After talking about the top wide receivers available earlier this week, we are looking at the guys, who will be covering them at the next level. We are including slot and outside corners, which I will differentiate or tell you what I see them as at the end of my individual write-ups.
The top 15 or so all deserve top 100 overall prospect consideration and there will be double-digits in my personal big board most likely. My top three is very much in line with what the consensus rankings seem to be, but from that point on, I differentiate myself to most people out there.
Please remember that these rankings are purely based on the tape and not considering any injury or personal concerns. Washington’s Elijah Molden and Oregon’s Jevon Holland almost exclusively played nickel in college, but will find their names on the safety list next week, since I project them to be classified that way, when they don’t line up in the slot.
1. Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
6’2”, 200 pounds; RS JR
This young man kind of emerged out of nowhere in 2019, coming out of high school as top-500 overall recruit, playing quarterback and starting out his career with the Hokies as a wide receiver. After missing his first season with a knee injury, Farley quickly switched to the defensive side of the ball and didn’t perform like newcomer to the position. In 2018, he was already a quality, but it was the following season that he was a first-team All-ACC selection, when In ten games, he intercepted four passes (one returned for a touchdown) and broke up another 12. He opted out of last season and his stock seems to be dropping, after he just underwent back surgery.
In terms of measurements and all-around athleticism, Farley is a prototype prospect. At Virginia Tech, he was asked to play a lot of soft press-man and cover-three, where he can play catch technique or stack on top. In those three-deep coverages, he often times doesn’t actually have to open up until the ball is in the air and still stay over the top of vertical routes, keeping his eyes on the quarterback and hips turned inside on the side-bail. He seems comfortable matching basically any route and not getting run by. For a lanky guy, Farley’s ability to click and close from off-alignment to break up slants and other quick in-breaking routes is tremendous. You see him stop his feet and come out of his breaks in off-coverage much better than you’d think and on those types of routes, when he is attached to the target, he uses a bit of an arm-bar to help himself redirect and ever so slightly slow down the receiver, without getting flagged for it. On deeper-developing routes, where he has to switch from running downfield to attacking back towards the quarterback, he can transition his weight extremely well. He just has that springiness that you rarely see for a corner of his measurements. Like you rarely see guys get their hands on the ball on comeback routes, unless they are just lobbed out there but Farley has those on tape. And then he also possesses the hip mobility, to pretty much snap off on out routes just like receivers would and not allow any separation. On top of that, his long arms are a major asset at contesting the catch point late by reaching in.
Farley had two outstanding picks in the end-zone of the 2019 Miami game, first staying in perfect position inside, attached to the hip of the receivers against a post route, and then on an out route, where the receiver initially stemmed vertically, but Farley was able to undercut it, plus he nearly had another one later on. Overall, he allowed a passer rating of a measly 26.8 that season, when on just under 400 coverage snaps, he only allowed 18 of 50 targets to be completed for 257 yards and one touchdown, while he came up with five picks himself. And not only did the Virginia Tech coaching staff trust him to really cover one third of the field plus as their field-side corner, but opposing teams actually started using a lot of formation into the boundary and put the single receiver all the way outside the numbers with Farley, yet the Hokies still kept that single-high safety either dead in the middle or even shaded towards the overloaded side. Farley has that slippery ability to dip the shoulder away from contact to blow up screens and work around picks, plus the quick burst to close the distance in a hurry. He was used quite a bit blitzing off the edge, where he arrives at the quarterback rapidly, and he has some shakiness to get around the back. When he does have to tackle one-on-one in space, he wrestles the ball-carrier down pretty effectively, with only three misses in 2019.
On the flipside, Farley is not very interested in getting off blocks and involving himself against the run. Strong receivers can push him around a bit, when they get him to bail with the release and then get hands inside his chest. And his tackling technique could use some work as well, actually wrapping up and driving his legs. As far as his coverage goes, there are some false steps and wasted movement that he still has to eliminate. He barely played any press man-coverage in college (58 total snaps according to PFF) and he will have to learn a lot about different jam techniques still. In zone coverage, he drift at times and doesn’t show great awareness yet, when he becomes the hang defender. And then obviously there’s the limited tape on him, against mediocre competition for the most part, which of course I won’t blame him or anybody else for opting out of 2020, but a torn ACL cost him what should have been his freshman season in 2017 and he missed the last couple of games as a sophomore due to back spasms, which are a regular occurrence for him.
There are certainly more physical and technically sound corners coming out this year, but nobody has the kind of upside Farley presents. He has all the physical tools to turn into a shutdown guys on the outside – the length, speed, fluidity and quickness are all top-notch. He needs to become a more consistent tackler, especially in schemes that ask him to contribute more in that area, but I could see him becoming one of the top corners in the league in a single-high system, if he can stay healthy. However, with the back surgery he just had a few weeks ago, he is likely going to drop to the latter half of the first round.
2. Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
6’1”, 205 pounds; JR
Once a top-ten recruit in the nation, Surtain contributed in all 15 games his freshman year. He was even better as a starter in his second season and played like the best corner in college football as a junior. Over 25 games these last two years, he has recorded 17 pass-breakups and three interceptions, to go with 4.5 tackles for loss. Last season, he received unanimous All-American notice and was named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year, on his way to winning a national title.
Surtain also presents basically ideal measurements for the position with 32 ½-inch arms and he is very physical with receivers going down the field. He almost exclusively played outside corner, even though he was asked to take on certain matchups in the slot every once in a while, and he was trusted a lot in man-coverage. Surtain was arguably the best player at his position in 2019 for the Crimson Tide already, with second-round pick Trevon Diggs and others there and then he was the top corner in the entire nation this past season. He is very patient off the snap, while reading from the hips of the receiver up, and he forces those guys to show their release with fake jams routinely, to be able to counter, without any false steps to speak of. He has several reps, where he perfectly stays in phase with the receiver and it’s really just about who plucks the ball out of the air. He excels at taking away space towards the sideline and minimizing the area of where the ball can be thrown to. On inside releases, Surtain is very hands-on, to stay under control and feel any secondary breaks and on in-cuts, he attaches to the receiver’s near-hip. His tape is pretty boring to watch and he has to be bored himself, because nobody actually wants to throw his way. Against Ole Miss at the start of 2020 he gave up one dig/slant for 10 yards the entire game and they threw at him like two more times. On 555 coverage snaps and 48 targets last season, he gave up just 21 completions for 273 yards and two touchdowns, compared to his one pick.
