Similar to the wide receivers, this year’s cornerback class features a lot of different body types and style of play. You have guys that shut offensive weapons down, some true playmakers, big bodies that get knocked for being slow and others, scouts say won’t survive against the tall NFL wideouts. All I know is that this corner group is extremely talented and deep. I’m talking about a total of 16 players, because I truly believe all of them should get drafted over the first two days in Philly.
1. Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State:
As one of the top cornerback prospects in recent years this guy is patient in bump-and-run coverage, a willing tackler and great competitor. He has fluid hips to open up and the speed to run stride-for-stride with the receivers, as well as the make-up burst to jump in front of throws down the field, often looking more like the wide receiver when the ball’s in the air. Then he shows excellent ball-skills, resulting in four INTs and 14 pass deflections on 35 targets in 2016. Lattimore did what he was supposed to do at the combine, as he was one of the top performer in the 40 and leaping events. Right now I don’t think he is very physical near the line of scrimmage, mainly lining up in press but without really bumping the receiver and throwing them off their route. The only real concern with him is his durability, as hamstring issues have plagued him in his first two seasons at campus and therefore he only had one full year of starting experience. Another thing you could critique is that he tends to get grabby when beat early, but NFL coaches will teach him to use his hands the right away – being active with them at the snap and sustaining contact with the receiver’s hip. To me he is the most athletically gifted corner in this class and he has All-Pro potential.
2. Sidney Jones, Washington:
As I said, I don’t consider injuries in my rankings. So if I solely look at the tape, Jones is my clear number two prospect. He plays long with the instincts of a playmaker, reminding me a lot of former fellow Huskie Marcus Peters. He shows an aggressive punch in press, but also has off-coverage experience with inside- and outside-alignments. He has excellent route and pattern anticipation and when the ball is in the air he displays impressive timing and hand-eye coordination. What I also like about Jones is that he gets after it in the run game and doesn’t shy away from tackling. Unlike a lot of college corners he doesn’t panic when the ball in the air, but rather attacks it, leading to nine career INTs and 27 pass break-ups. Scouts are concerned about his pretty slim frame, but he only missed one game over the last three years. However, that lack of strength shows up against bigger wide-outs who create separation with push-offs at the top of their routes. You can see that in his matchup against USC’s Juju Smith-Schuster. I feel horrible for the kid after tearing his ACL at Washington’s pro day, but I know somebody will get excellent value out of him once he’s ready to return to the field.
3. Marlon Humphrey, Alabama:
This dude has the long-speed to run with anybody and does an excellent job staying on receivers’ hips, but also displays the violent physicality to throw them off their game. He maintains sticky coverage down the field and lights people up underneath. His speed and reflexes also show up when he comes off his primary responsibility in underneath coverage to contest throws over the top. Humphrey is an aggressive run defender, who doesn’t waste much time with attempted block. He has some struggles with his fluidity against quicker receivers at times, opening up his hips too quickly, but my big problem with him are his ball skills. When you watch his tape, you get fired up by his no bull-shit approach, but it was also frustrating at times because you thought he was in position to make game-changing plays and then he simply misjudged the ball in the air and let the receiver catch it. That has to be something natural and nothing you can really learn, but if he wins more 50-50 battles at the pro level he could excel in man- and zone-schemes. At Alabama he was a national champion and he comes with NFL measurements and athletic traits.
4. Gareon Conley, Ohio State:
It’s crazy to think one college program can bring two top-five players at one position into the draft, but that’s what Ohio State does this year. Conley has very long arms to redirect receivers as well as knocking the ball down at the last second a lot of times. He makes opposing route-running less precise by running them into the boundary or with different depth than drawn up, although he could be more consistently physical to not give up any room at the top of routes. In zone-coverage he has impressive range to control his responsibility and get his hands on passes even though quarterbacks think he’s beat. He is not a very aggressive tackler, but wraps his arms around ball-carriers and twists them to the ground. Conley has experience in the slot and as a blitzer from inside and outside. He was often left on an island in Buckeyes’ scheme. Something I’m not happy about is the fact he is not too interested in defending the run, especially when engaged with a blocker. He’ll be exploited early in his career at times because he plays with a lot of lean when running with receivers which leads to him giving up some separation at the top of the route against quicker guys. I’d also like to see him get a better understanding of down and distance as he sometimes bails like it’s 3 & 10 when it’s actually medium yardage for a new first down and he needs to get stronger at the point of catch. Nevertheless, this is an outstanding prospect who has all the tools to fit in a variety of schemes and doesn’t shy away from taking on elite competition.
