After talking about the loaded wide receiver class earlier this week, we now take a look at the guys who will be covering them at the next level. In this category of cornerbacks, I have included both outside and slot corners, while mentioning which type of schemes or roles they could fit best.
This class of cover-guys features one elite prospect, who will most likely be a top six pick, and I think the next three names have kind of separated themselves a little from the rest. Still, there should be several starters from day two and even after that I see a bunch of undersized prospects, who may be overlooked but could easily start at nickel their rookie season.
By the way, you can also find some of my breakdowns on Youtube now!
Here is the list:
1. Jeffrey Okudah, Ohio State
This former top ten national recruit enrolled at Ohio State a year early, but quickly saw the field the following season – appearing in all 14 games for the Buckeyes. Despite not starting a single contest as a sophomore, Okudah tied for the team-lead in pass-breakups (eight) as part of a loaded OSU secondary. Last season he emerged as the team’s number one corner, leading the team with three interceptions and nine PBUs, as well as forcing a couple of fumbles. He earned AP first-team All-American honors for his play and was a Jim Thorpe award finalist.
This is an excellent size-length prospect at 6’1”, 205 pounds with 32 ½ inch arms and the widest wing-span among all corners at the combine, who started earning the opportunities and showing his potential on the field last season. The kid has elite acceleration and what really stands out with Okudah, is the trust he has in his athleticism, which allows him to make some calculated guesses and he never seems afraid to get beat deep. He keeps active feet and stays square when receivers try to take him off balance with hesitation moves, while changing up his press technique between aggressive two-hand punches and more passive stabs with either arm. However, he actually was rarely right in the grill of receivers, but instead usually gives them a yard and then was ready to shoot his hand into the chest of the opponent. Okudah sustains contact throughout routes and feels breaks coming. You see him break on slant routes aggressively, while having the length to reach around receivers and knock the ball down. He is more than comfortable running with receivers on fade routes along the sideline and has the speed to trail routes across the field and cut underneath them when the ball comes out, taking away what should be free yardage consistently, even fighting over mesh concepts.
Okuda is also excellent in zone coverage. There he can fall off his primary responsibility or make a play on seam balls to the slot receiver, which actually look wide open. According to Pro Football Focus, Okudah allowed just 3.1 yards per target in press-coverage last season, which was less than half of the FBS average and he has never allowed 50+ yards in coverage in any of his 37 career games, while keeping opposing QBs to a passer rating of just 45.3 and only surrendering one touchdown last season. In the 10-19 yard range the passer rating was at 18.8 and he only gave up two completions on targets of 20+ yards. And as he told a reporter himself during his combine media session – Okudah did not get flagged once for pass interference or defensive holding all year long. Even though he did spend the majority of snaps out wide (589 of 692), Okudah did move into the slot at times when he was locked up with the opposing team’s top receiver.
In addition to that, the former Buckeye corner does not shy away from getting involved against the run, quickly shooting upfield and attacking the ankles of the ball-carrier. You also see him pull receivers to the side when he is involved with blocks to get hands on the guy with the ball. Okudah is the best tackling cornerback we have seen at the top of the board since Jalen Ramsey. He delivers some big shots at the sideline, but can also cut guys down at their feet in space when necessary. He put a monster hit on one of the Indiana receiver last year. Okudah also forced what should have probably been a game-changing fumble that was recovered for a touchdown in the CFP semifinal versus Clemson. At the combine he ran a 4.48 in the 40, but if you really want to know how fast Okudah is, watch the interception of his teammate Jordan Fuller in the fourth quarter of the Michigan State game, where the corner starts five yards behind the safety, but keeps running and putting hands on opponents to escort him to the end-zone – even if the touchdown ended up being called back.
One of the few negatives I have with Okudah is the fact he doesn’t always play the catch point perfectly, kind of falling away and letting it drop into his hands at times, and had a couple of balls caught over his head. He also opens his hips really early when responsible for the deep third in cover-three and can be had on curl routes, where he is a little slow getting back into the picture. With how lanky he is, he doesn’t have the quickest change of direction in this class. I’m not quite sure how the Buckeye coaches taught it, but I felt like Okudah gave up inside access way too easily in zone, even when he didn’t have any threat in his area.
This is the best cornerback prospect since Jalen Ramsey coming out of Florida State four years ago. Okudah has super-quick feet, fluid hips and gliding speed. While his physicality and length make him a perfect fit for a press-man heavy scheme, he has plenty of quality experience in zone as well. There are very few weaknesses to his game and he is the clear top corner available, with the potential to play at an All-Pro level early on in his career thanks to his alpha mentality and talent.
