Revisiting notes by ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates, originally posted in 2012, on how teams scout for players at each position, focusing on cornerbacks.
DESIRED TRAITS: With the physical build and mold of a cornerback, it's important to find a player who has sufficient size to match up against the massive receivers starring in today's NFL. A cornerback who is size-deficient (less than 5-foot-10) must make up for it with the ball skills needed to be disruptive at the point of catch.
A cornerback does not need to be the fastest player on the field. Moreover, he needs to be a very good reactive athlete, which means he is able to mirror the movements of the receiver he is covering. He must have good ability to backpedal, side-shuffle, turn his hips to run, and not make false steps in his transition. He will need to be able to stay with a receiver at the top of his routes; this requires quick and efficient footwork.
Although most cornerbacks will be noted for their pass defense merits, they must also be willing and able tacklers and run supporters. This comes from toughness and strong form, and their physicality will also show up as they work to jam receivers near the line of scrimmage. A cornerback who can reroute and use his leverage to gain an advantage over a receiver from the snap can tilt the play in his favor.
Like a pitcher in baseball, a cornerback must have a short memory. This, combined with grit and confidence, is perhaps the most important trait toward a player's success. He can have any physical skills a coach desires, but an inability to shake off one bad play will only lead to further struggles.
SPECIAL TEAMS ANGLE: Cornerbacks can play a variety of roles in the kicking game, both as returners of kicks and punts and members of the core special teams. Because of their speed and quickness, the tougher cornerbacks are often used as gunners and vices on the punt and punt return teams.
PATRIOTS TAKE: In selecting Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones with their top selection in 2016, New England Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio acknowledged that the team had some players graded similarly but Jones' value as a punt returner swayed the decision in his favor. He was arguably the best returner in this year's draft and should compete for immediate playing time on defense as a nickelback. Starters Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan return in 2016, and their solid performance last season answered one of the biggest questions the team had been facing last offseason: How will they transition from 2014 starters Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, and will the team's style of play (e.g. man coverage) change much? Second-year players Justin Coleman and Darryl Roberts, eight-year veteran E.J. Biggers, and undrafted free agents Jonathan Jones, Cre'Von LeBlanc and V'Angelo Bentley will also compete for spots this year.