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Who Would Fit in Denver: Defensive Backs

Posted May 1, 2014

Independent analyst Andrew Mason lists cornerbacks and safeties that could be good fits in Denver in the 2014 NFL Draft.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the Broncos draft one defensive back, they often add another. So even if you see a name like Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller, Ohio State's Bradley Roby or TCU's Jason Verrett atop of the Broncos' draft haul, it doesn't mean they're done.

But when you get to the end of the third day, you're looking at prospects who have dropped -- usually with good reason. Some had good Combine or Pro Day workouts, but didn't have strong film or didn't start multiple seasons. Some struggled by the numbers, but had good film. Others are undersized.

As the Broncos have seen, you can find contributors among this crowd, some of whom slip out of the draft entirely. For most of the 2013 season, two such players were in their starting defensive backfield: cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and safety Duke Ihenacho. Harris passed through the draft because he was considered a "tweener" who, in the minds of some teams, wasn't big enough for safety but not fast enough for cornerback. Ihenacho had injury concerns that depressed his stock. But both stuck and have provided excellent value.

Today, we'll look closer at a few of the defensive backs who should be on the board in the draft's final hours:

Deion Belue, Alabama: A foot injury last year kept him from playing extensively, so teams will look at his 2012 film, when he started 14 games, intercepted a pair of passes and was a solid coverage cornerback in his first year after transferring from Northeast Mississippi Community College. With average size (5-foot-11) and reach (31.5-inch arms), Belue compensated with aggressiveness, particularly at the line of scrimmage. Belue ran a 4.50-second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. Turf toe kept him from working out at the Combine. He also has kickoff and punt return experience, although that came before he transferred to Alabama.

Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma: A torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered during practice prior to the Senior Bowl means that the team that adds him might be waiting until 2015 before he makes his debut. Prior to the injury, Colvin looked like a mid-round pick; he has strong coverage skills, plays bigger than his 5-foot-11, 177-pound size, was a three-year starter and showed versatility, lining up at safety and cornerback -- although his size dictates he'll be an NFL cornerback, perhaps in a slot role. If he recovers from the injury, he could represent good value, and his intelligence and intangible strengths should help him get up to speed quickly once he finally hits the field.

Jonathan Dowling, Western Kentucky: At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, he doesn't have the bulk you want at safety, and noted at the Combine that teams were looking at him as a cornerback. But with teams looking for bigger, longer cornerbacks who can use their reach to compensate for a lack of blazing speed, Dowling will get a look. At the Combine, Dowling was the tallest cornerback and had the second-longest arms (33 1/8 inches). His 40 time of 4.52 seconds was 21st of the 48 cornerbacks who ran at Indianapolis, and he was 21st of 38 defensive backs in the three-cone drill (7.04 seconds) and 20th of 39 defensive backs in the short shuttle (4.24 seconds). Dowling is a ballhawk; he forced eight fumbles and intercepted nine passes the last two years, and moves smoothly. But he was kicked out of the program at Florida because of a violation of team rules, leading to his transfer to WKU. He will also have to learn how to play cornerback in the NFL, although WKU showed cover-zero looks and he had a fair amount of man-to-man responsibilities.

Kendall James, Maine: The questions around the 5-foot-10, 180-pound James involves his transition from the FCS level and his potential at playing inside, as his size is less than ideal for one of the outside spots. Although he was one of the fastest and most explosive defensive backs at the Combine -- among DBs, he had the eighth-best 40 and three-cone times and the third-best vertical jump -- his lack of reach in tandem with his size might put some teams off; his 29.5-inch arms were the shortest of any secondary player at the Combine.

Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama: The "other" Crimson Tide safety is a coach's son; his father, Sal, has worked in college and the NFL, and served as John Fox's defensive line coach with Carolina in the 2000's. Sunseri is coming off a torn ACL suffered last October, and wasn't especially fast before the injury, but made up for it with good anticipation, aggression and quickness. He talked up his background as a coach's son to media at the Combine, noting that he had studied playbooks and film from his younger years.

Other notable defensive backs in the sixth- and seventh-round range: Mo Alexander, Utah State; Lonnie Ballentine, Memphis; Bene Benwikere, San Jose State; Nat Berhe, San Diego State; Christian Bryant, Ohio State; Travis Carrie, Ohio; Alden Darby, Arizona State; Brandon Dixon, Northwest Missouri State; Andre Hal, Vanderbilt; Bennett Jackson, Notre Dame; Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State; Avery Patterson, Oregon; Shaquille Richardson, Arizona; Daniel Sorensen, BYU; Lavelle Westbrooks, Georgia Southern; Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State.

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