With those long arms, Surtain is very disruptive and gets his hand in-between the mitts of receivers at the catch point. There are so many passes over the middle, where he wraps around the opponent and breaks up the pass. And it really shows against back-shoulder or jump balls, where his length and the ability to swipe through the reach of the target makes him very effective. Surtain’s ability to turn and flip in cover-three without allowing receivers to get on top of him is excellent and when the ball goes up, he doesn’t usually try to switch to the receiver with his eyes, but rather stays in that position and tries to track it. Overall in zone coverage, he displays good awareness for targets around him and plays in-between routes. As a flat-defender, I like the way he doesn’t commit prematurely, but at the same time is able to take care of his assignments. And once the first man leaves his area, as the safety takes that guy over, Surtain falls off the receiver and he gets underneath deep crossers. You saw him be matched up with tight-ends due to motions and some formations, where he forces those bigger bodies to go through him and doesn’t give up much at the catch point. He did a really good job one-on-one with Florida’s Kyle Pitts on the outside, with the only catch allowed coming, when the tight-end was able to pluck in a low pass on a slant. Like all Alabama corners, this guy wants to tackle, He wraps up guys in space consistently and he plays his role in run support. He understands where the sticks are, as plenty of receptions he actually allows end up resulting third-down stops. Surtain also got involved on some CAT blitzes, where his size doesn’t make him look he is out of place near those big guys in the middle.
As much press as Surtain has played, I would actually like to see him be more physical at the line, He is not immune to push-offs and he gets caught face-guarding too much at, which results in him grabbing an arm or something at the end of it. What gives him the most trouble are shifty receivers, who can stem their routes outside and break underneath him, because he doesn’t have that elite short-area quickness to recover or the top-end make-up speed to break up in-stride deep balls. Therefore, he won’t be a great fit for teams that ask their corners to play any extended time of off-man coverage, because there is a little pause as he tries coming out of his transitions. While he only surrendered two touchdowns last season, those showed his major issues. There was a go ball by Tennessee’s Josh Palmer, where he was able to run by him and then another long one to Florida’s Trevon Grimes, where Surtain was seemingly perfectly in phase along the sideline, but then couldn’t find the ball at all, When speedy receivers can stack Surtain vertically.
Weighing in at 208 pounds at the Alabama pro day, Surtain put up great numbers all-around, running a 4.42, with a 39-inch vert and a 10’11” broad jump, to go with 18 reps on the bench press. I don’t think he’s as athletically gifted as Caleb Farley or physical as Jaycee Horn, but he is by far the most technically refined corner and will probably be the best from day one. He is the most complete player at the position in this year’s class and he should be a high-quality starter from day one.
3. Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
6’1”, 205 pounds; JR
Around the 200-overall recruits range, this son of Pro Bowl receiver Joe Horn started all but one game his first two years Columbia, over which span he broke up 17 passes and came up with six tackles for loss. However, he really exploded onto scene this past season, when the coaches started asking him to travel with the opposing team’s top wideout and started beating guys up, intercepting two passes and knocking down another six in the seven games he played, before opting out when head coach Will Muschamp was dismissed. However, he has been one of the biggest risers in this pre-draft process, because of what he put on limited last year and the athletic testing at South Carolina’s pro day.
Physically, Horn presents everything you want to see from a press-corner, with great thickness and length, having those 33-inch arms. He shows patient feet, quick ability to pivot and works around receivers to knock the ball down. He applies a lot of pressure on receivers as a physical corner and keeps himself square for a long time, because he is not scared of having people run by him. You see him stay balanced against hesitation releases, while sliding his feet slightly backwards and then can turn and run with guys down the sideline. Horn is especially great at taking away slant routes, by squeezing in-between the ball and the receiver to knock it down. On outside releases, he pushes at the near-shoulder, to ride receivers further into the boundary and force quarterbacks to lead them out of bounds. He really excels at having leverage to one side against tighter splits and then forcing receivers to work and force their way through him, to be able to go the other side. Horn played some soft press as well, where he shoots his feet into a parallel position and has some twitchiness to get back into the hip-pocket of receivers on inside releases, while slightly re-routing guys. And he is crafty with little jersey tugs, as he tries to stick with crossing patterns. Plus, on spot routes and hooks, Horn can decelerate pretty well too, to not overshoot the target. In 2019, he barely allowed half of the targets his way to be completed and then last season, he limited it to a third (8 for 24) for just 116 yards on 239 coverage snaps.
Horn completely shut down Auburn’s Seth Williams in their 2020 matchup outside of one 50-50 ball downfield, where he kind of tripped, including breaking up three passes towards the end-zone and him picking off two balls. He put out some clinic tape in that contest and depending on what coaches will think of Williams in the pre-draft process, that probably really boosted his draft stock. He also did a great job of sticking with Florida tight-end Kyle Pitts on a bunch of crossing routes, even though he got boxed out along the sideline once. As physical as Horn is during route patterns, it’s his ultra-competitive nature at the catch point, fighting through contact late and somehow getting a hand in there, that really stands out, where those lanky arms definitely are a plus. You see that a lot on jump balls against him, where the ball is in the air and he has time to get himself into position. Horn aggressively works upfield against quick screens and puts some receivers on their backside, before delivering a pop on the ball-carrier. He rarely gets himself out of position against the run, keeping his shoulders square and bounces down, as he deciphers the action. With those long arms, he can keep blockers away from his chest and then disengage when the ball-carrier tries to get outside of him, as he takes care on contain responsibilities.
With that being said, you definitely see some false steps at times by Horn, when he doesn’t land his jam and he gets caught leaning out in front, as he tries to recover. And then of course, there’s the tendency of getting really grabby at the break point, at times when it’s not even necessary. He could have a bunch of flags thrown against him his rookie year and his future NFL team better get those boxing gloves out, to teach him how to adjust to the pros. In off-coverage, his pedal is rather high and it takes him some time to come out of it, to get back into proper position. Horn really dips his heads into tackles and doesn’t always see what he hits. And he isn’t actively looking to get involved in the action necessarily, rather than just being where he’s supposed to be.
