|Paramus (NJ) Catholic cornerback Jabrill Peppers is the top player at his position in 2014.|
Leon Washington - CB - Jacksonville (FL) Andrew Jackson (#9 overall): Washington was the top corner in the 2002 class, but he didn't spend a single season at Florida State playing defense. Instead, he became a scatback for the Seminoles, totaling 369 carries for 2,041 yards (5.5 yards/carry) and 12 touchdowns. He also caught 55 passes for 481 yards and 1 touchdown. He was also an effective but unspectacular returner in Tallahassee, averaging 11.1 yards/punt return and 24.8 yards/kick return with 1 touchdown in each category. The New York Jets drafted him in the 4th round (#117 overall) of the 2006 NFL Draft. In a nine-year NFL career, he has 474 carries for 2,214 yards (4.7 yards/carry) and 16 touchdowns. He has 146 catches for 1,127 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has also averaged 10 yards/return on 174 returns. But where he has made his biggest impact is as a kick returner, where he has returned 261 kickoffs for 6,815 yards (26.1 yards/return) for 8 touchdowns, the latter of which is tied for an NFL record. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2008 and 2012 and is currently a member of the Tennessee Titans, where he was exclusively a returner in 2013.
Paul Oliver - CB - Kennesaw (GA) Harrison (#9 overall): Oliver is the saddest story on the list. He redshirted as a freshman at Georgia in 2003 and then became a backup for a couple years. As a redshirt freshman, he had 9 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 interception. Then he had 28 tackles and 3 interceptions as a redshirt sophomore. Finally earning a starting gig as a redshirt junior, he had 57 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 6 pass breakups. He entered the NFL's Supplemental Draft in 2007 and finished his career with 94 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and 7 interceptions. The San Diego Chargers drafted him in the 4th round, and he spent the 2008-2011 seasons with the team, totaling 96 tackles, 4 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, and 3 fumble recoveries, 1 of which he returned for a touchdown. After being out of the game for a couple years, Oliver committed suicide in front of his wife and children in September 2013.
Theodore Ginn, Jr. - CB - Cleveland (OH) Glenville (#2 overall): Ginn was a receiver right off the bat at Ohio State, catching 135 passes for 1,943 yards (14.4 yards/catch) and 15 touchdowns in his three years in Columbus. He also ran the ball 28 times for 213 yards and 3 touchdowns, averaged 14.1 yards/punt return with 6 touchdowns, and averaged 26.6 yards/kick return with 2 touchdowns. He developed into an All-Big Ten player and a Second Team All-American. He left the Buckeyes after three seasons to become the #9 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins. In seven years with Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, and Carolina Panthers, he has totaled 197 catches for 2,604 yards (13.2 yards/catch) and 11 touchdowns, along with 31 rushing attempts for 239 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has also averaged 11.2 yards/punt return for 3 touchdowns and 23.3 yards/kick return for 3 touchdowns.
Justin King - CB - Monroeville (PA) Gateway (#19 overall): King was a two-way player when he first arrived at Penn State, catching 10 passes for 126 yards and 2 touchdowns, running 18 times for 227 yards, and notching 11 tackles and 2 pass breakups as a true freshman in 2005. After that he was a full-time defender. He had 30 tackles, 1 interception, and 6 pass breakups as a sophomore in 2006, then 49 tackles, 2 interceptions, and an impressive 15 pass breakups as a junior in 2007. His junior year earned him First Team all-conference honors. He left early for the NFL Draft and was picked in the 4th round (#101 overall) in 2008, going to the St. Louis Rams. In a five year career with the Rams, Indianapolis Colts, and Pittsburgh Steelers, he notched 116 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, and 11 pass breakups. He has not played in the NFL since 2012.