2. C.J. Henderson, Florida
A former four-star recruit from the Miami area, Henderson originally committed to the Hurricanes, but decided on Gainesville instead. His first year with the Gators, he earned Freshman All-SEC recognition after starting five games and returning two of his four punts for touchdowns. Henderson started every game as a sophomore and earned second-team All-SEC honors for three sacks, two INTs, seven PBUs and a couple of fumbles forced. Last season he didn’t intercept any passes, but knocked down 11 passes and was a first-team all-conference selection, despite playing in just nine games due to an ankle injury.
Florida has brought out several highly rated cornerbacks over the last decade or so, but their defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said this young man was the best one he has ever coached after just one full season. At 6’1”, just over 200 pounds, Henderson plays with that type of competitive swagger you want to see from your cornerbacks. He is smooth out of his stance, has oily hips and that easy speed to carry receivers downfield. He played boundary corner against the best receiver on offense a lot of snaps, but still only gave up 38 catches over these last two seasons, including two touchdowns compared to his two picks. Henderson can be more physical than you might think in press, stays patient with opening up his hips and has the speed to stay attached to his man in trail-technique. You rarely see him overcommit or lose off the line.
I can not tell you enough about how impressed I was with this kid at the combine. Henderson ran a 4.39 in the 40, put up strong numbers in both leaping events as well as 20 reps on the bench press, but it was the fact he had one of the best on-field workouts I have seen recently from any defensive back. He seemed so relaxed as he went through all the different drills, with an easy pedal, really smooth hips and some explosiveness out of his breaks. That translates to his zone coverage ability. Henderson can sink and play with his eyes on the QB, but also drive on routes in front of him with a sudden burst. He finds the ball in the air and extends the near-arm to knock it down or comes off his man when the ball is going away from him. Henderson is highly competitive at the point of the catch and excels at playing through the hands of the receiver late. With the easiness at which he can flip his hips, I think he can play in any scheme basically.
Henderson doesn’t mind throwing his body into the action against the run and will chase down some ball-carriers all across the field. He dips his shoulder underneath some blockers and creates problems before the ball-carrier can he even get going by shooting upfield, leading to eight tackles for loss over 21 games in the last two years. Henderson rarely will stay blocked and he won’t back down from anybody. I even saw him mix it up with some offensive linemen. In addition to that, he has excelled as a blitzer for the Gators, recording a pressure on the QB on nine of the 19 times he rushed on passing plays in 2019. He also has some experience moving into the slot with the opposing number one receiver. Vanderbilt’s Kalija Lipscomb is a not a bad receiver, but Henderson completely shut him down in their matchup last year, with one catch for four yards.
With that being said, Henderson ails to wrap up consistently as a tackler and missed 22.5 percent of his attempts last season (nine of 42). He has his fair share of struggles with the really physical wideouts, who can outmuscle him as a route-runner and use push-offs against the somewhat slim cornerback. Henderson’s footwork and jabs in press needed the most work coming into 2019 and I still think there is room to improve in that area. His passer rating allowed went from 49.4 in 2018 to over 100 last season. He also didn’t seem as interested in getting involved in tackles in 2019 as I was used to.
While I wouldn’t put Henderson in the same tier as Okudah, he is the obvious number two corner available for me. The tape might not quite look the same it did his sophomore campaign, but Henderson was fighting through that ankle injury for a while and he has traits you just can’t teach. Whether you are running a press-man heavy scheme or more zone coverage, the Florida corner should be the second-best option.
3. Kristian Fulton, LSU
Once a top 30 national recruit, Fulton received the nickname “K-Baby by his older teammates”. The New Orleans Advocate Defensive Player of the Year played in just three games as a true freshman due to the depth on LSU’s secondary and had to sit out the entire 2017 season with charges for the possession of marijuana. The following season, Fulton the first ten games before hurting his ankle (one pick, nine passes defensed). Last year he performed very well for the Tigers on their undefeated national title run, intercepting one pass and breaking up a team-high 14 of them.
While his teammate Greedy Williams was receiving all the hype coming into 2018, Fulton quietly had one of the best seasons of any corner in the country and was a vital piece to the LSU secondary. That was proven when the Tigers gave up 133 points in his four-game absence to end the year and even without that crazy seven-overtime period against Texas A&M that mark was at 22.5 per game in regulation. However after outplaying Greedy as a sophomore, Fulton had to step out of the spotlight for another super-talented LSU corner in Derek Stingley Jr. Still, I believe this guy has a lot of tools to become one of the better players coming out of this draft.