Horn actually put up better across the board than Alabama’s Patrick Surtain at the South Carolina pro day, with a 4.39 in the 40, a 42-inch vertical and an 11’1” broad jump, plus 19 reps on the bench press. I’m a big fan of the alpha mentality and overall skill-set he brings to the table. And with how much the NFL loves those physical marvels that blow them away with measurements, I would not be shocked if Horn was the first corner off the board, especially with Caleb Farley likely to drop due to the back concerns. In year one, I just think he will have some learning experiences with letting go of receivers’ jerseys, because otherwise a different piece cloth will be thrown.
4. Eric Stokes, Georgia
6’0”, 185 pounds; RS JR
A former three-star recruit, Stokes redshirted his first year in Athens. He saw quite a bit of action as a backup his debut season and has started all but one game these last two years. He didn’t have an interception his first two years with the Bulldogs, but nine passes broken up in each of them. This past season, he picked off four passes and took two of them back to the house, to go with four more PBUs, improving from second- to first-team All-SEC.
Stokes came into 2020 without a whole lot of pop, because of his running mate Tyson Campbell, but he actually outplayed the fellow cornerback the whole season and outside of Patrick Surtain from Alabama, he was arguably the best cover-guy in the country. Stokes has the physicality, length and athletic ability to give receivers issues off the line and he does a great job of squeezing his man into the boundary. Plus, when receivers try to push off as they approach the sideline, he is quick to swat down the hands and make up that distance again. Stokes doesn’t show fear to get beat over the top and he has tremendous short-area quickness, to not allow separation on quick hitches, curls or slants. And you rarely see those chicken-wings or stabs at his chest get him off balance. Along with that, he can change up his technique in terms of two-handed press, soft press and press-bail. On inside releases, he keeps his eyes locked on the hips of the receiver and stays in position as that guy makes his break. You rarely see him give up separation on deep post routes and he quickly gets his feet back underneath himself as his receiver hits the breaks, to keep that throwing window open for a minimal amount of time on routes back towards the quarterback.
Last season, people stopped trying to throw Stokes’ way at some point, but even when they did, he is as good as any corner out there running downfield with guys on the sideline and staying in phase, while being to find the ball over either side and adjusting to the back-shoulder of the receiver. He covers plenty of ground on sideways shuffle in zone coverage, where he displays excellent awareness and toggles between routes, not giving quarterbacks a clear key to read. And when he becomes the hang defender in three-deep coverage, his eyes immediately go to the post. Stokes covered LSU superstar (and my number one receiver) Ja’Marr Chase as well as anybody I saw in 2019, with the only catch he allowed coming off a scramble play, where the receiver actually ran a third round pretty much. After putting up solid numbers in coverage in 2019, he held receivers to 16 catches on 28 targets (300 coverage snaps) for 145 yards and one touchdown, while he came away with four picks himself, resulting in a measly passer rating of 43.6 when going his way. Stokes does not hesitate coming upfield and trying to bring down much bigger running backs, but at the same time, he is a very reliable tackle, breaking down in space and wrapping up with great consistency. That led to only one missed tackle last season. He has plenty of experience coming off the edge on any down and got involved in plenty of stops in the run game that way.
When you look at their measurements, Stokes simply isn’t in the same weight class as the three names ahead of him. He is not very strong in his jams and stabs, to dictate the stems of receivers and actually re-route them. And big-bodied wideouts at the next level could give him more some trouble with push-offs at the top and just physicality in their route-running altogether. Stokes also may not present the greatest ball-skills, dropping back-to-back would-be interceptions against Tennessee in 2019. At times I thought he got pushed around a bit by big receivers and I’d like to see him be more active with his hands and come off blocks quicker in general.
With that being said, he really increased his ball-production this past year and there’s really not much that he has put on tape that gives me any concerns. In terms of a cover-corners with great tape in a conference loaded with NFL receiving talent, only one other guy on this class outmatches Stokes (Surtain). And he just reportedly ran an unofficial 4.25 at his pro day (that would be impressive even the time was a tenth of a second off). So any concerns about his speed that some people may have had – which I didn’t, based on the film – are now gone. The guys in front of him may have a little better length, but Stokes is worthy of a late first-round pick in my opinion.
5. Kelvin Joseph, Kentucky
6’1”, 195 pounds; RS SO
A former top 50 overall recruit, Joseph started his career at LSU, where he saw action in every game as a backup, until getting suspended for the Tigers’ bowl game for violating team rules. He decided to enter the transfer portal after that year and had to sit out the 2019 season, before he picked off four passes and took one to the house in the first nine games for Kentucky and then sitting out the final two, to prepare for the draft. In any other conference, he would have gotten notice from league coaches.
Joseph primarily played boundary corner for UK, but also lined up exclusively on the wide side in a couple of matchups last season, either in soft press-man or cover-three. He displays patient hips – especially when staying balanced against hesitation/stutter releases – and is pretty light on his feet for a lanky corner. Joseph has no issues running with vertical routes (go’s, posts, etc.) and if you need proof of his speed, just check him out almost chasing down the defensive end on his own team on a pick-six against Mississippi State last season. And when he sees his receiver break inside in man-coverage, he gets very physical with putting his hands on the opponent and then wrapping around, to knock the ball down. You also see good fluidity in his lower half, when he is in a three-deep side bail and flips around by 180 degrees, to defend a deep out route. He is pretty springy in zone coverage and doesn’t allow certain route patterns to make him vacate his area. And when he is responsible for a deep third/quarter, he is actively looking for corner routes or anything coming across the field into his zone. When the Wildcats played Florida last year, Joseph was matched up with superstar tight-end Kyle Pitts a whole lot, because the Gators put him at single-receiver, either in-line or split out wide, and while the CB did give up a touchdown on a slick corner-post route early on, for the final three-and-a-half quarter, he pretty much shut number 84 down.