A.J. Wallace - CB - Pomfret (MD) McDonough (#19 overall): Much like King, Wallace was a two-way player in his first year at Penn State before concentrating on defense. As a freshman in 2006, he had rushed 8 times for 153 yards and 1 touchdown, caught 1 pass for 5 yards, returned 16 kickoffs for 388 yards, and made 10 tackles on defense. As a sophomore in 2007, he was a part-time starter at cornerback and made 33 tackles, 1 interception, 3 fumble recoveries, and 4 pass breakups; he also set the PSU school record with 581 kickoff return yards, averaging 26.4 yards/attempt and scoring a 97-yard return touchdown. In 2008 as a junior, he had 20 tackles and 2 pass breakups as a part-time starter once again. As a senior in 2009, he earned a starting job and made 39 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 3 interceptions, and 3 pass breakups. He went undrafted in the 2010 NFL Draft and signed with the Miami Dolphins but was cut before playing in a game. He has bounced around between the Arena league and the Canadian Football League since then, but does not currently appear on a roster to my knowledge.
Eric Berry - CB - Fairburn (GA) Creekside (#3 overall): Berry hit the field as a safety at Tennessee with a bang, earning Second Team All-SEC and Freshman All-American honors. He had 86 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 5 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble, and 9 pass breakups. As a sophomore in 2008, he was a unanimous All-American with 72 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 7 interceptions, and 13 pass breakups; he also rushed 7 times for 37 yards. Then he was a unanimous All-American again in 2009 and won the Jim Thorpe Award with 89 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, and 9 pass breakups. He was selected #5 overall in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. The only thing that has stopped Berry in the NFL has been a torn ACL in 2011. Otherwise, he has been named to the Pro Bowl in 2010, 2012, and 2013, totaling 252 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 8 interceptions (3 returned for touchdowns), and 29 passes defensed.
Patrick Johnson (now Patrick Peterson) - CB - Pompano Beach (FL) Blanche Ealy (#5 overall): Johnson started four games as a freshman at LSU in 2008, totaling 41 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, and 3 pass breakups. He became a full-time starter as a sophomore in 2009 when he made 52 tackles, 2 interceptions (1 returned for a touchdown), 13 pass breakups, and 1 blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. As a junior in 2010, he made 42 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 4 interceptions, blocked 1 kick, and broke up 6 passes; he also came into his own as a returner, averaging 16.1 yards/punt return with 2 touchdowns and averaging 29.1 yards/kick return. For his efforts as a junior, he was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, won the Jim Thorpe Award, won the Bednarik Award, and was named First Team All-America. He entered the draft a year early and was taken #5 overall by the Arizona Cardinals, for whom he has been named to the Pro Bowl in 2011, 2012, and 2013. He tied a record for most punt return touchdowns in a season as a rookie in 2011, also setting the rookie mark for punt return yardage. Altogether, he has 161 tackles, 1 sack, 12 interceptions, and 42 passes defensed; he averages 10.3 yards/punt return with 4 career touchdowns and has also made some cameo efforts passing, running, and catching the ball for the Cardinals.
Dre Kirkpatrick - CB - Gadsden (AL) City (#11 overall): Kirkpatrick was a backup in his first season at Alabama, where he made 8 total tackles. As a sophomore in 2010, he earned a starting cornerback job and made 53 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, 7 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery. He was Second Team All-SEC and All-America in 2011, when he had 30 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 9 pass breakups, and 2 forced fumbles. He left a season early and was drafted #17 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2012 NFL Draft. Hampered by injuries so far, he has 34 tackles, 3 interceptions (1 for a touchdown), 1 sack, and 7 passes defensed over two seasons.
Lamarcus Joyner - CB - Fort Lauderdale (FL) St. Thomas Aquinas (#14 overall): Joyner has been all over the magazines, blogs, sports channels, etc. in recent weeks after his Florida State Seminoles reached and won the national championship. As a true freshman backup in 2010, he made 23 tackles, 1 interception, and 3 pass breakups while averaging 20.6 yards per kick return. In 2011 he became a starting safety, racking up 54 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 4 interceptions, and 3 pass breakups on his way to being named Second Team All-ACC; he also averaged 30.5 yards/kick return. He then totaled 51 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, and 5 pass breakups as a junior in 2012 and averaged 23.6 yards/kick return. As a senior in 2013, he moved to cornerback and ended the year as the second-leading tackler with 69 stops, 7.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 4 pass breakups, and 3 forced fumbles. NFL Draft Scout ranks him as the #6 cornerback and the #54 overall prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft.
