How can NFL defensive coordinators possibly counter the influx of athletic talent and changes to the game that have made offenses so potent? Here's one way: find a cornerback like Justin Gilbert to draft.
The 6-foot Oklahoma State product dominated DB drills in Indianapolis, racing through the 40 in 4.37 seconds and following that up by showing impressive fluidity elsewhere on the field. The debate will rage between now and May as to whether Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard or another talent like Kyle Fuller is the top cornerback in the draft.
Gilbert definitely threw down the gauntlet Tuesday. Which other players starred or struggled on the combine's final day?
Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice: Size and speed. That's the desired combo at ... well, every position for the most part, but especially right now at cornerback as teams attempt to find the next Richard Sherman. Gaines' game is not even in that ballpark yet, but he probably made himself some money in Indianapolis.
The 6-0 Gaines broke a Rice school record with 38 pass break-ups during the season and he flashed top-end speed Tuesday, running a 4.38 40 time -- just one one-hundredth of a second off Justin Gilbert's DB-best time. He also hit over 10 feet in the broad jump and posted a 36 1/2-inch vertical.
"For a guy that's going to be a mid- to late-[round], developmental corner," the NFL Network's Mike Mayock said, "I'm not sure you're going to get any better value than Phillip Gaines."
Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State: There is a perceived drop-off at safety after Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor. Don't mistake that statement with a lack of talent at the position.
Bucannon could be the best of the rest. He stands 6-1 and between 210 and 220 pounds (he was closer to the latter at the Senior Bowl, then dropped down under 215 for the combine). There have been questions about his speed, even as a safety who has shown the ability to come down into the box and make plays. He put some of those fears to rest on Tuesday thanks to a 4.53 40 that's plenty fast for a safety.
Keith McGill, CB, Utah: One look at this guy should tell you all you need to know about why he's an intriguing prospect. He stands 6-3 with long, muscular arms -- watching him catch and run Tuesday certainly gave off the impression of an NFL cornerback. His unofficial 40 times of 4.44 and 4.5 at that height might even bump him up to the point of being overdrafted.
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State: The former Buckeye is a sensational athlete. We knew that much headed into Indianapolis and an unofficial 4.4 40 won't do anything to change the scouting report.
"Are you convinced you can be a shutdown corner in the NFL?" Roby was asked this week.
"Yes, definitely," he responded. "I think that’s something I bring to the table to any team and I plan to show that to whatever team drafts me."
He was that guy during the 2012 season at Ohio State. He wasn't -- at least not consistently -- in 2013. The terrific speed and his willingness to play physically will keep him in the Round 1 mix.
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Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford: Reynolds kind of got double-whammied by Mayock on the NFL Network's broadcast.
"He would have been better off going back to Stanford for another year," Mayock said after Reynolds' first 40 time landed in the 4.6s. Later, after a similar performance, Mayock added, "I was hoping he'd run faster."
As a safety Reynolds does not need to be in the 4.4 range like some of the cornerbacks, but he is coming off a disappointing 2013 season at Stanford. His game is more read-and-react than it is dominating with athleticism, so his speed should not bury him. Still, he could've used a stronger showing really across the board on Tuesday.
Loucheiz Purifoy/Marcus Roberson, CBs, Florida: Both guys finished at 4.61 officially in the 40. The result was particularly surprising in relation to Purifoy, who seems to be faster than that time on film. Even former Florida Gator Joe Haden, now a member of the Cleveland Browns and a guest analyst on the NFL Network Tuesday, seemed surprised by the lack of acceleration.
"I thought he'd be faster," said Haden of Purifoy.
Seconds later, Deion Sanders joked the Roberson had run himself into a grouping with the safeties, who generally are slower.
Purifoy may have quicker feet than he showed in the 40 drill, especially when it comes to turning his hips. Roberson never pretended to have superhuman speed, though chipping into the mid-4.5s at Florida's Pro Day would help him out a bunch.
One Gator who did help his cause Tuesday: DB Jaylen Watkins, who was two-tenths faster than Purifoy and Roberson.
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