Aarion Penton, Cornerback (5'10, 190, Sr.)
The first thing people will say about Penton is that he's too short to be a top draft pick in the NFL. This is a sentiment strengthened by a recent trend toward taller/longer corners and popularized by Pete Carroll and Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks.
The nickel defense has become the "base" defense for the majority of NFL teams, which means teams investing in a nickel corner who is both physical against the run but athletic enough to cover in space.
Let's compare Penton's stats to players similar to him from the past NFL Drafts. I chose not to include Cyrus Jones here despite the physical similarities because he was more of a return man at Alabama.
Here I'm looking at the pass defensed and interception numbers. Penton is on pace with the three shorter corners above, but he'll need to improve his interception numbers to impress NFL scouts. Yes, Mackensie Alexander had zero in his entire career, but that was considered a red-flag against him throughout the evaluation process.
The thing that stands out to me is all three of the players above left by their junior year, while Penton tested the NFL waters and was told he wasn't a first- or second-day pick and should return for his senior year. Does that mean scouts want to see more production from him, or were they worried about him being "too" short?
So, about "short" corners? What do their combine numbers look like?
|Name (Draft)||Height||Weight||Arms||Hands||40||Bench||Vertical||Broad||3 cone||Shuttle||Drafted|
|Vernon Hargreaves (2016)||5' 10"||204||30⅝"||8¾"||4.50||15||39"||130"||3.98||1-11th|
|Mackensie Alexander (2016)||5' 10"||190||31⅜"||9⅛"||4.47*||11||37½"*||121||7*.17*||4.21*||2-54th|
|Kendall Fuller (2016)||5' 11"||187||31½"||10"||15||3-84th|
|Tavon Young (2016)||5' 9"||183||30⅝"||9⅛"||4.46||9||34½"||118"||6.80||3.93||4-104th|
|Ronald Darby (2015)||5' 11"||193||31⅜"||8⅝"||4.38||12||41½"||129"||6.94||4.14||2-50th|
|Senquez Golson (2015)||5' 8⅝"||176||29¾"||9⅜"||4.46||15||33½"||120"||6.81||4.20||2-62nd|
|D'Joun Smith (2015)||5' 10"||187||30⅜"||8⅛"||4.45||18||36"||124"||6.96||4.26||3-65th|
Mackensie Alexander's numbers come from his Pro Day, and Pro Day 40s are usually considered a bit faster than what he might do at the combine.
Kendall Fuller injured his knee and was thus unable to record measurables before the draft. It reportedly caused him to fall.
What you see is not only straight line speed but also incredibly agile athletes who are also able to jump high enough to compete against taller receivers. Sub-4 second shuttle and 7-second 3-cone drills mean great hip flexibility and acceleration, traits necessary for corners who operate in space.
Missouri's most recent cornerback draftee, EJ Gaines, was a sixth-round pick despite 70+ tackles, five interceptions, three pass breakups and four TFLs which earned him an All-SEC first-team nod in his senior year at Missouri. What hurt him was spending little time in the nickel slot, while NFL scouts projected that as his position. Gaines still earned the Rams' starting job, making 63 tackles, two interceptions and 15 pass breakups, good for a PFWA All-Rookie award.
Here are Gaines' Pro Day numbers. What I notice is that, for as fast as we thought he was, he was less explosive and agile than any of the players in the above chart.
|2016 - Name||Height||Weight||Arms||Hands||40||Bench||Vertical||Broad||3 cone||Shuttle||Drafted|
Last year, Penton was one of the top five corners in the SEC according to PFF. Missouri's new defensive schemes reportedly will free the corners from much of their responsibilities against the run, perhaps allowing them to make more plays in coverage. That should really help Amp's stats. However, Penton has two prior citations for pot, which the NFL loves to use to knock player's draft stock down. And he doesn't yet have the production of Gaines.
Early prospects for the 2017 NFL Draft include LSU's Tre'Davious White, Michigan's Jourdan Lewis and USC's Adoree' Jackson. They are all similar in stature to Penton, being listed around 5'10 and 175-190 pounds with considerable athleticism and comparable career stats.
What I see is that there is absolutely a place for short but incredibly athletic corners to get drafted on the first or second day. Let's say that Penton is truly 5'10 and 190 pounds and can improve his ball-hawking skills. If he notches more than five interceptions, and greater than 10 total passes defensed from primarily the slot position, posts measurables like Senquez Golson, and stays healthy, he can be a Day 2 selection. Right now, despite being a great college corner, I think he's around a fifth-round pick.