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February 13, 2013

The Year of the Cornerback ... again?

MORE: Rivals100: The Class of 2014 | Rivals100 list

Didn't get enough cornerback hype in last year's class? No worries. The tank has been refilled. There's more length, more speed and more instinct on tap. Pour yourself another glass.

And if you're part of a coaching staff that missed on a defensive back you targeted on signing day, there's likely to be a comparable one coming down the chute any moment. Everyone deserves a second chance, after all.

A year ago, the cornerback position highlighted a new crop of high school seniors. Vernon Hargreaves III, Kendall Fuller, Jalen Ramsey and Tre'Davious White led the way, and the five-stars printed on each of their profiles were salivated over. Twelve months later, here we are again, and here we go ... again.

Just rinse and repeat. Indeed, 2014 is now more like 2013.

"Last year was a very special year at cornerback and might have had more depth, but this year is equally top-heavy and we already have four five-star kids, so I'd say this year is even more talented at the top in the early going," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. "It will be interesting to see which class emerges as the better one.

"I would say the 2014 class is more athletic overall, but the 2013 class has more technicians and guys with more polish at the same stage."

Of course the faces are different this time. Five-stars Jabrill Peppers (No. 2 overall), Adoree' Jackson (No. 8), Marlon Humphrey (No. 10) and Tony Brown (No. 13) are the major recruiting prizes, and the initial Rivals100 features eight cornerbacks in total. There's no doubt about the strongest position group in the 2014 class. It's not close.

It's a special group of talent the likes of which hasn't been seen since, well, last year. Comparisons will be made, so why not make them now?

"Jabrill Peppers reminds me a little bit of Vernon Hargeaves III in build and ball skills, but Peppers is more explosive as an offensive player," Farrell said. "On defense, however, both are exceptional. Adoree' Jackson reminds me a bit of Tre'Davious White."

The headliner, at least for now, is Peppers. The top-rated 2014 corner is one of the biggest threats to steal the No. 1 overall ranking from defensive end Da'Shawn Hand. And make no mistake, that's a goal of his. Peppers made the world aware of that when he tweeted his intentions after seeing the No. 2 next to his name.

"It's a honor to be ranked the #2 player in the Nation! But in my eyes, if your not first your last. Extra Motivation!!" he wrote.

And so begins the chase.

"Peppers' instincts, athleticism, speed and playmaking ability are very similar to former Florida All-American cornerback Joe Haden," Rivals.com Mid-Atlantic recruiting analyst Adam Friedman said. "He is the type of cornerback who can lock down one side of the field and is not afraid to come up hard to stop the run. Peppers is almost at that same level as Kendall Fuller and Vernon Hargreaves and would push for the top spot in the 2013 cornerback class. The three of them have a lot of the same qualities."

As for the battle to lock down the No. 1 spot at the position, there's plenty to watch there as well. Jackson is lying in the weeds. As is Humphrey. The jostling starts now and will continue at every offseason camp and every Friday night this fall. The next 11 months also present an opportunity for a player not among the positional frontrunners to rise.

"I like Damon Webb quite a bit; he could be a guy who pushes near the top before all is said and done," Farrell said. "He's another in a long line of Cass Tech corners, but he has better size than most of them over the years."

What will or might happen isn't important. Not now, anyway. For the next few days, admiring the talent at the position group is enough. Fighting about where all of it might sign comes next.

And there's plenty of time for that.



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