The following is the ninth of nine position previews in advance of this week's NFL Draft.
There are several promising defensive backs in the draft at both the cornerback and safety positions who are capable of making an immediate impact.
The consensus top cornerbacks are Houston's D.J. Hayden, Alabama's Dee Milliner, Florida State's Xavier Rhodes and Washington's Desmond Trufant. The highest rated safeties are Florida International's John Cyprien, Florida's Matt Elam, LSU's Eric Reid and Texas' Kenny Vaccaro. TOP DB PROSPECT VIDEOS
NFL Network's Mike Mayock has all eight prospects ranked among the top 38 players in the draft. However, most analysts agree that Milliner could be the only defensive back chosen in the top 10.
The 6-foot, 201-pounder was a two-year starter and three-year contributor at Alabama, where he recorded 136 tackles, 36 pass breakups and six interceptions in 39 games.
Milliner was an unanimous first-team All-America selection as a junior last year, when he registered 54 tackles, 20 pass breakups and two interceptions with four tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks.
Pro Football Weekly's 2013 Draft Preview describes Milliner as a "well-built, rangy, instinctive, productive cornerback who has nearly everything you want in the position." The publication predicts that the former Crimson Tide star "is a Day One starter with Pro Bowl potential."
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Milliner as the No. 4 prospect in the draft and predicts that he will be selected fifth by the Detroit Lions, labeling him "easily the top cornerback in this class."
"[Milliner] has great burst and plenty of speed, so even if his backpedal needs work, he can turn and run with anybody, and he has time to fix minor technique flaws," Kiper writes.
Hayden nearly died last November, when he underwent emergency heart surgery to repair a torn blood vessel he suffered during a collision in practice. The 5-11, 191-pounder is expected to fully recover from the freak injury.
After transferring to Houston after two years at Navarro Junior College in Texas, Hayden compiled 127 tackles, 19 pass breakups and six interceptions in 22 games over two seasons.
Rhodes was a three-year starter at Florida State, where he recorded 140 tackles, 23 pass breakups and eight interceptions in 43 games over three seasons.
|Milliner possesses pro-ready size, athleticism and the change-of-direction ability to become a household name in the NFL.|
PFW describes the 6-1½, 210-pounder as an "exceptional height-weight-speed press corner with a unique blend of length, speed and physicality." Kiper and fellow ESPN analyst Todd McShay both predict that Rhodes will be chosen 24th by the Indianapolis Colts.
Trufant is preparing to join brothers Marcus (Seahawks) and Isaiah (Jets) as NFL cornerbacks. The 6-foot, 190-pounder was a four-year starter at Washington, where he registered 195 tackles, 35 pass breakups and six interceptions in 50 games.
PFW describes Trufant as a "confident, mentally-prepared finesse cover man with versatility to play inside or outside and the chops to contribute readily, though he will be overdrafted based on his last name, and is more ideally slotted as a No. 3 cornerback."
Vaccaro may be the top safety in the draft. In four seasons at Texas, the 6-foot, 214-pounder compiled 261 tackles, 21 pass breakups and five interceptions. He led the Longhorns with 104 tackles last year as a senior and is also an accomplished special teams player.
PFW labels Vaccaro as "a smoother than fast, athletic, instinctive, physical defender."
Kiper ranks him as the 16th best prospect in the draft and predicts that Vaccaro will be selected 22nd by the St. Louis Rams, writing that "his versatility is key. [He's] adept in coverage, [and] he's strong as an extra defender against the run because he has the size and willingness to attack the line of scrimmage."
Cyprien started 45 of 50 games played in four seasons at Florida International, where he recorded 365 tackles, 23 pass breakups and seven interceptions. The 6-foot, 217-pound improved his draft stock with an impressive performance at the Senior Bowl against top competition.
PFW describes Cyprien as an "athletic, physical strong safety who can seek and destroy in the box and function in halves, quarters or thirds coverage."
Kiper ranks Cyprien as the 22nd best prospect in the draft and thinks that he will be chosen 32nd by the Baltimore Ravens, writing that he is "a big safety who is a willing tackler and will deliver a shot at the line of scrimmage."
Elam was a two-year starter and three-year contributor at Florida, where he registered 176 tackles, 13 pass breakups and six interceptions while playing in 39 games with 22 starts.
The 5-10, 208-pounder was a first-team All-America selection as a junior last year, when he compiled 76 tackles, five pass breakups and four interceptions.
PFW describes Elam as "a compactly built ball of muscle" who is "an active, aggressive, instinctive, competitive hybrid safety who brings a unique blend of toughness, versatility and playmaking."
Reid was a two-year starter and three-year contributor at LSU, where he registered 199 tackles, 11 pass breakups and six interceptions while starting 29 of 39 games played.
PFW describes the 6-1, 213-pounder as an "exceptionally long, field-fast eraser with a terrific blend of instincts, range, ball skills and striking ability."