The more the NFL becomes a passing league, the greater the demand for defensive backs.
The Triangle supplied four of them on Saturday, from three different schools, on the third and final day of the NFL draft.
Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell, North Carolina safety Tre Boston and N.C. State cornerback Dontae Johnson all went in the fourth round. UNC corner Jabari Price rounded out the quartet in the seventh round. Four of the six area players drafted on Saturday came from the secondary.
Cockrell, an All-ACC pick for Coastal Division champion Duke last season, went first among the six players. The Buffalo Bills, who have taken an ACC product in the first round in each of the past two seasons, took Cockrell with the 109th pick. It’s the highest a Duke player has been taken in the draft since offensive lineman Lennie Friedman went in the second round (61st overall) to the Denver Broncos in 1999.
Boston led an active day for the Tar Heels, who led in-state teams with five total selections and with Florida State were the only ACC teams with players selected all three days of the draft.
The Carolina Panthers made Boston, who had 94 tackles and five interceptions in 2013, their fourth-round pick and the 128th pick overall.
Johnson, the only player from the Wolfpack to get picked, didn’t have to wait long after Boston heard his name. The San Francisco 49ers took Johnson, who played both corner and safety last season, with the 129th pick.
Center Russell Bodine, who left UNC after his junior season, broke up the defensive-back run in the fourth when he went 111th overall to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Wake Forest receiver Michael Campanaro went off the board in the seventh round, 218th overall, to the Baltimore Ravens. Price went seven picks later in the same round to the Minnesota Vikings.
UNC’s five selections were tied for second-most in the ACC with Clemson. Florida State, national champions for the 2013season, led the conference with seven picks.
With Cockrell going this year and quarterback Sean Renfree going in the seventh round last year, it’s the first time Duke has produced draft picks in consecutive years since 1999 and 2000.
NFL scouts liked Cockrell for his discipline and feel for the game, route recognition, leaping ability, traits he demonstrated at the end of his college career against Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, both of whom went in the first round this year.
“I think the word that comes out with Ross is he is always consistent,” Bills director of player personnel Jim Monos said. “No matter if it’s Mike Evans, which everybody brings that up because that was the best player he went against, him and Sammy (Watkins). He’s played against all these guys, and he is always consistent.”