The NFL Combine. Blink and you'll miss it. It seems like just yesterday the OL and TE classes were getting measured up in preparation for day one of drills. Instead, we're just hours away from the defensive back group taking the field, as well as just hours away from the Miami Dolphins really keying in on the cornerbacks that will top the team's draft board this spring. Maybe Miami will fall in love with Alabama sledgehammer DeMarcus Milliner, and then proceed to watch him slide out of the top 11 in late April. Perhaps Washington's Desmond Trufant is just a blazing 40 time away from locking up the No. 12 pick in 2013. Maybe the team has its eye on one of the lesser-known corners in this year's class--UCONN's Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Florida State's Xavier Rhodes, Rutgers' Logan Ryan, etc.--and simply needs to confirm some on-field skills before committing a high pick to the position. And what about the big-name safeties in this draft? Will the Dolphins consider a big-shot prospect like Texas' Kenny Vaccaro in the first round? What about a physical playmaker like Florida's Matt Elam or a proven leader like LSU's Eric Reid?
Regardless, here are the top seven prospects to keep an eye on during this morning's defensive back drills:
1) DeMarcus Milliner, Alabama (6'0", 201)
He's right on the cusp of being out of the Dolphins' range this spring, but he's also right on the cusp of sliding out of the top 10. Go figure. Still, he's a premier physical talent at the position, and brings good instincts and athleticism to the position. Not a natural cover corner, but has the upside and ball skills to develop into a very man-coverage piece at the next level.
2) Desmond Trufant, Washington (6'0", 190)
He's No. 1 on my board, and while it seems unimportant, the half inch in height he gained at the Combine (he was listed at 5'11 1/2" at the Senior Bowl), will earn him more looks from teams interested in drafting a pure man-coverage corner. Trufant's strong enough to qualify as as an ideal press corner, and his instincts are arguably the best of any prospect in this class. A sub-4.45 in the 40-yard dash could make him a prime target for the Dolphins at No. 12.
3) Xavier Rhodes, Florida State (6'2", 210)
Rhodes already has momentum going into this morning's workout, thanks to the measurables he posted on Sunday. An ideal press corner at the next level, Rhodes has the length and physicality to re-route and consistently disrupt and frustrate his assignments. Is he fast enough to take the next step in man coverage, though? That remains to be seen. No corner in this year's class needs a better 40 time than Rhodes--with it, he's a first-round selection.
4) Kenny Vaccaro, Texas (6'0, 214)
Likely the showstopper prospect in this year's safety class, Vaccaro has the athleticism, cover and ball skills to tear up the drill portion of today's workout. A low 4.4 isn't out of the question for the former Texas safety; neither is a spot in the top 15 this April. Other safeties in the group will dazzle (Elam, specifically), but the NFL Combine is Vaccaro's time to shine.
5) Blidi Wreh-Wilson, UCONN (6'1", 195)
Wreh-Wilson's quest to challenge for the title of top man-coverage corner in this class will take center stage later today, and he has the speed, loose hips, technique and balance to make it happen. He'll lose points for his overall lack of physicality, but he's a blanket-in-waiting prospect who has a lot of Nnamdi Asomugha in his game.
6) Logan Ryan, Rutgers (5'11", 191)
Ryan's the best-kept secret in this year's corner class, but I expect that to change after today's workout. I hate to use the term "poor man's Dee Milliner," but Ryan fits that bill. A well-built specimen with advanced physicality for the position, Ryan will need to time well in the 40-yard dash to cement a day-two grade. That said, he's a big-time prospect in a sneaky good class. Arguably the loosest set of hips in this draft, too.
7) Jordan Poyer, Oregon State (6'0", 191)
Like Trufant, Poyer measured taller at the Combine than he did at the Senior Bowl. Good thing, too, because he might be one of the better man-coverage guys in this draft. Smooth, loose and physical, Poyer brings an advanced corner skill set to the table, and can also contribute some in the return game. He'll need a 4.4 to confirm his standing as cover corner at the next level, and the question of whether he can press will need to be answered, as well (Poyer registered only eight reps at 225 pounds on the bench press).