Joseph really impressed me with the way he attacked the ball downfield and challenged the catch point, which his long arms are definitely a major factor in those jump-ball situations. When you look at Joseph’s four interceptions last season, they were all highly impressive – two came in the toe-tap catch at the sideline variety, against Mississippi State and Georgia, where he actually got both feet to land in bounds, then there was his pick-six, where he undercut an out route against Tennessee and then in the Alabama game, where they tried to beat him on an out-and-up, but after looking back to the quarterback on the break to the sideline, he quickly got attached to the hip of Devonta Smith again, kind of pushed him into the sideline and hauled in the underthrown pass. On top of his coverage capabilities, Joseph shows good urgency to come up as a tackler and has the quickness to get around blockers, but also puts in work to disengage, when receivers do get into his chest. He plays strong contain and doesn’t mind engaging with tight-ends, plus he works upfield with good bounce as the force defender. He actually came up with a big fourth-down goal-line stop against Ole Miss last season on a toss play.
However, he is kind of an ankle-biter as a tackler and won’t set the tone at first contact many times. Too often he ends up on the turf, with the ball-carrier still on his feet, because his eyes aren’t up. The biggest area of concern on the field however, is that he only logged nine career starts and there are some intricacies at the position that he still has to master. He also really just played in those single-high coverages – one and three – and you will have to limit the things you can ask from him potentially early on. His awareness in zone coverage and technique could still use some polish because of it. And while I don’t know all the background information, his future team will have to be comfortable with his rapping career and what got him suspended at LSU, plus work with him to avoid some of the unnecessary personal fouls he had in big games.
This is my guy to watch out for in this corner class. Just like Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis, Joseph finds himself in my top five at his respective position and he has the upside to find himself even higher on the list, when we re-rank these guys a couple of years down the road. In terms of pure talent and potential, Caleb Farley is the only name I would definitely put ahead of him. He just ran in the low 4.3s at Kentucky’s pro day, he has the physicality and fluidity, he doesn’t shy away from contact and he plays with that competitive swagger, which made him a standout player in what really was his first year as a starter.
6. Greg Newsome, Northwestern
6’1”, 190 pounds; JR
A three-star recruit out of high school, Newsome saw action right away as a freshman, starting in four of six games played, but missed half of that season. In 2019, he also missed the final four games, but still led the team with 11 passes defensed. Last season, he broke up seven more passes and came up with his only career pick, which was crucial in their win over Wisconsin, to secure a trip to the Big Ten Championship game. However, he had to leave that game early and then decided to sit out the team’s bowl game.
While he didn’t show up on as many highlights as other guys necessarily, but this guy has been one of the best cover-corners in college football these last two years. It took me a while to figure this out with where Newsome lines up, but he is usually the boundary corner against single-receiver formations and on the field side against balanced sets, as far as I can tell. The athletic skill-set is absolutely there with Newsome, when you look at the fluidity in his lower body to make easy turns, the length, which he uses to full length to contest caches and the pure speed, which to me really stood out when he chased down running back J.K. Dobbins in the 2019 Ohio State game. Even without a lot of hands-on press, Newsome does a nice job of taking away space to the sideline on outside-releasing stems and the Wildcats coaching staff didn’t do him too many favors either, with how much off-coverage they asked him to play in certain matchups, where quick hitches were basically lay-ups and he was set up to fail almost, being put a ton of one-on-one tackling situations,. espite that, his explosiveness to break on quick inside routes and limit yardage after the catch is pretty darn impressive.
Newsome wasn’t allowed to play a ton of press man-coverage, but in that role, he rarely takes the cheese with any slow-play / hesitation releases, staying square and often times forcing the receiver to go through him. He uses a lot of catch technique and then is kind of gliding downfield with his man. And he won’t get shielded by big-bodied receivers, he can elevate with them and has a way of getting around them, to stick a hand in there. Yet, I also saw him show some quick twitch, perfectly mirroring a couple of whip routes in last year’s Wisconsin game. And while being asked to play as much deep coverage as he was, he almost never was beat over the top. Newsome may only have one career interception to show for himself, but he averaged around 1.2 pass break-ups per game. He certainly showed better urgency and more willingness to be a physical player in 2020, while his coverage numbers improved to an elite level. He held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 31.7 last season – that was the lowest among all Power-Five cornerbacks. And he also had the lowest completion percentage allowed in single coverage in the 2021 draft class (10.5%).
Before anything else, Newsome comes with a concerning medical history. He only played in 20 career games over his three seasons with the Wildcats (left Big Ten title game with groin injury) and has left several contests. Even though it has gotten better, Newsome still doesn’t aggressively work upfield against the run or as a tackler in general. Too often, you will see him retreat when a blocker is coming right at him and he gets driven out of the screen by some tight-ends when they are matched up against each other. And he needs to do a better job of breaking down in space consistently. In terms of his coverage, Newsome is very quick to get into the bail phase in zone and his weight is too far back on his heels in man, which makes routes snapped back towards the quarterback pretty effective. He presents a rather slight frame and wasn’t really challenged by big-bodied wideouts in the Big Ten last season.
I’m not quite on board with the hype Newsome is receiving, as the NFL draft community was actively searching for CB4 and has pretty much slotted him in there universally. However, I can see the appeal with his physical attributes, especially just running a 4.38 at his pro day, and I can project him being more impressive when he isn’t left as much in conservative off-coverage, but rather challenge receivers off the snap. He will likely go somewhere near the end of the first round, when I think he should be more of a early- to mid-second selection, especially when you take the injury concerns into account.
7. Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State
5’10”, 185 pounds; JR
One of the top recruits in the whole country at the position and the son of former Patriots and Eagles Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel, Junior saw action in all 12 games his true freshman season and started three late. Over these last two years, he has started all 20 games he was available for (missed two), recording a combined four interceptions and 20 PBUs. For that, he was named third- and then first-team All-ACC respectively.
