Cornerbacks remain in demand

INDIANAPOLIS – South Carolina defensive back Antonio Allen was told by multiple teams at the NFL Combine that they could see him playing safety, cornerback, or perhaps even linebacker in the NFL.

There's certainly something to be said for versatility as a ticket into the NFL, but college teammate Stephon Gilmore is more than fine with being viewed as a traditional cornerback by NFL scouts.

"It's a great time to be a cornerback," Gilmore said. "A lot of teams need cornerbacks, so I'm just lucky to be in this position."

If the Panthers consider taking a cornerback in the first round of the NFL Draft, they could be in a good position as well.

Cornerback has been a popular position in recent drafts, with an average of four being selected in the first round over the last six years. Of those 24 cornerbacks, only two have been chosen higher than No. 9 overall, where the Panthers pick.

Those two, however, have been selected over the last two drafts. The Arizona Cardinals selected Louisiana State corner Patrick Peterson at No. 5 last season, and he made the Pro Bowl as a specialist after tying the single-season NFL record with four punt returns for touchdowns. In 2010, the Cleveland Browns took Florida corner Joe Haden at No. 7, and as a rookie he became the first Browns player since 1968 to intercept a pass in four consecutive games.

Another SEC product could be taken before the Panthers pick this year, as LSU corner Morris Claiborne has consistently been graded as a high first-round pick by scouts. Claiborne, like his former teammate Peterson, is a dual threat as both a defender and returner who decided to enter the NFL Draft early after winning the Jim Thrope Award given annually to college football's top defensive back.

Defensive backs took to the field at Lucas Oil Stadium on Tuesday to put a capper on the NFL Scouting Combine. When the best of the bunch are picked in the draft two months from now, it's possible that the SEC could produce the first six defensive back taken.

Hot on the heels of Claiborne are the likes of Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, whose Crimson Tide got the best of LSU in the BCS National Championship.

"I think our games are similar," Kirkpatrick said. "The only difference is I'm just a little taller. I'm very physical and want that physical play."

Former SEC cornerback Janoris Jenkins has first-round talent but some character concerns to overcome, among them that he ended his college career at North Alabama after being kicked off the team at Florida.

Gilmore, who started all 40 of South Carolina's games over the past three seasons, could be a first-rounder as well.

"All of them are great players," Gilmore said of his cornerback counterparts, "but I think I deserve to be in that category, too."

At the safety position, where just nine prospects have been picked in the first round of the last six drafts, Mark Barron of Alabama along with Allen could be the next defensive backs to go, with Barron possibly sneaking into the first round.

"If you have a better player that's a safety and then you have a corner that might not be a better football player, I don't see any reason why the corner should go ahead of the safety," Barron said. "I've seen it happen.
I just don't understand, it but that's not my position to pick."

Safety could be a position, however, that the Panthers find themeslves in position to pick come draft weekend.

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