The six-foot, 200 pound Fulton was heavily utilized in man-coverage as part of LSU’s defensive scheme, as the only cornerback to actually spend more snaps in press-man was his star running mate Stingley. In that area, Fulton displays the ability to mirror and match off the line. However, he rarely uses a hands-on approach off the line, in favor of letting the stem of routes develop with good balance and then getting into the hip-pocket of the receiver. Fulton does not overextend or open up against jab-steps to set up releases and even when he does get caught on double-moves, he recovers beautifully with more than adequate make-up speed. He also has the long arms to reach around receivers and make a play on the ball, especially working against slant routes. Unlike Greedy coming out a year ago, he has no problem defending in-breaking routes and he had a great interception on one of those at almost 20 yards of depth versus Georgia in 2018.
For a corner that has played a heavy amount of press-man, Fulton’s ability to click in close in zone coverage is pretty darn good, plus he contest the catch point by jumping on the back of receivers and reaching around them. He displays good awareness in space and disrupts what look like easy completions. Fulton was the only draft-eligible cornerback in 2019 to not allow more first downs (20) than he had forced incompletions (20 – also tied for first among CBs). He also received PFF’s highest grade over the last two years combined and he allowed only 42.3 percent of the passes thrown his way to be caught over that stretch, while giving up less than 50 yards after the catch in 2018. In a 46-41 thriller versus Alabama last season, Fulton was matched up with all those speedy receivers, but really only gave up one completion on a deep in-cut to Devonta Smith, when Tua held the ball for about five seconds.
However, Fulton does not play the ball particularly great. When the pass is out in front, he seems to panic a little and grabs the receiver, while allowing bigger bodies to box him out when the pass is underthrown and he would have to work through the opponent. He badly misjudged a deep ball along the boundary versus Texas, which led to a 55-yard touchdown last year. Another thing he has in common with Greedy coming out last year (and I’m sorry about referring to him as much as I do), is that neither one of them is overly excited to act in run support. Fulton purposely widens his angles to avoid the action at times and he has to do a better job fighting off blocks.
To sum this up, Fulton is a natural cover-corner, who plays sticky coverage in man, but also has the change of direction and feel to play in a zone-based scheme. I want to see him be a more physical run-defender and tackler, plus he will lose a few battles at the catch point even when he is in good position, but overall his oily hips, smooth feet and ability to stay patient make him a candidate to contribute right away as a first-round pick.
4. Jeff Gladney, TCU
This former three-star recruit from Texas showed promise early on with the Horned Frogs. As a redshirt freshman he already started eight games and broke up six passes. In these last three years as a full-time starter, Gladney have improved every single season – from honorable mention All-Big 12 as a sophomore to second-team all-conference the following year and then a first-team all-conference performer last season. Over that stretch he recorded five interceptions and 37 pass break-ups.
At 5’10”, 190 pounds, Gladney played a ton of off-man with slight inside and outside alignments for the Horned Frogs, where he shows some of the quickest footwork in this class and patience to mirror receivers. At the same time, he also consistently lands his hands inside the frame of the opponent as he engages a couple of yards downfield, which allows him to feel breaks developing. Gladney can flip those hips any direction with ease and he quickly gets onto the hip of receivers on slant routes, but also has the speed to carry vertical routes. His 4.48 in the 40 does not tell the story and he reportedly ran in the low 4.3s last summer. That sounds much more like it after I saw him run down Texas speedster Devin Duvernay stumbling along the sideline last season. Gladney also does an excellent job turning around and swiping through the hands of receivers on back-shoulder passes. You see him run with guys all the way across the field and undercut some dig routes, while nearly intercepting those balls. On double-moves, his feet rapidly hit the ground and re-accelerate to get back into the route. Gladney also followed some of the opposing team’s top receivers into the slot.
The TCU standout was also used in cover-two with his butt to the sideline, where he shows good quickness to kind of play between routes and he can fall off when the ball is thrown over his head. When opposing offenses run Smash concepts to his side, he can be right on the hitch and then still have the range to get his hands a ball ten yards behind him. He is very dependable with bringing guys down in space, only missing a total of three tackles all of last season. Gladney does not get caught up with blockers too long either, consistently attacking one half of them and at least forcing the play inside of him as well as going over the top once the ball-carriers cuts underneath that action. You see Gladney stick his face in the fan and try to run through the reach of receivers on screen passes routinely. He was also blitzed off the edge quite a bit and showed tremendous pursuit when doing so.
Gladney has allowed 27 catches in each of the last two seasons, being targeted 130 times over that stretch. He has also given up less than 700 yards and three touchdowns compared to his three picks and 26 pass break-ups over that stretch. Last season he surrendered just 12 catches of 10+ air yards. In their matchup versus Baylor, Gladney allowed just two catches for 18 yards, despite shadowing the freakish Denzel Mims for the most part and on one of them he fell off a hitch in cover-two, with a corner route being run behind him. He did have one P.I. called against him, but he also forced four incompletions, including one pass that would have tied the score on the final play of the game.