Samuel might lack some height and length – especially considering all the other guys in this top are pretty lanky – but he possesses excellent feel and anticipation for the position, while bringing some feistiness to the table. He is very clean in his technique, pinning receivers into the boundary, has good patience off the line and consistently lands those hands at the shoulder of his receivers on outside releases. Samuel has super light feet and an extremely fluid lower body, being able to turn either direction with no issues and he uses a lot of catch technique from soft press alignment. He presents the lightning-quick footwork to stay in a balanced position against more delayed releases and that natural ability to match route patterns, while having plenty of experience in man-coverage. When playing off, he displays a smooth pedal and can go any direction out of it, without losing any time in his transitions almost. He can stop his momentum in a heartbeat and has such a wide range of motion, to swivel his hips around. You see him at times be a good five yards off against a speed out and be right on the receiver, as the ball arrives there. Plus, he displays great closing burst when receivers have a step on him on post routes for example. You saw him comfortable carry Louisville’s deadly deep threat Tutu Atwell vertically on multiple occasions in their meeting last season. And he had another excellent showing against North Carolina’s Dyami Brown.
The former Seminole moves so easily into a bail position and you rarely see anybody get over the top of him in deep-third responsibilities, while peaking at the receiver and being quick to react to any breaks underneath. That rapid change of direction also stands out when he has his butt to the sideline and gains ground vertically, but then comes back down against hitch or slant routes. From that position, he can also flip around against wide releases, to get back into phase along the sideline or bend up to the post, as the receiver goes that way. And Samuel just has that natural feel for falling off to the slot, as that guy pushes vertically or breaks to the corner. He really excels at getting his eyes back on the quarterback once he sees his receiver turn for the ball and then displays great ball-skills when it gets there. Plus, even if he can’t quite get his hands on it, he consistently swipes through the mitts of receivers, and he has a much better success rate on goal-line fades than you’d expect for a guy two inches short of six feet. That 19.7% forced incompletion rate in 2019 was the worst in any season he had. Last season, on 278 coverage snaps, he was targeted 32 times, allowing 19 of them to be completed for 179 yards and one touchdown, while picking off three passes himself. And while he may not able to stay and shed outside receivers, he has the quickness to get around blockers, as the ball-carriers approaches that way.
Yet, the lack of height and weight simply can’t be overlooked here. Samuel won’t be able to challenge physical NFL receivers off the line consistently with jams and he can be beat at the catch point, with arms of barely 30 inches long, as well as getting tossed around a bit by those guys. When you look at the passer rating allowed last season, it was at an insanely low 10.1 on passes below ten and 38.4 on 20+ yard throws. However, In between that, opposing quarterback had an almost perfect rating, which goes in hand with what I just explained, as bigger bodies can push off on deep in-breaking routes and shield the ball with their frame. Samuel is too conservative with coming upfield against screens and jet sweeps, as well as getting pushed backwards by X receivers routinely, while not actively looking to throw his body around in the run game in general.
In terms of a pure off-man and zone cover-corner, Samuel arguably is the top guy in this class. He is so light on his feet and fluid in his hips, plus he has excellent ball-skills to come up with big plays himself. There are some size-related limitations and there will be moments he gets “big-bodied” at the next level, but he is very clean evaluation outside of that. I don’t look at him as a boundary man corner, like he played at Florida State, but more on the field side, where a defense may be in zone, while playing man on the single-receiver on the other end.
8. Paulson Adebo, Stanford
6’1” 190 pounds; SR
Right around the top-100 overall recruits, Adebo spent his first year on campus on the scout-team as a redshirt. He proceeded to start all but one game in 2018 and had one of the best freshman seasons I can remember from any college player, as he intercepted four passes and deflected another 17 passes on top of it. Adebo picked off another four balls and had double-digit PBUs the following season. And he was named a first-team All-Pac-12 selection in both of them.
When I first laid my eyes on this kid, I thought he was an incredible talent. Adebo already showed a great feel for the game as a freshman and the Stanford coaches said they think he can be a Richard Sherman-type player, but with better speed actually. Which, even if you have to correct it a little bit, is probably true, considering this guy ran a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash at the Cardinal pro day. Adebo almost exclusively lined up on the left outside for the Cardinal and despite a rather lanky build, he was primary asked to play off-coverage. He displays an easy pedal, and some of the best, most fluid transitions at the position, without many wasted steps towards the latter half of year two. You already saw it as a freshman, where Adebo wasn’t as technically sound and it was more just about his natural talent, being able to stop his feet and disrupt the catch point with his click-and-close speed. When he sees or feels routes coming, he can really plant and drive on them. And then he also played some soft press, where he has bouncy steps and forces opponents to work around him, as they try to release. He has that gliding speed to carry receivers vertically and then drop his weight, to barely allow any separation on deep comeback routes, which are one the toughest thing to cover. In 2018, Adebo surrendered a passer rating of just 54.6 when targeted in and defended an FBS-high 21 on just over 500 coverage snaps, with one touchdown compared to his four picks, The following season, the numbers increased across the board, including four TDs, but he still a great year and made a bunch of plays on the ball – and he dropped four more potential picks.
Adebo really climbs the ladder and attacks the ball at its highest point, as well as showing very natural hands as a former wide receiver in high school, And he has that rare ability to play the ball through contact with the receiver, as well as consistently pulling at the near-arm of the receiver just as the ball arrives there, He had an unreal one-handed interception in the end-zone versus Cal in 2018 and in the Oregon game, he denied Dillon Mitchell on three passes into the end-zone in overtime of their 2018 matchup, after which Justin Herbert decided to go elsewhere and was picked off on his final throw of the night. In zone coverage, Adebo won’t allow offenses to manipulate him with crossers or screen fakes, to give up his deep-third/quarter responsibilities. He is not afraid of staying flat-footed whilst deciphering route-patterns and can make up ground as he identifies, who he’ll match up with ultimately. On certain motions, Adebo was even asked to rotate to the deep middle, if they couldn’t change pre-snap anymore. I don’t think there’s another corner in this draft, who works upfield against the run with as much conviction as Adebo. He rarely allows receivers to block him at all and he often engages with offensive linemen, to where I’ve even seen him actively attack pulling guards at times. That’s why the Cardinal had no issues keeping him on his side, even if there was no receiver left and he was part of the box count. And he races up very aggressively against underneath completions as well. Stanford likes to blitz their corners on run-downs quite a bit, where the way he charged in earned Adebo five tackles for loss in 2018.
