feet-1, 20-Yard Shuttle (4.08 seconds) and 3-Cone Drill (7.08 seconds).

11. Byron Maxwell, Dolphins (6-foot, 202-pounds | 2016 PFF rating: 85.0)

One of only three cornerbacks in the top 15 who was neither a UDFA or selected past the second-round. In 2011, Maxwell was selected in the sixth-round (173rd overall) by the Seattle Seahawks. He didn’t have the immediate impact that the first-round talents had but by 2013 (his third season), Maxwell finally earned a few starts. In five starts and 16 games played he totaled four interceptions, 14 passes defended, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and 23 tackles.

Combine Results: 40-Yard Dash (4.52 seconds), 20-Yard Dash (2.61 seconds), 10-Yard Dash (1.58 seconds), Bench Press 24 reps, Vertical 33-inches and Broad Jump 10-feet-4.

12. Morris Claiborne, Cowboys (5-foot-11, 188-pounds | 2016 PFF rating: 84.7)

Claiborne was the sixth overall selection of the 2012 draft. He was a starter as a rookie but didn’t put together a stellar performance, totaling one interception, eight passes defended and 43 tackles. Claiborne never live up to expectations, and in 2013-2014 he only played in 14 games with 10 starts. To this point during his five NFL seasons he has played in 47 games with 43 starts and has four interceptions, 26 passes defended, one forced fumble, four fumble recoveries, one touchdown and 126 tackles. After only playing in seven games in 2016, Claiborne’s numbers don’t look too impressive but his per game performance made him one of the better cornerbacks in the league last season.

Combine Results: 40-Yard Dash (4.50 seconds), 20-Yard Dash (2.61 seconds), 10-Yard Dash (1.57 seconds), Vertical 34.5-inches, Broad Jump 9-feet-10, 20-Yard Shuttle (4.12 seconds) and 3-Cone Drill (7.01 seconds).

13. Richard Sherman, Seahawks (6-foot-3, 195-pounds | 2016 PFF rating: 84.6)

Sherman, the second cornerback selected outside of round two, was the 154th overall pick (fifth round) of the Seahawks’ 2011 draft class. In Sherman’s rookie season he was selected to the NFL All-Rookie team and in 2012 was an All-Pro selection. As a rookie (16 games and 10 starts), he totaled four interceptions, 17 passes defended, one forced fumble and 47 tackles.

Combine Results: 40-Yard Dash (4.60 seconds), 20-Yard Dash (2.65 seconds), 10-Yard Dash (1.61 seconds), Bench Press 16 reps, Vertical 38-inches, Broad Jump 10-feet-5, 20-Yard Shuttle (4.33 seconds) and 3-Cone Drill (6.82 seconds).

New England Patriots v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

14. Patrick Peterson, Cardinals (6-foot, 220-pounds | 2016 PFF rating: 84.4)

Peterson was the fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft. As a rookie he was an immediate starter and key contributor, starting in all 16 games and totaling two interceptions, 13 passes defended, two fumble recoveries, one sack and 59 tackles. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl in every season since entering the NFL, including his rookie season.

Combine Results: 40-Yard Dash (4.38 seconds), 20-Yard Dash (2.58 seconds), 10-Yard Dash (1.57 seconds), Bench Press 15 reps, Vertical 38-inches, Broad Jump 10-feet6, 20-Yard Shuttle (4.07 seconds) and 3-Cone Drill (6.58 seconds).

15. William Gay, Steelers (5-foot-10, 183-pounds | 2016 PFF rating 83.7)

Gay was a 2007 fifth-round selection (170th overall). Gay had zero impact as a rookie but made four starts in his second season totaling one interception, seven passes defended and 35 tackles. While Gay’s coverage stats are not all that impressive, it was his run defense and pass rush grades in 2016 which earned him a spot at 15.

Pro Day Results: 40-Yard Dash (4.48 seconds), 20-Yard Dash (2.55 seconds), 10-Yard Dash (1.51 seconds), Bench Press 16 reps, Vertical 38.5-inches, Broad Jump 9-feet-10, 20-Yard Shuttle (4.15 seconds) and 3-Cone Drill (6.89 seconds).

Out of the Top 15 cornerbacks of 2016, forty percent (six) were selected in the first round; 27 percent (four) were UDFAs; 13 percent (two) were selected in the second round and 20 percent (three) were selected in rounds five through seven.

It’s not surprising to see so many first round picks on the list, but it was a bit surprising to see so many UDFAs. The 2017 draft is deep at the cornerback position, meaning good corners will be available in rounds two and three, but it also means the ones drafted in the first-round could be some special talents. The Saints already have a handful of UDFAs at cornerback in De’Vante Harris, Ken Crawley and Sterling Moore. With the 11th and 32rd overall picks it seems about time for the Saints to look to the first-round for their next cornerback.

Who would your first-round cornerback selection be? Let me know in the comments.

Credits: Rankings and grades courtesy of Pro Football Focus, Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference, Combine / Pro Day results courtesy of NFL Draft Scout