On the flipside, Gladney is a little too conservative at times – especially when lined up in the slot – and allows easy access to routes underneath him. He is certainly undersized for an outside corner and it shows in some areas. He can not be knocked out of phase on in-breaking routes or be a target for push-offs on deep curls by big, physical receivers at times. Gladney will get a little grabby when the play goes off script and his man works the scramble drill. And while does have experience in press, he does not work in any jams at this point, which will probably be asked of him by D-coordinators.
This guy is not scared to get beat deep, with the crazy quick feet and loose hips to defend any route. While his size may limit him from shadowing some of the big-bodied wideouts, he is more than capable of surviving on an island and fits beautifully in a two-high scheme as well. Gladney does not care that he is smaller than most guys on the field and invites challenges. In the Big 12 where teams throw the ball all over the yard, Gladney was tough to complete passes against.
5. Jaylon Johnson, Utah
This former top ten cornerback recruit from California quickly made an impact with the Utes, as he was already tied for the team-lead with six passes broken up, despite starting just two games as a true freshman. In year two he led his squad with four interceptions, taking one of them back to the house – and was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection. He repeated those honors last season and also received second-team All-American notice thanks to a team-leading 11 PBUs and two picks. Unfortunately he hasn’t been able to do anything this offseason with surgery on a torn labrum.
Measuring in at six foot, 190 pounds with kind of a wiry frame, Johnson primarily played field-side corner for the Utes and was heavily relied upon in man-coverage, which he says himself that he embraces the challenge of. He is a rally physical cover-guy with easy movement skills. Johnson stays under really good balance and can re-route or pace receivers better than almost all the other corners in this draft. You constantly see guys run out of room on the sideline and balls thrown out of bounds towards his direction. With how disruptive he can be at the line, you see him erase some timing-based routes altogether. Johnson trusts his instincts and tape study to jump some routes, which he rarely regrets later on. The Utah star has matched up very well with some of those big-bodied guys from the Pac-12 like Stanford’s J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Oregon’s Dillon Mitchell over these last couple of year.
Nobody covered receivers quite like Johnson did in 2019. He only gave up 29 receptions for just over 300 yards on 65 targets and 438 snaps in coverage, allowing just one touchdown, while picking off two passes himself (passer rating of 52.0). That one TD he gave up last season came falling down versus USC’s Tyler Vaughns, when he got tripped up a little. Only four of the passes he allowed last season were even on passes that went for 10+ yards. He himself over these last two years has broken up 15 passes and intercepted six more, including taking one home in each season. However, he is not just a press-corner, he also has experience in off-man, cover-two and -three. Versus slant routes from an off alignment, Johnson can either can either go underneath and reach around or attack downhill and puts his helmet across the body of the receiver, right on the ball.
Johnson also uses those long limbs to whip ball-carriers to the turf, missing just two tackles last season. Thanks that he can keep blockers away from his frame too and pulls them to the side or swipes by them to get involved on the play. Over his time with the Utes, Johnson made several big plays to decide games – a PBU on fourth down versus Oregon to seal the Pac-12 South title in 2018 comes to mind and just last year that pick-six versus Washington that flipped the switch for the Utes to come away with the victory and put them in position to challenge for the conference title again. He also had a huge 100-yard house-call against then 14-ranked Stanford in a close game as a sophomore that was highly impressive.
With that being said, Johnson is not super interested in getting involved as a tackler overall. His grabby style of coverage will get flagged more at the next level more frequently, especially against in-breaking routes. With how aggressive he plays some stuff, he can also be a target for double-moves. Johnson might lack that extra gear to stay in phase with true burners on vertical routes and has a tendency of allowing receivers to stack him on those in general. The former Ute doesn’t catch the ball particularly well and while he may have been in good position for them, he still dropped four INTs last season. He can also be a litte undisciplined in zone coverage.
Taking Jeffrey Okudah out of the equation as the obvious top corner available, Johnson may be the most intriguing option on the board to challenge true X-receivers on a weekly basis. His tendencies to grab and hand-check need some work and at 4.5 flat, his speed is only average, but he can really throw off the timing in the quick game and make physical wideouts work to get into their routes. I would like to see Johnson be a little more involved as a tackler, but his career passer rating allowed of 54.9 is outstanding, considering he was thrown in the fire as a true freshman already.
6. Trevon Diggs, Alabama
As the brother of now-Bills pass-catcher Stefon Diggs, Trevon was a two-time All-Washington D.C. Metro selection at receiver himself, coming out of high school. He played on offense, defense and special teams in all 15 games as a true freshman for the Crimson Tide, before concentrating on the cornerback position. While he only started once his second season and primarily made an impact as a returner, he became a full-time starter in 2018 even if he was lost at mid-season with a broken. Finally healthy and established under Nick Saban, Diggs was a second-team All-SEC selection in 2019 with eight PBUs and three interceptions, including a pick-six.