Malcolm Mitchell - CB - Valdosta (GA) Valdosta (#30 overall): The only 4-star on this list (all other top-ranked corners were 5-star prospects), Mitchell has ended up primarily as a receiver at Georgia. As a freshman in 2011, he was exclusively an offensive weapon, catching 45 passes for 665 yards and 4 touchdowns and carrying 4 times for 38 yards. As a sophomore in 2012, he played some defense but caught 40 passes for 572 yards and 4 touchdowns; he also ran 5 times for 32 yards, averaged 22.5 yards/kick return, and made 12 tackles, 3 pass breakups, and 1 fumble recovery. In Georgia's 2013 season opener, he unfortunately tore his ACL simply jumping up and down after running back Todd Gurley scored a touchdown in the first quarter; he will likely return to the team in 2014 as a redshirt junior.
Tracy Howard - CB - Miramar (FL) Miramar (#13 overall): Howard was a backup at Miami as a true freshman in 2012, making 17 tackles and 4 pass breakups while starting one game. Starting at cornerback in 2013, Howard made 35 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 4 interceptions, 1 pass breakup, and 1 forced fumble. He will be a junior for the Hurricanes in 2014.
Vernon Hargreaves III - CB - Tampa (FL) Wharton (#2 overall): Hargreaves was a Third Team All-American as a true freshman at Florida in 2013, when he started ten games and made 38 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 11 pass breakups. He was also a First Team All-Freshman All-American and First Team All-SEC. He will be a sophomore for the Gators in 2014.
Jabrill Peppers - CB - Paramus (NJ) Catholic (#2 overall): ???
I was a little surprised when I went through this list and saw that there were several guys who underperformed. Typically, it seems that positions based on visible athletic skill are pretty consistent and easier to scout than linemen and linebackers, but this is a hit-and-miss group. It makes sense that elite cornerbacks - who are often the most athletic guys on the field - might end up at running back, wide receiver, or safety in college, just because they have they often have the ability to excel at numerous positions.
The last couple corners (Howard, Hargreaves) seem like pretty safe bets to stick at the position and to be impact players throughout their college careers, but of the ten guys before them, only three (Kirkpatrick, Johnson/Peterson, and Oliver) played cornerback exclusively, aside from forays into returning punts and kickoffs. Here's a breakdown of what positions the top "cornerback" went on to play:
Cornerback: 5 (Hargreaves, Howard, Kirkpatrick, Johnson/Peterson, Oliver)
Cornerback/safety: 1 (Joyner)
Cornerback/wide receiver: 3 (Mitchell, Wallace, King)
Safety: 1 (Berry)
Wide receiver: 1 (Ginn)
Running back: 1 (Washington)
Performances are all over the place, too. Patrick Peterson and Eric Berry are the only guys to have turned into dominant players, while Kirkpatrick and Ginn turned into very good but not great players. Hargreaves and Howard still have a chance to make it to that level, while Joyner is probably another slight step down.
So what can Michigan expect from Jabrill Peppers, assuming he signs with Michigan next month? Well, based on the history of the ranking at the position, he will almost certainly contribute in multiple phases of the game. Defense and special teams are near certainties, and he has been told that he will get a chance to contribute on offense, too. At 6'0" and 205 lbs., he has the build of a guy who could play running back or safety full-time. Physically, the best comparison is probably Berry, who is listed at 6'0" and 211 lbs., although I hesitate to immediately anoint him a Jim Thorpe Award winner and a top-five selection in the NFL Draft in five years. However, after floundering during the first several years of Rivals' existence, they seem to have hit their stride with a string of choices like Berry, Peterson, Kirkpatrick, Joyner, Howard, and Hargreaves. The presence of Mitchell reinforces that the process isn't foolproof, but as a reminder, he was the only guy not to receiver 5-star status. Recent evidence suggests that Peppers should be a very good college player, bordering on All-America and first round draft pick status.