Cornerbacks have been a hot commodity in the NFL draft in recent years. Over the past three years (2009-11), there were 27 more cornerbacks taken overall (nine more in the first three rounds) than in the previous three drafts (2006-08).
The increased demand comes as no surprise considering the explosion of pass-happy offenses in the NFL. Three- and four-receiver sets have become the norm, which means teams are always in the market for defensive backs capable of holding up in man coverage.
Given that trend, this week's Nickel Package focuses on five cornerbacks on the rise. Underclassmen are noted with an asterisk.
Morris Claiborne, LSU*
It might sound odd to say a player already ranked among the top 10 overall prospects is on the rise, but Claiborne has delivered big-time on the potential I saw during preseason film study.
He has the size (6-foot-0, 173 pounds), fluidity and top-end speed you look for in a top-flight cover corner, and Claiborne is among the elite in college football when it comes to locating the ball over his shoulder and attacking it at the highest possible point.
I believe he is the premier draft-eligible cover corner for 2012, and he's in the process of locking down a spot in the top half of the first round.
Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State*
Banks is tall and somewhat lean (6-2, 185), but he's aggressive in run support. He lacks great fluidity in his hips, but Banks uses his long frame to his advantage and has good instincts, and his top-end speed appears to be good.
He's a playmaker as a tackler (49 total tackles) and against the pass (five INTs, 8 PBUs this season; 12 career INTs). While Banks is only a junior, he's playing the best football of his career. He could work his way into Day 2 if he elects to leave school.
Ryan Steed, Furman
Steed, one of the top small-school prospects in the 2012 class, has adequate size (5-105, 192) and top-end speed. He's very quick, too, showing fluid hips and upper-echelon instincts and ball skills in both man and zone coverage.
Steed held up well against Day 2 receiver Brian Quick of Appalachian State in his last outing, the third straight game in which he recorded a pick. Steed now has 13 interceptions in his career, and he could get into the latter portion of Day 2 before all is said and done.
Trevin Wade, Arizona
Wade has improved this season, showing more aggressiveness and trusting his instincts more. He has two interceptions this season to go with 10 pass breakups, and he's active against the run (43 tackles).
He carried a late-round grade into the season, but if Wade can run a respectable time in the 40-yard dash -- better than the reported 4.5-4.6 second range he ran in the spring -- and work out well during the pre-draft process, he could move into the middle rounds.
Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt
Heyward has some limitations in man-to-man coverage, but he displays outstanding instincts when playing in space. He knows how to read routes and the eyes of the quarterback, and he consistently gets an early jump on the ball.
He also shows good ball skills (11 combined picks the past two seasons) and has moved from a fringe prospect after preseason film study to a fourth-rounder who could rise even further.
2012 NFL draft - Morris Claiborne among cornerbacks rising up board - ESPN