Diggs offers tremendous length at 6’2”, 207 pounds with 32 ¾-inch arms. He primarily played field side corner with a heavy amount of press for the Tide. The Alabama corner is aggressive with the stabs and jams he uses, but patient with opening his hips. He does a nice job guiding receivers towards the sideline and consistently keeps his eyes locked on the receiver’s hips, even when that guy has stopped his initial route and tries to find space. When the ball gets there, Diggs can really wrap around receivers with those long arms and force incompletions that way, which is very helpful on back-shoulder fades. He made a bunch of plays on the ball versus D.K. Metcalf in the 2018 Ole Miss game. Diggs has also learned some of those little tricks Nick Saban probably teaches the Alabama DBs, like pinning the receiver’s arm on downfield routes. He was PFF’s highest-graded corner in press coverage last season, as he gave up just 22 catches on 52 targets and surrendered a passer-rating of 44.5, with one TD compared to three picks.
In cover-three, Diggs keeps vision on the inside receivers and quickly closes the space on inside fade/seam routes when the outside receivers breaks early. Plus, even when the offense runs some kind of switch releases and Diggs is on the inside man, he can fall off that and make a play on the sideline. Rarely did you see him get beat deep. On 18 targets on passes that travelled 20+ yards last season, Diggs allowed just four catches and a passer rating of just 37.5. For a tall, long corner his ability to click and close on short routes is excellent. He can come over the top of some in-breaking routes and get both hands on the football on some plays. You really see him communicate with the rest of the defense when he passes on crossers in zone and points them out. When a blocker tries to get in his face, Diggs usually keeps the man at extension with his long arms.
While he did have a lot of success in coverage last season, Diggs could not hold a candle to LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase when those two matched up. He will get exposed for his aggressive jams in press by more well-schooled receivers at the next level and does not feel overly comfortable when playing with his back to the quarterback for too long. Moreover, he simply has limited playing experience with just over 700 snaps in coverage throughout his collegiate career. My biggest problem with the Bama corner however, is the fact he is an incredibly weak tackler, who ducks his head way too much and goes for the ball only on several attempts. That was also catastrophe in that LSU game.
Diggs has the perfect body-type for those single-high, press-bail Seattle schemes. While there are some occasions that you see him struggle to stay with receivers out of their breaks, I think he is an excellent cover-corner already. The biggest area of concern with him simply is the awful tackling. Before I see him improve that, I don’t want to put him out on the field. However, I think that is more easily correctable than teaching consistent press technique and making a less talented player succeed on the outside.
7. Noah Igbinoghene, Auburn
The son of two former Nigerian Olympians in the 400-meter relay, Igbinoghene made himself a name as a track star in high school and broke the triple jump record in the state of Alabama. He was also a four-star recruit and joined Auburn, where he was the Tigers’ primary kick-returner and converted from receiver to defensive back leading up to the 2018 season. As a sophomore, he recorded one pick and 11 passes broken up and he defended another seven passes last season. In the meantime, he still averaged over 30 yards per kick return and scored a couple of touchdowns that way for the Tigers.
This 5’11”, 200-pound kid almost exclusively lined up on the outside for the Tigers. Igbinoghene displays super-active feet and fluid hips to turn and run. What really stands out about him is how quickly he can come to a full stop when his receiver turns his route back towards the quarterback and then re-accelerates off that. So he certainly has the quickness to stick receivers on secondary routes. Igbinoghene does not get antsy when receivers slow down their release or gives him some stutter steps. He played a lot of stack technique at Auburn and sustained contact as opponents break inside. The talented young man defends slant routes beautifully, sticking to the hip of receivers like glue. He allowed just three of twelve passes of 20+ yards to be completed against him last season he made 19 plays on the ball himself over the last two years.
In zone coverage, Igbinoghene can plant and drive rapidly. He shows tremendous make-up speed when the defense is in cover-three and he gets back onto a vertical route by the slot receiver to disrupt the catch point. Overall he is really scrappy when trying to rip the ball out of the hands of the opponent in front of him. Igbinoghene also does a nice job reducing the shoulder and slipping underneath blockers to chop down running backs. You really see him shoot upfield against screen passes and get there behind the line of scrimmage to mess things up. In addition to that, the talented young corner was a core special teamer and return specialist at Auburn, which could be a big part of his role as he continues to develop at the defensive back position.
Igbinoghene got called for consecutive pass interference penalties working against Florida receiver Van Jefferson and had his fair share of struggles versus the crafty route-runner. It may take a while for him to be at the same level of technique as a lot of pro receivers and there are some false steps in his footwork to mirror. To say he’s a former receiver Igbinoghene really struggles to find the ball once he turns his back to the quarterback and looks a little lost at times in those spots, especially on back-shoulder fades. The former Auburn corner is also not a very sound tackler, in terms of wrapping up and keeping his feet under himself, leading to six missed attempts last season.
