NFL Draft 2012 positional breakdowns: Cornerback

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NFL Draft 2012 positional breakdowns: Cornerback

Each weekday, from now until the week of the draft, we'll take a position-by-position look at the Patriots' draft needs and which players they may be looking at. Today: Cornerbacks

POSITION OVERVIEW
The 2012 cornerback class has a nice group of varied talents. The small waterbug type, the rangier cornersafety hybrids. But while every team values coverage skills and is often willing to pay for it in free agency, the same urgency isn't seen on draft day. A couple of reasons for that. There's a glut of guys between 5-9 and 6-1 who run really fast, have great short-area quickness and can jump. There are far fewer 6-4, 330-pound offense wreckers or 6-7, 310-pound backside protectors or 6-5, 265-pound pass rushers who can run a 4.7. And college level success is not a precursor to NFL level success as it may be with other positions. At the head of the 2012 draft class, all by himself is LSU's Morris Claiborne. He's sticky as hell and a top-10 pick. After Claiborne, there are 10 corners seen as deserving of consideration in the first three rounds.
PATRIOTS PREDICAMENT

This is a tough position to handicap for the Patriots because there's a fair amount of forecasting that needs to be done. For instance, which Devin McCourty shows up in 2012, the one that played so well as a rookie or the one who was one of the worst starting corners in the NFL in 2011? What can one expect from 2011 second-rounder Ras-I Dowling after he lost the 2011 season to injury? Kyle Arrington is pretty well established now as a strong little player. Sterling Moore flashed enough ball skills and smarts to be intriguing even if he isn't as fast as you'd like a corner to be. With where they draft, the Patriots are going to have cracks at talented players. The chore for them will be determining which ones they can wait on - if there are a few - or figuring out how high they have to get to draft the one they want.

TOP OF THE CLASS
Morris Claiborne, 5-11, 188, LSU
The best corner in the draft by a lot. Incredibly quick and able to shadow. Ridiculously long arms (33 inches, two inches longer than ballyhooed pass rusher Melvin Ingram). Pulled an impossibly low Wonderlic score (reportedly a 4). He'll be long gone before the Patriots select.
Stephon Gilmore, 6-1, 190, South Carolina
Comes from a program that's been churning out solid cover men. Tremendous sub-4.4 speed with length and body control. More instinctive than schooled at this point and will need to refine his technique. Probably a top-20 pick.

Dre Kirkpatrick, 6-2, 186, AlabamaConfident with good length and excellent athleticism. Will play physically and jam but his lean build could cause him to be overpowered a little by bigger, stronger receivers. Not as fast as Gilmore and Claiborne and there are some maturity concerns. Might fit nicely as a "star" corner covering the slot for the Patriots but would probably not be a tremendous fit based on reviews.

Janoris Jenkins, 5-10, 193, North Alabama
One of the draft's most intriguing players because he's got first-round skills but a red flag history of irresponsible behavior that got him kicked out of Florida. Can play all techniques and is willing to be physical. Has excellent ball skills and is slippery when he gets it in his hands. Also has four children by three different women and, while he's pledged he's going to be responsible and dependable, he needs a cocoon of support. The Patriots may be a team that can afford him that if they feel the risk-reward is there.
Trumaine Johnson, 6-2, 204, Montana
His size and range make him an interesting prospect because he could play safety or corner and versatility has become such a valued trait among defensive backs. Plays the ball very well and was dominant as a four-year starter, albeit against lesser competition than the other highly-rated corners. Needs some personal direction.
BEST PATRIOTS FITS
Jenkins. If he's on the board in the second round when the Patriots pick at 48, he could be a tough player to pass on. But he has to check out with their personnel people.

Brandon Boykins. A Georgia product with excellent return skills, he's not seen as one of the top prospects but he's seen as a guy who can come in and cover the slot right away and brings special teams ability. A tempting guy in the late-second or early-third.

Ron Brooks. A sleeper who can absolutely fly (4.39 40) and has great special teams ability. Can play all over the place in the secondary and is a very good tackler. The kind of player the Patriots may value ahead of other teams.

Patriots represented at Stanford, Utah, Missouri pro days

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Patriots represented at Stanford, Utah, Missouri pro days

The Patriots had a busy day of gathering intel on Thursday. A very busy day. 

While Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia represented the Patriots at Ohio State and Notre Dame, respectively, the team had other representatives at high-profile pro days around the country including Stanford, Missouri and Utah. 

Here are a few of the players the Patriots were able to get a better look at . . . 

Stanford: The Patriots have shown plenty of interest in players coming from David Shaw's program in the past (Cameron Fleming, Jordan Richards), and they'll undoubtedly appreciate the talents brought to the table by two of the school's projected first-rounders in Solomon Thomas and Christian McCaffrey. Thomas is a powerful 6-foot-3, 273-pound defensive lineman who can play just about anywhere up front. McCaffrey, meanwhile, is one of the most athletic running backs in this year's class. He worked out as a receiver on Thursday and could fill a multitude of roles as a pro, whether it's as a back, a slot receiver or a kick-returner. The Patriots would need to trade back into the first round to have a prayer at landing either player. 

Utah: The Utes have a handful of draftable offensive linemen and one who is expected to come off the board in the first round. Garrett Bolles, who lit up the combine, might be the top tackle available -- and there are those who believe he's just starting to tap into his potential. Isaac Asiata is a monster guard (6-3, 323, 34-inch arms) who put up more bench-press reps than any other offensive lineman at this year's combine, and center JJ Dielman is an intriguing later-round option. One of the quickest risers in the pre-draft process? Marcus Williams, who is an eye-popping athlete. He was top-five for those at his position at the combine in the vertical, broad jump and three-cone drill, and he looks like a ready-made NFL free safety. The Patriots are pretty well stocked at that spot, but if they're picking at the bottom of the first round and going with the best player available, they may very well think that's Williams. 

Missouri: Defensive players were in focus for scouts and coaches at the Tigers pro day, and Charles Harris was the headliner. One of the most impressive players within a very deep class of edge defenders, the 6-3, 253-pounder appears to have the quickness and burst to give NFL tackles fits. One of Harris' teammates up front, Josh Augusta, ran a pretty ridiculous 40-yard dash Thursday, clocking in just a shade under five seconds. Ridiculous, why? Because he's a defensive tackle who wighed 390 pounds during the season. That's moving. Augusta dropped down to 347 after being diagnosed with a thyroid issue in January and is looking to get to 335. Corner Aarion Penton can competes well for the football, but his size (5-9, 177) may scare teams off until late in the draft. 

Haggerty: Bruins show signs of 'nosedive out of playoffs'

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Haggerty: Bruins show signs of 'nosedive out of playoffs'

Joe Haggerty breaks down the Boston Bruins 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning and discusses their playoff chances slipping away.