2012 NFL Draft: Defensive backs

The opinions and analysis contained in this feature are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the thoughts and opinions of the Seahawks’ coaching staff and personnel department.

A look at the positions heading into the April 26-28 draft:

Best of the bunch

Player, school                                      Ht.    Wt.    Projection

CB Morris Claiborne, LSU                 5-11   188   Top 5-10 pick

SS Mark Barron, Alabama                 6-1    213   Top 10-15 pick

CB Stephon Gilmore, So. Carolina   6-1    190   Middle of first round

CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama            6-2    186   Middle of first round

SS Harrison Smith, Notre Dame       6-2    213   Late first, early second round

(Rankings and projections by Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com)

What it all means: In what is becoming a passing league, teams need to find cornerbacks and safeties who can cover all those bigger, faster receivers that are being targeted by the prolific passers – including the tight ends and slot receivers. Coverage skills remain at a premium and teams also are looking for bigger, more physical corners. As former NFL coach turned ESPN analyst Jon Gruden put it, “You’d better take as many skill cover guys as you can find, whether they’re safeties, big corners, small corners. You’d better get people that can cover and tackle in one-on-one situations.”

What about: Gilmore. He has become one of the fastest-rising prospects in this draft class, for obvious reasons. “He’s skyrocketed because he’s a good football player and he’s a great kid,” ESPN analyst Mel Kier Jr. said. “When you’re smart, when you’re competitive and as intense a competitor as he is, your character his high, there are no red flags, you’re 6-foot (plus), you ran a great 40 (4.4), you played well … the bottom line is, he could go in the Top 10.”

Don’t forget about: George Iloka. The Boise State free safety is Rang’s top-rated player at the position. And why not? Iloka has size (6-4, 225) and long arms (34 inches). He also played receiver in high school, just like the Seahawks’ Richard Sherman, and even moved to cornerback late last season after Jamar Taylor was injured. Rang projects Iloka (it’s Eye-LOKE-uh) as a second- or third-round pick.

Seahawks situation: Look at the transformation in the team’s secondary the past two years. The 2010 draft delivered free safety Earl Thomas in the first round and strong safety Kam Chancellor in the fifth – and each played in the Pro Bowl after last season. The 2011 draft brought Sherman, the long-limbed cornerback, in the fifth round; while CFL refugee Brandon Browner – all 6 feet 4 of him – started opposite Sherman and also went to the Pro Bowl in his first season in the NFL. Veteran corners Marcus Trufant and Roy Lewis are back and promising third-year corner Walter Thurmond will be at some point after completing the rehab on his latest injury. It’s an imposing group, but as Gruden said, you can never have enough skilled cover guys.

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