Top CBs Ready For Today's 40 Wars

Justin Gilbert (Hennelgarn/USA TODAY Sports)

With everyone looking for the next Richard Sherman, the top of the CB pack could still be determined by Tuesday's 40 times at the NFL Combine. The Steelers will watch closely.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Pierre Desir was explaining his circuitous college route from Washburn to Lindenwood, and exactly where those tiny colleges are, and what he sacrificed in making the move to feed his wife and two children, when someone asked him a football question.

Does Desir, a tall cornerback, feel he has impeccable timing in entering the NFL draft after what those tall cornerbacks just did for the world champion Seattle Seahawks?

Desir's eyes got big and happy.

"Absolutely," he said. "Richard Sherman and the other bigger corners have helped me. It helps scouts look at me in a different light to see that I'm a guy with range and that I can be one of the great big corners in the future."

Desir is 6 feet 1 in a draft crop that in most three-round projections includes a pair of 6-3 corners -- Stanley Jean-Baptiste of Nebraska and Keith McGill of Utah -- and another, Walt Aikens of Liberty, who's 6-1.

"A lot of the receivers now are 6-3 plus," Desir said. "So height would be a big plus just because the receivers are a little bit bigger now."

Of course, size isn't all that matters, and the defensive backs who rolled through the NFL Combine media room on Sunday spoke of another adage that's held in high regard here:

Speed still kills.

On Tuesday, cornerbacks will be hung -- fairly or not -- with precious draft-day labels after they run their 40-yard dashes.

A player such as Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard (5-11, 191), who didn't show up for media interviews, realizes he needs to be more than a physical cornerback. He needs to be a fast and physical cornerback.

Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert (6-0, 202) has the size, but wasn't nearly as physical as Dennard. But Gilbert can make up for it if he lights the track on fire Tuesday, as he expects.

"A 4.2, 4.3 and I'll be satisfied," he said.

Can he get close to Chris Johnson's combine record of 4.24?

"Yeah, I ran a 4.33 a couple weeks ago and that was just my first attempt," Gilbert said.

"I'm usually faster on my second attempt."

Gilbert said Sunday that he was scheduled to meet with the Steelers that night. The Steelers generally prefer a more physical corner, but the Steelers also need another return man -- assuming Emmanuel Sanders will leave in free agency -- and Gilbert's returned six kickoffs for touchdowns in his college career, one shy of the NCAA record.

He averaged 26.3 yards per each of his 102 KO returns, and also intercepted 7 passes last season and 12 in his career. Last season Gilbert returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

"It all buys in together," he said. "But the most important thing is being around my teammates wherever I am and having fun. As long as we're making plays and having fun together, the wins will build up."

Gilbert is quick to smile in a Deion Sanders kind of way. And when asked about his perceived rival for cornerback supremacy in this draft, Gilbert said that Dennard "calls me 'pretty boy.' He makes fun of me because I always take selfies on my phone."

Gilbert is a "pretty boy" on the field. His backpedal is far more fluid than that of Dennard, a press-man specialist who'll have to show scouts Tuesday he can also play off-coverage.

But Dennard's ball skills are close to Gilbert's. Dennard has 10 interceptions, 26 passes defensed and 3 forced fumbles in his career. Gilbert's line is 12-31-2.

So, who's the better cornerback?

"I think he's a pretty complete player," Gilbert said. "But he's not as fast me. I can tell you that."

Kyle Fuller might be. The cornerback from Virginia Tech is creeping up on the rail as the third cornerback, and could win the race if he hits his 40 goal.

"I'm trying to beat Corey's time of 4.37," said Fuller, the younger brother of Corey and Vincent Fuller, and older brother of current Tech CB Kendall Fuller.

Vincent spent seven seasons in the NFL with Tennessee and Detroit, and then a couple of days with New England. Corey spent last season on the Detroit practice squad. Kyle is considered to have better potential than either of his older brothers.

Despite dealing with a hernia last season, the 5-11, 194-pounder was still physical enough to start eight games as the Tech boundary corner. He has 6 career interceptions, 32 passes defenses and 4 forced fumbles. He was generally considered an early second-rounder before analyst Mike Mayock said last week that Fuller "is long, he tackles, he has ball skills. I think the key for him is what he runs that 40 in. If he comes in at a sub 4.5, I think he's a first-round lock."

Mayock went so far as to say "Kyle Fuller makes a lot of sense for what (the Steelers) do and how they do it. He plays a lot like the kid they lost to New Orleans as a free agent (Keenan Lewis). Fuller makes a lot of sense (at pick 15)."

How about it, Kyle? Would it be strange for a kid who grew up in Baltimore to find himself playing for the Steelers?

"No," Fuller said. "If you asked me last year, if you asked me a team that I would want to play for, I would give you a team that was known for its defense. The Steelers were definitely in that conversation. I just like the way they play."

If he hits his 40 goal, that conversation would certainly continue.

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