Before Prince Amukamara answered a big question at the NFL Combine, he answered questions.
What did the Nebraska cornerback think of the criticisms of his speed?
“I think some people don’t know what they’re talking about and haven’t seen me on film,” the soft-spoken Amukamara calmly replied Sunday. “I guess I’ll show them on Tuesday.”
Sure enough, the 6-foot, 206-pound Amukamara did just that by running the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds in Indianapolis.
Aumukamara’s time silenced doubts about his wheels and might have cemented his status as a top-10 pick. On Sunday, even before he ran the 40, the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said he thought the Cowboys should select Amukamara if he was still available at No. 9.
What about the Niners at No. 7? If LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson is off the board, Amukamara would seem to at least merit consideration.
Ask general manager Trent Baalke about cornerbacks and he quickly begins talking about confidence – a must-have trait for players at a position that gets exposed. During an interview on KNBR in January, Baalke said the “whole thing to playing that position is confidence.” And he went on to say the Niners cornerbacks lost some swagger this past season.
“I think if you talked to our guys, they lost a little bit of (confidence),” Baalke said. “For whatever reason, they lost some of that — that play-making, that mindset to make plays rather than to just not get beat.”
That brings us back to Amukamara, who managed to come across as supremely confident with his voice never rising above much above a whisper during his media session Sunday.
“Every corner should have that confidence because they are on an island,” Amukamara said. “And yes, I do feel I’m one of the best corners in the draft.”
Of course, anyone can talk a good game. It’s another thing to deliver on the field.
Worth noting, Amukamara did both in Indianapolis.
• Questions were raised about Amukamara’s speed based, at least in part, on his performance against Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon in Nebraska’s 51-41 win on Oct. 23.
Amukamara said he struggled in the first half against Blackmon, but corrected his mistakes in the final two quarters. Based on the numbers, it appears Amukamara is partly right.
Blackmon had three catches for 129 yards and an 80-yard touchdown off a flea-flicker in the first half. Amukamara was also called for pass interference after Blackmon beat him deep. Blackmon was limited to two catches for 28 yards in the second half, but one of those receptions went for a 25-yard touchdown with 1:24 left in the game.
The 6-1, 207 pound Blackmon had 111 catches for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns as a sophomore this past season.
The best receiver Amukamara has faced? “Justin Blackmon,” he said.
• On Sunday, Mayock clarified his pre-combine comments regarding Peterson, who ran the 40 in 4.34 seconds Tuesday. Mayock had said Peterson had some “tightness” in his hips and might eventually be best-suited to play safety, where he could be an All-Pro.
Mayock said he wasn’t criticizing Peterson, but noting his versatility. He believes the Bednarik Award winner could star at either position in the NFL.
“The reality is what I was saying was there’s a little tightness in his hips and some day he might be a safety,” Mayock said. “And I think I said an All-Pro safety. But his value is as a starting corner in the NFL. Five years down the road if he becomes an All-Pro safety, that’s OK. If you watch him return punts and look at his feet you just go ‘Wow.’ I mean, he’s special.
“I think what I was trying to say, and I probably didn’t convey it the right way, is that he’s a starting corner. He’s a top-five pick. He’s top-five pick. He’s a starting corner in the NFL. And if some day if he kicked inside and was an All-Pro safety — I think I even said like a Rod Woodson — that’s a pretty good compliment, I think.”
• Another classic cornerback-wide receiver matchup last year wasn’t as one-sided as Amukamara vs. Blackmon.
In LSU’s 24-21 win over Alabama on Nov. 6, Peterson squared off against Alabama’s Julio Jones, who might have entered the draft’s top 10 with a scintillating combine. Jones had 10 catches for 89 yards and a nine-yard touchdown catch against Peterson. It was the only touchdown Peterson allowed in 2010.
“That was my favorite tape of the year to watch,” Mayock said. “Patrick Peterson got up in his face the whole game, pressed him, and when he got physical at the line of scrimmage, Julio had trouble getting off. When he bailed and let Julio off, Julio won. It was a classic matchup between two of the best players in the country.”