The home stretch is finally in sight as the, say it with me, May draft is days away. And in the final countdown before everybody is really on the clock, it’s time to take a one-a-day look at some specific players who could find their way into the Broncos draft class by the time the seven rounds come to a close.
Today: Cornerback Phillip Gaines.
The talent pool is shallow, especially in draft like this one with so much size and speed at wide receiver, but big corners always go up the board on the draft weekend. And big corners with elite speed usually don’t make it out of the first two days of the draft without some significant character baggage in tow.
Gaines is just over 6-feet tall -- 6-0 3/8 -- and weighed in at 193 pounds at the scouting combine earlier this year, or about seven pounds more than he had played during his final season at Rice. But he blistered the 40-yard dash in 4.31 seconds -- the best showing of any player invited this year -- and he isn’t just a sprinter trying to wear a helmet.
Gaines gets to the ball and breaks up passes. Sounds like a no-duh deal, but the draft is often littered with fast players on defense who never, or rarely, because of a lack of instincts for the game, put their hands on the ball.
Gaines is not that guy. He affects plays -- 27 pass break-ups over his last two seasons -- and consistently wins in contested situations when the ball is in the air. He also makes the transition nicely from his backpedal to run with the receivers and has a good reach to match up with the big guys on the outside.
He needs more strength, sure, but that’s what a strength and conditioning staff is for and his ability to work in a weight room was limited some by a wrist injury that affected him for part of the 2011 and all of the 2012 season. He wore a cast on his right wrist for the entire 2012 season and did not have an interception because of it despite 18 pass break-ups that year.
But he has had difficulty at times in closed-quarters pushing and shoving, but with room to work he has no difficulty running in the vertical routes with almost any receiver across from him. Teams have looked at the wrist injury closely, including his physical at the scouting combine. He injured the wrist originally in the 2009 season and it did not heal properly so it affected him in both the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
But he did start 13 games this past season and played in 52 games overall in his career, a total that included 40 starts.
Picking at the bottom of the rounds, the Broncos will likely have to make the decision to add a cornerback somewhere in the draft’s first two days -- rounds 1-3 -- to get one with some size. There were just nine cornerbacks at this year’s scouting combine who checked in at over 6-feet tall so the demand around the league will far exceed the supply.