NFL Mock Draft: SB Nation sticks with the cornerback theme

Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIRE

Mock drafts are unreliable projections for the actual NFL draft but are fantastic tools to see where other teams may address and how certain players are perceived.

Mock drafts that surface this time of year begin to account for eliminated playoff teams that clarifies the 2014 draft order in the first round. Each week SB Nation's Mocking the Draft does this, revising based on draft order as well as the 98 underclassmen that have been determined as eligible in May.

This week's mocking the draft, heading into the 2014 Senior Bowl, once again holds a firm grip at cornerback but shuffles on the player that's being named (last week it was Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert).

24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The Bengals were near the bottom of the league in pass defense, trying to get by with cornerbacks like Adam Jones and Terence Newman. With Leon Hall recovering from a torn Achilles, the Bengals could struggle if they stick with veterans or a younger player like Dre Kirkpatrick. Verrett may not be the biggest cornerback in the draft this year, but he's a playmaker with good instincts to go up and play the ball in the air.

The argument is flawed.

Cincinnati ranked fifth in the NFL in passing defense (209.0 yards/game), second in opposing quarterback rating (74.2), fifth in interceptions (20), second in least amount of 20-plus yard passes allowed (36) and second in average yards per pass (5.9). Virtually all statistical categories ranked first in the AFC.

Additionally, Newman was missed the final four games (including the Wild Card) and only six games without Leon Hall, so the team was getting by with Adam Jones, second-year corner Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Chris Crocker, who heads into the offseason contemplating retirement.

While the argument might be flawed, addressing cornerback in the first round isn't.

Hall is coming off his second Achilles tear in three seasons, Newman will turn 36 years old and Kirkpatrick is still a big question mark. Even if Kirkpatrick played at the level expected of a first-round cornerback, the position could still be addressed with Newman's age and Hall's durability.

ESPN's scouting report ranks Verrett as the fifth-best cornerback, behind Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert, Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard and Florida's combination of Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy. CBSSports.com ranks him third, with a 1-2 round projection (Florida's duo was dropped behind Verrett).

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