*In the weeks leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft (April 26-27), BR.com will offer a look into the top prospects by position. This week, we had three defensive backs to watch. Here's a snapshot of the best of the rest in alphabetical order. *
Antoine Cason, CB, Arizona (6-0, 191)- Cason compares favorably to current Raven Chris McAlister as a physical player that is a natural at making plays on the ball and converting those into positive yardage. As a senior, he added punt return responsibilities and went on to earn All-Pac 10 honors as a cornerback and a return specialist, averaging 10 yards per punt return with two touchdowns. A prolific four-year career at Arizona saw Cason total 253 tackles, 15 interceptions for 349 return yards and 32 pass breakups.
In his own words:(Cason on staying for his senior year) "There were just some things I wanted to accomplish in college. I wanted to win the Jim Thorpe award, which I did this year; be a consensus All-American, I achieved that; and I wanted to be the best cornerback in college football. I wasn't content coming out as a junior and not be the best. I've always wanted to be the best and worked to be the best."
Brandon Flowers, CB, Virginia Tech (5-10, 189)- As a smaller cornerback, Flowers surprises many with his ability to influence a game with his physical play and big hits. Last year, he was a key cog in a Hokies defense ranked fourth in the nation in total defense, finishing third on the team with 86 stops, nine passes defensed and five interceptions (one touchdown). Flowers also posted eight tackles for a loss, the most of any cornerback in college football and the second consecutive year he's accomplished that feat.
In his own words:(Flowers on being on the VT campus after the tragic shootings of 2007) "After the incident, first we just felt as a community like everybody kind of expected the football team to kind of raise the spirits around there. We just took it upon on us that we can't let anybody down. We're going to go out there and play 100 percent. … We played our hearts out and I think we definitely raised the spirits around there."
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Tennessee State (6-2, 184)- The rangy Rodgers-Cromartie dominated Division I-AA opponents during his four-year career as a starter for Tennessee State. A cousin of Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie, Rodgers-Cromartie burst into a first-round grade with a stellar performance at the Senior Bowl against elite competition. While his athletic ability played a big part in amassing 11 career interceptions (four returned for touchdowns) to go along with 158 tackles and 26 passes defensed, Rodgers-Cromartie won't be able to gamble the way he could in college at the next level.
In his own words:(Rodgers-Cromartie on if he has a chip on his shoulder coming from a small school) "Not really. I didn't really think about it like that, but I know I've got a hurdle I've got to jump coming from a small school. It's not a personal thing, but I know I've got a lot to overcome coming from a small school."
Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas (6-1, 202)- There weren't many more versatile athletes in the collegiate ranks last year than Talib. The Kansas junior was a consensus All-American after the Jayhawks' impressive 12-1 campaign. Talib was a big part of that, posting 66 tackles, five interceptions and 13 passes defensed. While opponents opted to throw away from his side of the field, Kansas threw it to him on offense eight times throughout the season, with four of those receptions going for touchdowns. As a crowning jewel, Talib was voted the Orange Bowl MVP after returning a pick 60 yards for a score against Virginia Tech.
In his own words:(Talib on his versatile talents) "I want to do everything (in the NFL). I want to do whatever a coach asks me to do. I'd love to play receiver in the NFL. I returned punts, too, in the last half of the Missouri game and against Virginia Tech (in the Orange Bowl)."
Tyrell Johnson, S, Arkansas State (6-0, 207) - Johnson may be below the radar, but his numbers can stand up against any safety in the nation. The Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year posted 363 stops, 15 pass deflections and 13 picks for 309 return yards in four years of service. He was the leader of an Arkansas State secondary that only allowed 197.2 passing yards per game, 19th in the country. He is a good blend of size, speed, strength and smarts that can contribute at the next level despite his small-school status.
DaJuan Morgan, S, NC State (6-0, 205)- Morgan began his collegiate career as a split end before switching to safety in 2005, mostly earning time as a special teamer. Last year, his first as a starter, the Riviera Beach, Fla. native led the Wolfpack in tackles with 97. Even though he has limited experience at one position after splitting his starts at strong and free safety, Morgan has the athletic ability to make an impact, but many analysts believe he would benefit from another year in school.
Tom Zbikowski, S, Notre Dame (5-11, 211)- A professional boxer that even had a match at Madison Square Garden in 2006, Zbikowski is one of the toughest prospects in this draft (he KO'd Robert Bell in 49 seconds). After four years in South Bend, he tallied two interception returns for touchdowns, three punt returns for scores, and two fumble returns. He is a playmaker, but some scouts have questioned his instincts and mental acuity on the field. Still, 300 career tackles show that Zbikowski has a sharp nose for the ball.
In his own words:(Zbikowski on if he is thinking about boxing before the draft) "Right now. I'm solely focused on football and getting ready for this. And then once you get into minicamp and training camp, you've got to do everything all you can to make a team."