The Indianapolis Colts have long placed only a moderate level of importance on cornerbacks. In the Tampa-2 defensive scheme, cornerbacks simply need to be able to become comfortable with covering zones a majority of the time, allowing Indy to target lesser athletes and lesser-desired prospects to fill coverage roles. Under new head coach Chuch Pagano, that will have to change.
One player who would be a great compliment to Indy's best cornerback, Jarraud Powers, is former Virginia defensive back Chase Minnifield.
At 6-foot tall and 185 pounds he would have good size compared to typical Colts cornerbacks in the past. Unfortunately, as Dr. Blue's health check will indicate, surgery held Minnifield out of Combine participation in all drills that would be useful for examining a future cornerback's athleticism. However, in 2011 he did post a 4.50 second 40 yard dash that he can point to for some indication of his speed.
One of Minnifield's biggest strengths is that he stayed all five years at Virginia and was a top cornerback prospect in 2011. While he did not put up the kind of numbers in in his red-shirt senior season that he did as a junior, those who paid attention to his games readily note that opponents avoided challenging him in coverage because they respected his abilities. His career numbers at Virginia include: 151 tackles, 13 interceptions, 18 pass breakups, 2 sacks, and notable kick (40) and punt return (34) experience.
There are a variety of opinions about Minnifield's best uses against professional comepetition. Very few doubt his ability as a zone coverage cornerback who has the length and instincts to break on routes and make plays on the football. He is also noted as an accomplished run defender, which was a staple attribute for cornerbacks in Indy's former defensive schemes. He is accomplished at jamming receivers coming off of the line in bump and run coverage but can get burnt if his jam fails because he does not have enough speed to catch up once a receiver gets behind him.
Ultimately, Minnifield's awareness, experience, and production are all positives. His athleticism (injury) and man-coverage abilities are his biggest question-marks heading into the upcoming draft.
Dr. Blue's Health Check
Minnifield's injury history includes ankle and knee injuries. He was slowed by an ankle injury in 2010, but still played in all games. At the end of the 2011 season, a then-unexplained knee injury kept him out of the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Two days later, he underwent arthroscopic surgery to "evacuate floating cartilage particles that bothered him most of the 2011 season." Still recovering from surgery, he didn't participate in the Combine (other than the bench press). Patients are expected recover 100% from this type of surgery, but it will be a consideration how his cartilage holds up in the NFL.
Evaluating the Choice
Minnifield could be a draft day surprise. While some predict that he will go as early as the bottom of the first round, others see him potentially lasting until the third or fourth. How much his lower level of statistical production in his senior season and his arthroscopic surgery hurt his draft stock is hard to accurately predict. If the Colts were still running a Cover-2 defense, I would say that Minnifield is a very strong candidate for Indy's second round pick. Under the new management and new defensive scheme, however, I think Minnifield is a strong third round pick and a no-brainer in the fourth.