This young man is a smooth athlete with all the tools to become an excellent corner. He will only turn 21 by the end of November and has played the position for just two years basically – so there is a lot of room for growth. The problems he has finding the ball could continue to be a big problem going forward, but if he can improve at that and just continue to develop at the position, he could end up being one of the top corners from this entire class. I really like how feisty he is.
8. A.J. Terrell, Clemson
Terrell’s early success and positive reviews as a draft prospect should not come as any surprise, as he was a top-15 national recruit from the Atlanta region and already was a key reserve his first year with the Tigers – intercepting a pass and knocking down another seven. Over these last two seasons, he has started all 30 games during Clemson’s consecutive championship game appearances. In 2018, Terrell was only a third-team All-ACC selection despite seven PBUs and two forced fumbles to go with his three picks, including a house-call versus Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa in the national title. Last season he improved to first-team all-conference with similar numbers.
Terrell features excellent length at 6’1”, 195 pounds. He almost exclusively lined up on the outside as Clemson’s boundary corner, played a lot of soft press and cover-three bail for the Tigers. He has that gliding speed to keep stride with guys down the field and the length to crowd the catch point, while staying tight to his man. Terrell tracks the ball really well over either shoulder when it is thrown over his head and he stays in the hip pocket of receivers on slant routes. You see the former Clemson corner knock down passes on crossing routes all the way at the opposite number on some plays. He also has some experience picking up tight-ends when they were lined up as the single receiver on his/the short side, where his length bothered those guys in their route-running.
This guy emerged into that Tigers secondary in 2018, when he allowed just 0.83 yards per coverage snap. Overall he has been responsible for only 54 receptions on 863 snaps in coverage over these last two years, and while seven of them resulted in touchdowns, he also came up with five picks himself. His speed is plenty good to run downfield with guys, as it was illustrated by a 4.42 in the 40 at the combine. Terrell was equally as good in zone, where he is very disciplined with playing his responsibility while having his eyes on the backfield. He also defends the run with good leverage and does not shy away from sticking his helmet into the chest of receivers catching the ball underneath. Clemson blitzed Terrell off the edge on several occasions to go along with that.
Despite the timed speed, seven of the 13 passes thrown 20+ yards against Terrell last season were completed, including three TDs. He rarely used his hands too much in press and when he did try to land punches, he got too aggressive and extended outside his frame. In off-coverage he opens his hips at when the receiver is still five yards away from him, which makes him a target on hitches and curls by guys who can snap off their routes sharply. Because of lanky he is, Terrell struggles to change directions and you see him slip at times. Receivers who understand how to lean into him to set up in-breaks usually have success doing so and he gets caught face-guarding on deeper routes, which results in flags for P.I. as he initiates contact. Overall he just faced a very week group of receivers in the ACC last season and he got roasted by LSU’s JaMarr Chase in the National Championship game for 155 yards and two TDs on five catches, plus another P.I. call. Terrell also slows down before hitting a pile and dives at the feet of ball-carriers or just throws a shoulder at him, resulting in 11 missed tackles last season.
Terrell is a highly athletic, fluid athlete who has a lot man-experience and outside of his final collegiate game had been very efficient. The fact he has been vulnerable to the deep ball despite playing so conservative for the most part is somewhat concerning, but he has scheme versatily – having played for the creative Brett Venables – and has no obvious physical weaknesses. The ball production is also there with 13 PBUs and six INTs in 38 career games.
9. Bryce Hall, Virginia
Despite starring at receiver back home in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Hall was only a two-star recruit according to multiple outlets. Since he already played some on the defensive side in high school already, Virginia didn’t hesitate to put Hall on the field right away, appearing in all 12 games as a true freshman and starting seven of them. He became a full-time starter in 2017 and had a monster junior campaign, when he led the nation with 22 PBUs, while having a couple of picks to go with it, which earned him first-team All-ACC honors, Hall had a pretty good start to last season (three TFLs, four PBUs), but saw it cut short after six games due to requiring surgery on his ankle.
