The NFL’s shift to passing grows more pronounced with each year. With that comes the increased importance of adding pieces in the secondary. It’s hard enough to defend against the pass as it is, with the current rules in place strongly favoring the offense, but that task becomes that much more difficult when your team lacks talented players - as Eagles fans know all too well. There are four corners and two safeties that have a good shot of going in the first round - not enough to match the number of teams with holes to fill in the secondary, but enough that some lucky teams should be able to pick up a key piece.
Here’s a look at the best cornerback and safety prospects in the draft:
THE TOP PROSPECTS
Dee Milliner, cornerback, Alabama (6-0, 201 lbs.)
Milliner was already the top-ranked cornerback before the combine, but boosted his status with a strong performance that should see him picked in the top 10. Questions about his speed were erased when Milliner ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds. A first-team All-American, Milliner had two interceptions and 22 passes defended in his junior season.
Kenny Vaccaro, strong safety, Texas (6-0, 214 lbs.)
Vaccaro showed he could play equally well against the run and pass in his senior season at Texas. His 4.63 40-yard dash wasn’t exactly what scouts wanted to see, but he showed enough during his collegiate career and during field drills at the combine to make him a first-round pick and the best safety on the board.
Xavier Rhodes, cornerback, Florida State (6-1, 210 lbs.)
Rhodes is a big corner with good speed who thrives in press coverage. A three-year starter for the Seminoles, Rhodes had three interceptions and seven passes defended in his redshirt junior season. He ran a better-than-expected 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the combine. Look for him to be a top-20 pick.
John Cyprien, free safety, Florida International (6-0, 217 lbs.)
A late riser, Cyprien is a hard-hitting safety who totaled 93 tackles in his senior season at Florida International, where he is the all-time leading tackler. He impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl, displaying the ability to step up and play the run in addition to covering wide receivers and tight ends. Cyprien is in play as a possible late first-round pick.
Johnathan Banks, cornerback, Mississippi State (6-2, 185 lbs.)
Banks, like Rhodes, is another tall cornerback with impressive ball skills. The Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top defensive back, Banks picked off four passes and broke up 11. He ran a 4.61 40-yard dash at the combine but with his height, a lack of elite speed won’t hurt him too badly. He should be a first-round pick.
Desmond Trufant, cornerback, Washington (6-0, 190 lbs.)
Trufant is another late-rising prospect, impressing at the Senior Bowl and combine. The younger brother of NFL corners Marcus and Isaiah Trufant, Desmond was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection in his senior season. He ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at the combine and showed the ability to stay with any receiver. Trufant has likely made himself into a first-rounder.
Jamar Taylor, cornerback, Boise State
Eric Reid, free safety, LSU
Robert Alford, cornerback, Southeast Louisiana
D.J. Swearinger, strong safety, South Carolina
Leon McFadden, cornerback, San Diego State
Matt Elam, free safety, Florida
Baltimore Ravens: Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard departed, as did Cary Williams, so the Ravens could look at a safety or corner with the 32nd pick.
Cleveland Browns: The Browns have a No. 1 corner in Joe Haden, but need help everywhere else in the secondary. Dee Milliner could be an option with the sixth overall pick.
Denver Broncos: Champ Bailey’s career is winding down and the Broncos’ secondary was badly exposed against the Ravens in the playoffs. They could look to draft a safety in the first round.
Detroit Lions: The Lions’ defense took a step back in 2012, in large part because of their pass defense. Milliner could also be an option.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars won’t use the No. 2 pick in the draft to select a corner or safety, but should definitely look to address both positions in the second round and beyond.
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins signed Brent Grimes, but lost Sean Smith. They need to upgrade their cornerbacks regardless.
New England Patriots: Aqib Talib re-signed, but the Patriots have little depth behind him at corner.
New Orleans Saints: What needs to be said? The Saints couldn’t stop anyone last season. They were interested in signing Nnamdi Asomugha, so you know they need help.
New York Jets: The Jets lost Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landy, so they will need to find two starting safeties.
Oakland Raiders: The Raiders need a lot on defense. A cornerback (or two) is definitely one of them.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are gone, which might actually improve the Eagles’ secondary. They still need a lot of help.
San Francisco 49ers: Dashon Goldson is gone and the 49ers’ secondary was exposed in the Super Bowl. However, they could be looking in a different direction after signing Asomugha.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs had one of the worst secondaries in the league before trading Aqib Talib. It got even worse after. They should eye a corner at No. 13.
Tennessee Titans: The Titans need help at cornerback and safety. They’ll probably get better value at No. 10 with a corner.