If Aqib Talib is not re-signed this offseason, the New England Patriots are left in a precarious position in the defensive backfield. They have talent back there, but if Talib bolts, that group instantly goes back to being average. This is why it is important to look at all the cornerback prospects this draft has to offer, because as the Seahawks showed us in the Super Bowl, having a good secondary could spur you on to a championship.
Darqueze Dennard is easily the best corner in this year’s draft. His cover skills are terrific, as he had a great four year career at Michigan State. According to most draft analysts, the second best cornerback in this draft, is Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert.
Gilbert doesn’t have the lockdown skills of a Dennard, but his athleticism is off the charts, and whoever snatches him up this April will be rewarded. Gilbert returned six kicks for touchdowns in his time in Stillwater, and he was always near the ball on the defensive side, coming up with 12 career interceptions. Gilbert’s explosive talent will be enough for him to be drafted in the first round, but he is a raw prospect. He has a huge upside, and if developed correctly, I think he could be great in this league.
If he were brought in to New England, I don’t think he would start right away. But the Pats could finally upgrade their pathetic kickoff return unit, which has been at the bottom of the league for a long time. If Aqib Talib does in fact re-sign with the Patriots, that doesn’t mean the Pats should go elsewhere in the draft. Gilbert could ease his way into the defensive system, maybe just coming in on obvious passing situations. And, as a bonus, instead of having Marquice Cole as a depth corner, New England would have Gilbert, which is a huge upgrade.
The Patriots have a lot of needs on their roster, with cornerback right at the top of the list. When Talib went out in the AFC Championship game, Peyton Manning had a field day, as he absolutely tore up the rest of the New England secondary. This showed me that the Pats have to be ready to replace Talib if he leaves, and if he stays, they need to have better depth behind him. Justin Gilbert can’t replace a guy like Talib, but he is a talented player, who could develop into something great in the NFL.