5. Quincy Wilson, Florida
Boy, does this guy have a strong body physique. He is extremely physical in press with a great one-hand stab without losing balance, but even more so at the point of catch. He has the size to cover tight-ends at the next level and got the reputation as a lock-down corner at the collegiate level, leading to opposing teams pretty much avoiding him at some point. Wilson lays out to make a bunch of diving interception attempts. I love his play, because he is tough and a willing tackler. He gets caught lunging at times on inside-routes and he’s not very sudden in his recovery and therefore gets too handsy down the field at times, but I really like the confidence he plays with. He might not ever play Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown one-on-one, but he is a matchup-player who can make even the best tight-ends and big receivers in the game uncomfortable. Whoever thinks he’s not fast enough to survive in the league – he ran seven hundredths of a second faster than his running mate at Florida (Teez Tabor), even though he’s almost 15 pounds heavier. Overall I like him much better then Tabor, because of how big he plays and the way he gets into the head of the opposition.
6. Tre’Davious White, LSU:
It seems they bring out a first-round defensive back every year down there in Baton Rouge and White could be next in line. He has ultra-quick feet and uses them in a well-coordinated way. He played at nickel, corner and safety as well as special teams during his collegiate career. While he mainly lined up in press, he also has a nice backpedal and closing speed. He doesn’t panic when tested deep and he has the length to contest high-point throws against tall receivers, rarely losing on 50-50 balls. White embraces taking somebody one-on-one for an entire game. He plays too handsy early and late on routes, which will be penalized by NFL referees. He rarely leaves his island to get involved in plays away from him and overall play-style is rather soft. He is quicker than fast, which probably makes is a starting nickel as soon as he steps into the league because he doesn’t quite have elite speed or explosiveness to shut down the top outside receivers in the league. On the other hand, he is a leader in the locker room, earning the highly regarded number 18 at LSU, and he will contribute on special teams right away.
7. Jourdan Lewis, Michigan:
This is one of my favorite players in the entire draft. Lewis has elite foot quickness with an unbelievable ability to put his foot in the ground and go. His ball skills are off the charts with receiver-like soft hands, showing up in a crazy, one-handed interception to seal the game against Wisconsin. He doesn’t waste time waiting for receivers on screens and hitches, showing the traits of a consistent tackler. The Wolverine standout has experience lining up inside and outside, showing good awareness of route-patterns and giving off responsibilities, while staying on his man throughout the play. He also adds value as a gunner on punt teams. Lewis will be a victim of pass-interference calls early in his career due to late grabs and he will have to adjust a bit. He gets knocked for his size (5’10’’) a lot of times, but he is a day-one starter at nickel in my opinon, with a competitive fire and the short memory, to come right back after giving up a play or getting flagged.
8. Adoree Jackson, USC:
As one of the biggest names in college football over the last couple of seasons, Jackson is an athletic freak, who moves more fluid than anybody on the field. He is a true playmaker with crazy ball-skills and the ability to jump routes with the best of them. His feel for route-patterns and his anticipation have improved steadily during his time at USC. He has shown he can give a spark to an offense and special teams as he was the most dangerous return man in the country for the last couple of years (eight total return TDs from 2014-16). The 2016 Jim Thorpe award winner needs to clean up his footwork and work on how far he bails to not give teams easy throws underneath, which he tends to if beaten deep early. His lack of size shows up in run support as he often has a hard time fighting through blocks, although he is solid open-field tackler. I felt like he would have benefited from staying another year in school, which could have made him the number one prospect at his position in 2018, but he is the type of special talent who could be sent to the Pro Bowl as a cornerback and returner in the same year.
9. Kevin King, Washington:
Much like Ohio State’s Lattimore and Conley, Washington will send two outstanding corners into this year’s draft. King started his first two years at safety before moving to the outside. He has excellent length and hands using both in jump-balls situations. He also shows surprisingly loose hips and looks to punish receivers at the line of scrimmage, although he doesn’t play consistently physical enough throughout routes. He is better in press than off because he doesn’t react to underneath stuff early enough, but I really like how quickly he transitions from coverage to run support. King uses timely swats to bat away passes, but sometimes he will miss one instead of stretching his arm out and attempting a catch. He will have to do a better job wrapping up on his tackles and driving his legs through contact and his length makes me wonder if he’s limited to pure man-coverage schemes. For those teams he will be very intriguing because of his success at shutting people down (only one touchdown allowed in 101 targets) and the increased ball-production.