What I think Adebo he has to do a little better job of is not giving that inside access in off-coverage that easily and getting back on top of dig and deep-in routes. He would benefit from adding some muscle to his frame, in order to deal with those bigger wideouts and he rarely actually re-routes them with a hands-on approach. As much of a play-maker as he may be, Adebo got burnt on several double-moves as a sophomore, because opposing teams knew how aggressive he was with jumping routes. His tendency of playing off and kind of catching receivers will get flagged in the NFL, where you’re not allowed to initiate contact more than five yards downfield. And he is just so reckless as a tackler, just running to the ball and not breaking down at all, often times basically diving forward. Because of that, he missed 25 of his 135 career tackling attempts.
Adebo to me is sort of the forgotten man in this cornerback class and the fact he isn’t even higher on this list has more to do with how good this class actually is in terms of the talent, that will likely come off the first two days of the draft, His change-of-direction, the ability to make plays on the ball in the air and how good he was in just two years as a college player gives me very high hopes. He just ran a 6.69 in the three-one drill (91st percentile) at his pro day, to back up those skills he has, transitioning from off-coverage and he has the athletic skill-set to play closer to the line, if he adds a little more to his frame, while displaying great football IQ at his age already.
9. Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse
6’2” ½, 210 pounds; RS JR
This former three-star recruit and brother of former Raiders second-round pick Obi Melifonwu, redshirted his first years on campus and then was more of a backup the following season, before starting 19 of 23 games these last two years. Over the course of his career with the Orange, Melifonwu picked off three passes, broke up another 19 and added five TFLs to his resume. He improved every single season and wrapped up his career with a third-team All-ACC selection.
First off, Ifeatu displays crazy athleticism, just like his older brother Obi. He shows physicality to not allow tight releases in press and has the long speed to run with receivers down the sideline, while using the outside arm to slow down the opponent. Even though Melinfonwu is a long corner, he can stop and redirect his momentum pretty well, to counter curl routes and shuffle-release slants, plus he is smooth in rolling those hips against deep outs. He plays a lot of stack technique and forces receivers to go through him. When he gets into a trail position, his long arms and athleticism allows him to stay in phase, keep his hands on the receiver and feel any breaks coming. And then he has the length to reach around receivers and knock the ball down, which he has some great reps against slant routes on. Melifonwu shows no panic with the ball in the air and attacks it at its highest point. He had a beautiful break-up on an out-and-up versus Clemson’s Cornell Powell last season. And he made an incredible pick against Louisville a couple of weeks later, when he had to work over the top, as he followed a jet motion, but stayed back, as he realized the quarterback was going after his H-back on a wheel route and high-pointed it. On 842 career coverage snaps, Melifonwu has surrendered 69 completions on 128 targets for 973 yards and four touchdowns versus three picks
You don’t see anybody get behind Melifonwu in deep coverage and when receivers bend to the post, he stays right in position to trail down the field. When teams try to hit curl or quick-in routes against him in off-alignment, just like the receiver, he keeps working back to the ball. He shows good awareness for when he becomes the hang-defender in cover-three and can peel off his area, to make plays on the ball. In the 2020 Liberty game, where Syracuse gave up 38 points, he wasn’t responsible for a single catch and never let any receiver get a step on him vertically. Other than a couple of quick in-breaking routes when he was in cover-three, Melifonwu also didn’t allow North Carolina’s Dyami Brown to really get anything going being right in his hip pocket and showing little issues carrying him down the field. His competitiveness at the catch point really stood out in the Senior Bowl game on a few occasions. Melifonwu crashes into blockers on screens and toss plays. He consistently stacks and sheds receivers trying to block him and delivers some big hits when the ball comes out quickly, while not letting receivers get outside of him usually and wrapping up effectively. He only missed five of 59 tackling attempts last season. And he doesn’t show any hesitation trying to run through backs when he’s sent as a blitzer.
However, he does allow receivers to get into his chest too easily in the run game and once he is blocked, he doesn’t get off it very well. Melifonwu still has plenty of room to grow in his press technique, when it comes to hand-technique and aggressiveness to be honest. He only played 183 press snaps over past two years, even though he presents most intrigue as somebody who can disrupt receivers off the line. And he had his issues with that during Senior Bowl week, where he just kind of blindly stabbed at the chest of receivers and lost contact, as he was trying to incorporate more press. In deep zone coverage, he is way too conservative at times, even when receivers don’t push hard vertically. I don’t think he can plant and drive well enough to succeed on defenses that ask him to play off for a large amount of snaps. And when he has his eyes on the receiver on go routes, he struggles a bit to turn his head around re-locate the ball.
Full transparency here – I was somebody, who had Obi Melinfonwu as a second-round prospect back in 2017. I got enamored with the athletic upside and I have heard that the work ethic wasn’t great with the older brother. However, Ifeatu is almost equally intriguing physically, has put out some really good tape and seems to love the game. He would be a perfect fit for a Seattle-style cover-three press bail scheme. For more man-heavy schemes, he will have to work on his jam techniques and dictating route stems, but he has all the athletic tools to develop into that type of player.
10. Tyson Campbell, Georgia
6’2”, 185 pounds; JR
A former five-star recruit, Campbell quickly entered the lineup for an excellent Bulldog defense, starting 11 of 14 games as a freshman. He only appeared in seven games in 2019 due to turf toe and D.J. Daniel made most of the extra playing time. However, Campbell returned to the starting lineup last season and lived up to his high status coming to UGA, tying for the team-lead with five passes broken up and coming up with his first career interception.
