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updated: 5/6/2014 1:01 PM

Two-man race for best NFL cornerback prospect

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  • Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, here interecepting a pass in the Fiesta Bowl is a top prospect in the NFL draft. He fnished his collegiate career with 12 interceptions.

      Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, here interecepting a pass in the Fiesta Bowl is a top prospect in the NFL draft. He fnished his collegiate career with 12 interceptions.
    Associated Press

  • Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard (31) is considered to be one of the top two cornerback prospects available in the NFL draft.

      Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard (31) is considered to be one of the top two cornerback prospects available in the NFL draft.
    Associated Press

 
 

There isn't a consensus on the top cornerback in this year's NFL draft, but in most arguments it's a two-man battle between Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard.

The 6-foot Gilbert is bigger and faster (4.37 in the 40), at least while running in a straight line, anyway. The 5-foot-11 Dennard, who runs a 4.51, appears more fluid and instinctive.

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Dennard also seems like the more entertaining player -- according to Gilbert.

"I met him when we were in Orlando for an awards show," Gilbert said. "He's a pretty good guy. He always has me laughing. He calls me 'Pretty Boy.' He makes fun of me because I always take selfies on my phone. He's fun to be around, though."

So what does Gilbert call Dennard?

"I'm a nice guy," he said. "I don't call him names."

Gilbert says there isn't a competition among them on whose name gets called first on Thursday, the first day of the NFL draft.

"Not at all," Gilbert said. "We don't talk about that."

But Gilbert does give himself the nod as the best corner in this draft.

Why?

"Dedication to the game and the work that I put in day in and day out off the field, watching film, making guys around me better," he said. "The younger guys, when I was Oklahoma State, I was always talking to them and bringing them in and watching film."

As for impartial evaluators, the votes are split.

In his NFL Draft 2014 Preview, Nolan Nawrocki ranks Gilbert the top corner and seventh-best player overall. Nawrocki has Dennard as the No. 2 corner and 23rd-best player.

At ESPN.com, Todd McShay has Dennard going 11th and Gilbert not until No. 22. Mel Kiper also has Dennard going 11th, to the Tennessee Titans, and he has the Bears taking Gilbert at No. 14.

Over at NFLDraftScout.com, Pete Prisco, Pat Kirwan and Will Brinson all have Gilbert as the first cornerback off the board, going to the Detroit Lions with the 10th pick. Gilbert is also the first corner off the board in Rob Rang's mock, at 15; and in Dane Brugler's mock he is listed at No. 11.

Gilbert says there are differences and similarities with both players, but he doesn't know which one will be drafted first.

"I guess we'll see come draft day," he said. "I think he's a pretty complete player. He's not as fast me, I can tell you that.

"He's a pretty good ball hawk. He does a good job of playing the ball in the air as well as me. That's a similarity right there."

Gilbert, however, brings the added value of a premier kick returner, who has never averaged less than 25.2 yards per attempt in a season.

"I'm a dangerous return man with the ball in my hands and on an interception," he said. "There's always a possibility for me to take it back to house."

Gilbert returned 6 kickoffs for touchdowns and went the distance with 2 interceptions, leaving him just 1 short of the NCAA record for non-offensive touchdowns.

And that could be enough to make Gilbert the first corner off the board.

• Follow Bob's Bears and NFL reports on Twitter@BobLeGere.

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