Standing at 6’1”, 200 pounds with 32-inch arms, Hall is a feisty competitor with an outstanding combination of intelligence and instincts. Virginia ran a ton of single-high safety coverages and left their corner(s) on an island. Hall slows down receivers trying to get into their route with well-placed hands, even if he doesn’t go for huge jams at the line of scrimmage. Then he has a great feel for when he can take a peak at the quarterback when he is on top of the receiver. Hall does a great job staying on the hip pocket of receivers and using that inside arm as a bar to control their speed, plus his technique on back-shoulder fades is very advanced for a college DB. When the ball is in the air, Hall’s ball-skills are second to none at the cornerback position, either attacking it with his own hands or swiping through the ones of the receiver, if he has his back turned towards that guy. His length is a big plus in that area as well. The Cavaliers targeting Hall on an high-arcing onside kick to start the second half versus Notre Dame last year shows you the type of ball-skills and trust his team sees in him
When he is in cover-three or quarters, Hall rarely allows receivers to get a step on him. On passes that travelled 10+ yards towards the Virginia corner, opponents went 14 of 44, limiting big plays all of 2018. Last season on 200 snaps in coverage he allowed just 11 catches for 119 yards, with only two of them going for 10+ yard. I also believe his top-end speed is better than people give him credit, illustrated by a chase-down tackle on the running back versus Miami as a junior. When the ball is completed in front of Hall in zone, he comes up with good balance and squares up the receiver. He is not hesitant to come downhill and cut down running backs at their trunks or jump on top of a pile. Receivers get driven backwards routinely by this guy and throwing screen passes his way is almost useless. I have even seen Hall take on H-backs leading up in the hole when there was no receivers to his side. He also does an excellent job disguising his blitzes and you see him run through or even try to leap over some backs in protection
The one area that concerns me about Hall is how he ducks his head as a tackler and doesn’t see what he hits. He is just not the most natural athlete at the position, without the kind of light feet and fluid hips a lot of other guys in this class have. He can’t close distances as quickly as you would like him to and in zone coverage, he gets sucked in by some crossers, with the back running into the vacated area on wheel routes for wide-open completions at times – by the reactions I wouldn’t assume that he was asked to man up in those situations. There is still room to improve at switching assignments here as well.
Hall is very smart player who clearly studies the game. There are definitely some athletic limitations and he needs to keep his head up as a tackler, but this kid is just a really sound player. I’m not quite sure if you can leave Hall on an island the way he was for large stretches in Virginia’s schemes, as he goes up against NFL receivers, but if you give him some deep help and let him play more zone-coverage, he will be an excellent performer.
10. Damon Arnette, Ohio State
A former four-star recruit from Florida, Arnette immediately got playing time for the Buckeyes, appearing in every game as a true freshman. He has been a fixture in the starting ever since and could have easily left after his junior year, when he was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, but he decided to come back last season and improved to second-team all-conference for the playoff contender Ohio State. In four years with the Buckeyes, Arnette has picked off seven passes and broken up another 22, including a 96-yard touchdown versus Indiana last season.
At six foot, 195 pounds, Arnette has experience in press- and off-man as well as cover-three with the Buckeyes. This guy can really throw off timing-based routes with aggressive press, but also mirror with room to his man. He displays highly patient hips and pushes receivers into the boundary when they release outside. Arnette is very physical against in-breaking routes and does not allow easy access that way. You see him use plenty of stack technique to stay on top of the opponent. He really crowds the catch-point and punches the ball out of there on several occasions or just puts his hands in-between the ones of the opponent. When the ball is completed in front of him, Arnette continues to rip at it and tries to get it out of the receiver’s hands. He had an outstanding near-interception along the sideline versus Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl, where it was the receiver that actually still knocked the ball out his hands.
Arnette has also excelled in zone coverage with the Buckeyes, where he doesn’t usually get drawn away from the area he is responsible for. He does really well to find the ball in the air and keeps his eyes locked on it. When he plays the receiver, he can not only use his hands to rip the ball out, but also punish them for making the catch next to him. Arnette only allowed eight passes of 10+ air-yards and one touchdown to be completed against him last season, allowing a passer rating of just 60.6 as a senior. He comes upfield aggressively when the ball is completed in front of him and does not shy away from getting involved as a tackler. He also played quite a bit in the slot back in 2017 and he has experience with a variety of techniques and different coverages through his three years as a starter.
However, Arnette’s 4.56 in the 40 at the combine was a little disappointing and he could have his problems surviving outside full-time. The former Buckeye gets caught on his heels at times by stutter releases and does not have the quickest feet to match guys off the line. In addition to that, he will probably be called for more defensive holding and pass interference penalties with the way he grabs on slant routes. Arnette misses some tackles, where his feet leave the ground and his eyes face the grass. He will already turn 24 early on in his rookie campaign and has some serious question marks off the field concerning his character, even if he said that he wants to mature after becoming a father.
This kid is an all-rounder, who has improved throughout his collegiate career and seems to be suited to jump into the action early on in his career. Arnette is somewhat limited athletically and could struggle if left one-on-one with some of the better receivers in the NFL, but his footwork and technique are pretty advanced and I really like the way he competes at the catch point. The biggest question mark with Arnette for teams will be what they get off the field, as he has been slipping down some draft board reportedly.