Campbell has always been a gifted athlete, but his technique really improved in 2020 I thought, when he lined up for 88 percent of career snaps out wide, playing a lot of man and often times covering the X receiver. He shows patience off the line and does a great job of establishing first contact with those long arms, to widen the releases of his man. He has the speed and loose hips to turn and run with go routes, while arm-barring and controlling he receiver throughout the play. You see the quick feet to mirror slide and hesitation releases, before taking off with guys down the field, while doing a really good job of working the receiver into the boundary and reading his hips from the inside position. No matter which way his man releases, what he really excels at is keeping his hands on-target without having to grab cloth. Plus, the ability to stop his weight is much better than you’d expect from such a long corner. He basically shut down Auburn’s Seth Williams throughout their 2020 matchup, outside of one 20-yard grab, where Campbell was all over the receiver. And you see that a bunch on tape, where he gets charged with allowing a catch, but he is right there in the hip-pocket of the opponent. That was the case in last year’s Alabama game, where Devonta Smith made a couple of catches working back to the ball hard and then Campbell had to switch off to Jaylen Waddle late, where he tripped on a 90-yard touchdown.
While Georgia’s defensive scheme is pretty man-heavy, where they utilized Campbell on the as a perimeter corner, he has plenty of experience in different zone patterns. It’s pretty crazy how fast he is with his butt to the sideline and crossing his legs in cover-three bail and he moves closer to the sideline as he loses vision on the receiver on those outside releases. Plus, he has the natural skills to get back into the picture if there is some separation, as the receiver has the upper hand, not seeing the break across his face be initiated. Campbell shows great urgency to come up against the run and get involved as a tackler, while supplying good pursuit from the backside. He only had five missed tackles in coverage on 67 career attempts. And he doesn’t shy away from contact against blockers or the ball-carrier – I’ve even seen him dip the shoulder on a pulling guard on tape. He is a ferocious blitzer coming off the corner, where he doesn’t indicate prematurely, but then is explosive out of his stance and can get to the quarterback in a hurry. And he doesn’t slow down just because he sees the offensive tackle slide his way, like many other corners would. When you look at the 2019 numbers, on 185 coverage snaps he allowed only eight of 20 targets to be completed for less than 100 yards and no touchdowns.
However, last season on about twice as many snaps in coverage, he gave up 30 completions on 46 targets for 340 yards and five TDs, to go with his one pick. So there was a significant drop-off with more playing time. Campbell is certainly still on the skinny side and allows some separation at the top of the route, when receivers throw him a little chicken-wing. He comes in with very low ball-production, with only a 10.3% forced incompletion rate over his career. He did not have an interceptions and only five total PBUs through his first two years (21 games). Campbell has some issues finding the right balance between looking at the receiver and trying to find the ball when it’s in the air. And he is not super reliable with contain responsibilities in the run game always, peaking inside too much.
In terms of the pure athletic profile, Campbell is one of the more impressive corners in this class. While he may be the strongest player, his length and ability to stop his feet make him a very intriguing prospect. He just ran an unofficial 4.38 at the Georgia pro day and looked good attacking the ball in the air. The highly limited amount of plays on the ball is probably the biggest question mark and being in great position but allowing the catch to be made won’t make a change on the stat sheet, but if he can just work on that part of his game, he could be a high-level starter on the outside.
Just missed the cut:
Aaron Robinson, UCF
5’11” ½, 190 pounds; RS SR
Slightly outside the top-500 overall recruits, Robinson wanted to join Alabama’s rich history of defensive backs, but barely saw the field outside of special steams and decided to transfer to another one of the best programs in terms of record, even though it wasn’t in such a highly regarded conference. Unfortunately, he basically lost two more years, due to NCAA transfer rules and then suffering a scary injury on the opening kickoff the following season. However, in 21 games with UCF over these last two years, Robinson recorded 90 tackles, 5.5 of them for loss, an interception and 15 passes knocked down, earning second-team All-ACC notice in both of them.
After transferring over from Alabama, the Golden Knights had to figure where best to play this talented player, before ultimately putting him in the slot, where his quicks and toughness were a big plus. Robinson was asked to play a lot of pure man-coverage and he can really mirror receivers off the line, where he showcases good patience and rapid footwork, not biting on little jabs from the opponent usually. He plays very physical coverage, where he stays attached to his receiver throughout plays. At the same time, he has the fluid hips to turn and run, but also the quick twitch and upper body strength to deny easy access on in-breaking routes. There are so many snaps on tape, where receivers have good position with aggressive inside releases on crossing routes, but he somehow gets back into the picture as the ball arrives there, On others, his reactionary agility just jumps off the screen, having hips turned all the way committed to the inside, but somehow finding a way to stay close as the receiver pivots back towards the sideline. And while Robinson primarily lined up in the slot for the Golden Knights, they subbed off a corner and moved to the outside when the opposing offense was in anything but 11 personnel. Robinson has that short-area burst, to contest a bunch of passes and he does a great job of high-pointing the ball. While he only has one career pick, he forced quite a few more incompletions by disrupting receivers as they reached their hands out in front. On 800 coverage snaps over these last two years, he has allowed 58 of 103 targets to be completed for just over 600 yards and six touchdowns compared to three picks. Robinson shoves receivers out of the way to get to the ball-carrier and he doesn’t mind throwing his body around, as offensive linemen get out there in the screen games and he needs to shoot a crease, in order to get to the ball-carrier. So he definitely shows the willingness to get involved against the run, and as a tackler, he is pretty aggressive with exploding into ball-carrier, but missed only one of 42 attempts. And he was blitzed off the slot from an inside shade quite a bit, where his pursuit speed can really shine.
With that being said, his passer rating when targeted went from 63.8 to just over 100 last season. Robinson only has a 30-inch wingspan and barely played over 100 career snaps out wide. He tends to be very quick with bailing deep in cover-three, to where he could be targeted a lot with hitches and other quick routes. Robinson can get pretty grabby overall, especially when he’s in a trail position. That is a common occurrence when his man throttles down for comeback routes. He’s way too slow recognizing pick-plays and gets himself out of position because of it. And when he’s coming from the outside as a tackler, he needs to do a better job of aiming at the near-hip and not allow ball-carrier to bubble out wide
Robinson showcases such light feet and great recovery skills. He doesn’t have great length or experience on the outside, but has the ability to become a top-tier slot corner and I think in the right scheme, he can play outside. There are some things he needs to iron out, to not draw as many flags for his aggressive style of coverage and needs to show a little better awareness for what is going on around him, but I think his athletic profile is very intriguing to NFL scouts.