10. Teez Tabor, Florida:
The second Florida corner presents a more athletic body. He is great in off-coverage and attacking curl and out-routes with an impressive ability to stick his foot in the ground and go. He has a high football-IQ and knows what to do with the ball in the air, also understanding when to gamble and undercut routes. Tabor does an outstanding job ripping balls loose at the very end, often coming over the top and knocking throws down. He plays with supreme confidence when the ball is in the air. Although he rarely gets beat deep cleanly, his lack of top-end speed is a major concern (4.62 in the 40 at the combine and 4.75 at his pro day). When I went back to his tape from the previous two seasons I saw that he gave receivers more cushion in 2016 and I worry about his ability to match the speed of NFL receivers. He is also too much of a jumper/lunger into his tackling and ducks his head, which results in a bunch of missed tackles. Another concern are his suspensions due a positive drug test and a run-in with a teammate. He was a great football player in the best college conference and while I don’t see a number one corner with the speed to lock people down, I think with some help over the top he can a very effective player.
Just missed the cut:
Fabian Moreau, UCLA:
As one of the risers in this year’s draft Moreau shows fluid hips and great movement skills in general. He is at his best in off-coverage with eyes on the QB and when he can plant his foot to make a play on the ball, putting one arm between the throw and the receiver’s hands. Sometimes I think he could be a little quicker when coming forward out of a deep bail-technique. The former Bruin does an excellent job guiding receivers to the sideline and he finds the ball. Too often he gets caught trying to rip the ball out the offensive player’s hands instead of wrapping up as a tackler. Moreau really stood out at East-West Shrine practices and could easily be a top-five cornerback in any other draft class, but he needs to convert some of those pass-breakouts into picks.
Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado:
A part of a great Colorado defensive backfield, Awuzie just has easy movement skills. He is a consistently great tackler, who will slam ball-carriers to the ground. He probably will be suited best as a nickel, where he has proven to be a big threat as a blitzer (seven sacks in the last two years). He doesn’t show any wasted movement and is patient in coverage. The problem is he can be killed by burners once they get ahead of him and he has to get more involved in tackles, but he is one of those players who could go off the board earlier than expected if a team looking for a true nickel falls in love with him.
Cordrea Tankersley, Clemson:
I really like this kid and kind of feel bad for not having him in the top ten. He is a feisty competitor with the length to throw off receivers’ rhythm. He shows a quick flip of the hips and can bail for some time before turning and running in zone coverage. Tankersley has great ball-skills and body-positioning, resulting in four picks and 11 PBUs in a first-team All-ACC campaign. He won’t get away with some jersey-grabs like he did at the collegiate level, especially when he plays with his back to the QB and I think he is too disinterested in run support, not really punishing anybody as a tackler. When I watched his tape I felt like his interception total was inflated by some under- and over-thrown balls, but give him credit for bringing those in. He needs to play more disciplined and not gamble on some routes, but I always like my corners to be ready for a fight.
Rasul Douglas, West Virginia:
This Mountaineer corner is every bit of 6‘2‘‘ and he’s really long. He is a little tight in his breaks lacking some agility because of that, but he is best in press coverage anyway, where he displays a patient approach. Not only does he stretch out to full length to break up passes, he also recorded eight interceptions last season and made a ton of plays on the ball at the Senior Bowl, especially in team drills. Douglas will have to do a better job fighting through blocks, too often giving offensive players his chest and staying engaged. He plays too upright and leaves inside routes open in off-coverage with delayed forward movement and he’s not too interested in tackling, but his length and ball-production make him a very intriguing prospect.
Damontae Kazee, San Diego State:
This kid attacks the ball in the air very aggressively without any hesitation. He was only lined up in off-coverage on the right side at college, but showed me he can play press and line up on both sides at the Senior Bowl week, where he definitely made some money. Kazee has unbelievable change of direction skills and an ability to come back to the football. He trusts what he sees, tracks the ball well down the field and has the ball-skills to go with it (17 total interceptions). He rips at the ball as soon as the receiver puts his hands on it, resulting in six forced fumbles over his career. The former Aztec comes with obvious size limitations, which could be taking advantage of on jump-balls. You question his long-speed and too often he sits out routes, but he will come up with a lot of big plays himself.
Cameron Sutton, Tennessee:
Sutton uses excellent instincts and undercuts routes. His 2016 tape didn’t impress me that much, but he played banged up for most of the season and showed a lot of versatility. He bites on some double-moves, but has some impressive make-up speed and rips balls loose late. He might lack the desired physicality in the run game as far as taking on blockers goes, yet he uses his hands well to slap away the opposition’s. The 5’11’’ DB needs to play better with his back to the quarterback, finding the ball earlier and tracking it. His ability to return punts will put him on the field early on, but he definitely has starting potential inside.