Following my analysis of the top wide receivers in the draft, here’s my list of the guys covering them. To me cornerbacks either have to be able to take the responsibility of covering receivers one-on-one or bring versatility, because they have more value than system players. And I like my corners to have an attitude.
1. Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
Special athlete. To me Ramsey is the best defensive back prospect we’ve had in the last ten plus years, including Patrick Peterson. The former track star has elite long-speed, arm length, change of direction skills and overall range. He is always around the football and is all about competing and winning. Much was made about the debate if he would be a cornerback or safety in the NFL, but to me that doesn’t really matter – he’s a playmaker. He can blitz off the edge, shut down wideouts all day long, move inside and cover both slots and tight-ends and could also thrive in a safety role, because he likes to play with his eyes in the backfield even though he wasn’t asked to do that very much at FSU. I think he still has room to add some muscle, which will help him at taking on blockers, and he will have to work on his tackling technique, but other than that he’s the full package.
2. Vernon Hargreaves, Florida
This kid has elite body control and is an explosive leaper (39 inch vertical and 130 inch broad jump at the combine) with an uncanny ability to stick his foot in the ground and break on the ball. Hargreaves has great football IQ and instincts. He refuses to be blocked and was a huge contributor in the run game based on his position. As receivers are getting bigger and stronger scouts have size concerns with him measuring just 5’10’’ and sometimes he is overaggressive to break on routes and get caught on extra-moves. But other than length he has all the athletic tools to be successful and the two things that give him an edge are the attitude he has on the field and the confidence he plays with, coming right back if he gives up a play to redeem himself. He is the type of player who isn’t afraid of following the opponent’s number one receiver all game long.
3. Mackensie Alexander, Clemson
What this guy gives you is a sticky man-coverage corner with extremely quick feet, toughness and outstanding athleticism. He anticipates routes and trusts his technique. Everybody is talking about the fact he didn’t have any interceptions during his collegiate career, but that’s what a shutdown corner is all about – quarterbacks didn’t want to throw at him. This past season Alexander didn’t allow a single touchdown in man-coverage. At times he got beat off the line of scrimmage by stronger wideouts who can release quickly and he’s not even 5’11’’, but he has long arms for his size and is a passionate competitor with tons of confidence, who talks a ton of trash and tries to get into the opponent’s head. I think he can play outside as well as a nickel and coaches have called him a film junkie.
4. Eli Apple, Ohio State
This Buckeye has the prototype size, length and speed numbers for the cornerback position in today’s game. He wins off the ball disrupting and controlling wide receivers early on and redirecting their routes. Apple is at his best when fighting for the ball in the air, one of the areas his competitive nature comes to shine. He is not as comfortable when he isn’t shadowing receivers because he lacks the twitch to break on the ball and has missed some tackles in space. He struggles to find the ball at times, which leads to holding and P.I. calls against him, but he doesn’t mind giving up his body in run support an at the age of 20 he still has a lot of room to improve his technique and discipline.
5. William Jackson, Houston
Jackson is a very long corner with terrific make-up speed, who finds the ball in the air and plays it like a wide receiver. I like his instincts and feel for the position as he knows how to adjust to routes. The two concerns for me are his play strength, which shows up in press, and his ability to change directions quickly. While he certainly will have to hit the weight room and work on being more physical off the ball he has the traits to go up against number ones and the closing ability to make up for some of his late turns.
6. Artie Burns, Miami
People who label this kid as a pure track star make a big mistake. While he has world-class speed he also has all the other qualities you look for at the position. He can stonewall receivers at the line of scrimmage and has the length to guide them down the field. The problem with a guy like him is that he tends to rely too heavily on his athleticism instead of using proper technique, but he is far away from his potential as a pro. Burns has amazing ball skills (6 INTs in 2015) with an A.J. Green-type catch-radius and the will to succeed. I’m curious to see what kind of player he can become with NFL coaching in a year or two.
7. Cyrus Jones, Alabama
This is another one of my favorite players in this year’s draft. After arriving at Tuscaloosa as a receiver, Jones was converted to the defensive side of the ball, where he slowly worked himself into the cornerback rotation. Since 2014 he started every game for the Tide at corner and punt returner. What I love most about him is his team-first mentality. He won’t be joining a team that simply hands him a starting role but rather will he have to earn playing time with special teams work and proving what kind of player he is. I’m confident he will do that. Jones has fluid hips and has a fast drive on the ball. He lacks ideal size, but he has long arms and plays bigger than he actually is. He is a fighter – whether that is coming up in the run game or competing for the ball in the air.
8. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech
With his three older brothers playing for Virginia Tech before eventually entering the NFL you can say football lies in Fuller’s family. He is a very controlled athlete with easy transitioning and a natural feel in coverage. Highly praised by coaches for his intelligence, the Hokie reads and reacts to plays quickly to cut off routes and get involved in run support. Fuller is a tough competitor who has played dinged up and turns into the receiver when he finds the ball. I saw him get beat deep and on double-moves at times as well as struggling to find the football and his durability has to be an issue as he missed the 2015 campaign to a torn meniscus, but he is a terrific blitzer off the edge and he never gives up on plays.
9. Will Redmond, Mississippi State
I feel really sorry for this kid. He finally earned a starting job last year and then he tore his ACL in October. His medical status and lack of experience as a starter are obvious concerns, but I really like what he brings to the table. He has outstanding foot quickness and change of direction skills as well as the speed to run with pretty much anybody. He is not afraid of getting beat up in the run game, often throwing his shoulder into O-linemen. Redmond has to become a more secure tackler, instead of diving into the opponent’s legs or trying to rip the ball away. But what separates him to me from a lot of other cornerbacks is that he doesn’t panic once the ball is in the air as he does a nice job of getting in between the throw and the receiver, especially on deep balls. He also has the versatility to line up inside.
10. Jonathan Jones, Auburn
If receivers think Jones is not strong enough to cover them, they will be surprised as soon as he shoots his hands inside their chest. Not only is he aggressive with his hands, but even more in run support and against screens. He has experience in press, off-man and zone coverage and has the speed to cover deep threats. Jones will have to be a more secure tackler and he certainly lacks the desired size by scouts, but he plays with an edge and competes extremely hard, as he showed in one-on-ones at the Senior Bowl, where he made a lot of money against elite competition.