Just missed the cut:
Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State
Once a consensus three-star recruit from Louisiana, Dantzler came to MSU as a high school quarterback and defensive back, but focused on the defensive side of the ball in college. He redshirted the 2016 before becoming a key reserve the following season. Dantzler started all 13 games as a sophomore, but only nine last season. He intercepted five passes and knocked down another 17 over that stretch.
Dantzler has great size at 6’2”, 185 pounds. He is long, physical corner with experience in press- and off-man, three-deep and some cover-two. Either way, Dantzler is at his best when he put his hands on receivers and dictate their routes, while being patient with opening up his hips. He usually doesn’t allow opponents to slow him down with rubs and runs right through their reach to stay with his man. Dantzler has some quality experience matching up with tight-ends as the single receiver to his side or when they are lined up out wide. When he is responsible for the flats in zone, he punishes receivers for catching the ball on short out-routes.
Over these last two seasons, Dantzler allowed just 36 catches on 80 targets and 568 snaps in coverage. Only one of them ended in a touchdown, while picking off four passes himself, allowing passer ratings of 41.1 and 57.0 respectively. Last season he gave up just four catches of 20+ yards and he was really the only cover-guy last season to give LSU sophomore sensation Ja’Marr Chase any trouble, holding him to just two catches for 12 yards when those two were matched, not counting a slip screen his way. In addition to his coverage-skill, Dantzler is a physical edge-setter, who doesn’t mind mixing it up with bigger bodies in the run game. You see him come downhill harder than a lot of safeties when he isn’t matched up with a receiver. Dantzler is a ferocious blitzer and he rushed off the edge quite a bit when there was only a tight-end to his side.
However, the big corner doesn’t really wrap up as a tackler and often times just throws a shoulder at the ball-carrier, leading to five missed tackles last season. His hands are a little questionable as well, having dropped three interceptions in 2019. Dantzler is also a little late to click and close in zone coverage. With a 4.64 in the 40, you can seriously question his ability to stay on the outside at the next level, especially when considering if you can leave him out there one-on-one.
Dantzler’s best fit as a cover-two and press-man corner with help over the top at the next level. He can frustrate receivers with his physicality and he is a more than willing run-defender, even if his tackling technique needs some work. His long speed is definitely a concern, but in the right system, he can be a valuable piece.
Troy Pride Jr., Notre Dame
A former all-state receiver and return-man from South Carolina, Pride chose the Fighting Irish over nearby Clemson. He started seven games over his first two years on campus and was a quality backup, but took over as a full-time starter in 2018. Over those last two seasons he has recorded three interceptions and 16 more plays on the ball as an important piece for Notre Dame.
At 5’11”, 195 pounds, Pride played a lot of soft press and deep thirds for the Irish. He has really loose hips to turn and run with guys down the field. He does not seem afraid whatsoever to get beat over the top and he could not be taken advantage of on the deep ball at any point last season, limiting opponents to two completions of 20+ yards on 14 such targets his way, which led to a passer rating of just 20.5. He only allowed two receptions of 20+ yards the prior season as well. Pride comes out his transitions cleanly and with a 4.4 flat in the 40, there are no speed limitations. In addition to that, he has excellent short-area quickness and disrupts slant routes routinely with swipes right at the ball.
Pride does an outstanding job playing through the hands of the receiver when he has to face-guard that guy on downfield routes, but if you let the ball hang up there in the air, he can pick it off himself as well. At the Senior Bowl, Pride got better every single day and showed a lot of competitive spirit. He provided sticky coverage throughout practices, perfectly undercut some comeback routes and he was one of the few to actually beat USC wideout Michael Pittman to the spot a couple of times, even if his his lack of size was apparent during blocking drills.
On the flipside, Pride takes forever to disengage from blockers versus the run and does not seem overly eager to get involved anyway. He missed six tackles last season due to diving head first at the legs of ball-carriers. In coverage, he went from one touchdown compared to two interceptions his junior year to four touchdowns allowed and just one pick last season. Pride is a target for back-shoulder fades, where those bigger receivers can box him out or push off and he doesn’t find the football consistently. His size is also disadvantage when he can shielded from the ball on post or dig routes. With 30 ½-inch arms, he comes up short on some balls by just the tip of his finger.
Pride has the all-around skill-set to mirror receivers, plus with his experience in both man and zone, he can fit multiple schemes. His unwillingness to contribute against the run and lack of size are concerns, but if you can get over them, you could have an excellent cover-guy. As long as you don’t ask him to match up with big-bodied wideouts consistently, he can get the job done.
Right behind them:
Darnay Holmes (UCLA), Michael Ojemudia (Iowa), Lamar Jackson (Nebraska), Amik Robertson (Louisiana Tech), Josiah Scott (Michigan State), Reggie Robinson II (Tulsa)