Tre Brown, Oklahoma
5’10”, 190 pounds; SR
Back in 2017, Brown was a top-200 overall recruit. He did see action in all 14 games as a true freshman, but then entered the starting lineup in year two, breaking up 12 passes and recorded six tackles for loss, to go with being second-team All-Big-12 as a return specialist. He broke up another double-digit passes in 2019 and intercepted his first pass, before adding three more picks and leading his team once again with six PBUs, for which he earned second-team all-conference notice on defense.
This guy routinely caught my eye watching Oklahoma tape for the 2020 draft, with the plays he made breaking on the ball and covering some of those big wideouts. I only started liking him more, when I watched what kind of technician and competitor he is. For a smaller corner, Brown is really physical with from press alignment, not letting receivers get into their stem clean and making them work to gain any separation – often times not getting into a trail position until the two are about ten yards down the field. He can also play soft press and be patient with reading the hips of the receiver against stutter releases, before flipping his lower body and getting into the receiver’s hip pocket on slants or taking off along the sideline. He has that suddenness to not allow receivers to get that separation off the line and even when a receivers gains a step or two on him on deeper breaks, he shows excellent catch-up speed to get back into position and make a play on the ball. And Brown routinely challenges big-bodied wideouts, who should be able to outbox him. At the end of last year’s blowout win over rivals Oklahoma State, Brown was matched up with one-on-one with the Cowboys’ 6’7” tight-end Jelani Woods and defended a couple of jump balls to him really well. While the Sooners left Brown one-on-one against X receivers a lot as their boundary corner, they did run plenty of zone coverage as well. On two-high shells, once the wideout breaks inside, Brown’s eyes immediately transition to any crossers coming his way or someone leaking out into the flats. And in his cover-three side bail, he keeps his eyes locked on the quarterback and reads the depth of his drop. In off-man as well as zone, I love the aggressive breaks and ability to play the ball in the air, and he is so slippery with the way he can work around receivers and get his hands on the ball (INT early vs. Texas). Brown didn’t surrender 70+ yards in coverage in any game over the last two seasons. And he has allowed less than 50 percent of his way to be completed these last two years respectively, for 565 yards and four touchdowns, compared to four INTs (with a one-to-three ratio in 2020), including the game-sealing pick in the Big XII title game against Iowa State. Brown quickly transitions from bailing deep to coming downhill against the run and getting past receivers working up to him.
However, he has had 17 penalties called against him over these last two years. At his size, Brown will have his issues dictating routes at the next level and allowing separation with subtle push-offs at the top of the route, as well as facing guys who actually know understand how to shield the ball with their bodies. Brown drifts around a little bit too much in zone coverage and tries to play in-between routes, which makes him vulnerable to drive throws at the sideline, where he can’t get back over in time. He gets himself out of position a lot, trailing receivers on crack-blocks, to where he takes himself out position as well and the ball-carrier can get out to the edge. And while many teams will look at him as a nickel due to his measurement, he has spent only 29 career snaps in the slot.
While I’m happy for the young man, I had hoped Brown could be one of my diamonds in the rough for this draft. However, with the most impressive Senior Bowl week of arguably any player, showing tight coverage, great closing part and competitiveness at the catch point, coming up with two picks during one-on-ones, where you rarely see any happen, he put himself on everybody’s radar. Brown comes in with nearly 2000 career snaps in the pass-happy Big-12, he just ran a 4.4 flat at the OU pro day and probably secured a day-two selection.
Keith Taylor, Washington
6’2”, 190 pounds; SR
A former top-250 overall recruit, Taylor only started two games through his first two years at Washington, before he became a full-time performer for the Huskies in 2019, when he broke up five passes and recorded a couple of tackles for loss. He started the four games UW actually played last season, but only put up nine tackles and one pass defensed. Now he leaves college without any career interceptions, but his coverage skills and athletic skill-set has some scouts intrigued.
Nickelback Elijah Molden seems to be getting all the recognition among draft evaluators, but when I put on the 2019 Washington tape, I was highly impressed by what I saw from Taylor. He almost exclusively lines up at left outside corner and Washington played a ton of single-high coverages, with him in soft press man or cover-three bail. He has pretty darn fluid hips for such a lanky guy, is patient off the line, while operating from a wide base, and easily turns with vertical routes, as he keeps eyes on the hips of his man, playing very sticky coverage throughout patterns. He has the speed to chase fast receivers across the field on deep ober routes in man-coverage, staying right in their hip-pocket out of an outside shade alignment. At the Senior Bowl, Taylor measured in at 6’2” 3/8, and that height allows him to contest passes at the highest point. But you also see him wrap around guys on slant routes and force more incompletions than might show up on the stat sheet, or turn his head late when the ball is in the air on go balls. Speaking about what he did down in Mobile, outside of Oklahoma’s Tre Brown, he was the top corner throughout three days of practice and had a great game as well. He routinely frustrated receivers with his length and ripped the ball out of their hands late. Over these last two years, Taylor gave up completions on 50 of 82 targets these last two years, for 644 yards and four TDs on 595 coverage snaps. So while the overall numbers don’t stand out too much, he has limited plays over the top throughout his career with the Huskies, and he can contest a lot of catches with those long arms. Taylor does not shy away from coming up and tackling receivers on crosser and stuff like that, And he is actively trying to set a hard edge on runs and screens to the edge, where he reduces the inside shoulder, to get underneath blockers and funnel the ball back inside.
At his height, Taylor certainly isn’t the most twitchy changer of directions. There is definitely some pause trying to get out of transitions and you see him get there late on a bunch of curl routes. When he is in deep-third responsibility, Taylor gives wideout free access on deeper in-breaking routes, to where that window towards the free safety in far too wide. As a tackler, he leaves his feet way too much as a tackler and just dives at the legs of ball-carriers. And above all, he has just such limited ball-production during his time at Washington. On over 900 coverage snaps in his career, he has never made an interception and defended just ten passes overall. While he has those long arms, he lacks strength in the upper body and can’t get his hands on passes, trying to reach around receivers on routes back to the quarterback.
Taylor’s lack of plays on the ball could make him drop down the board a little, but the game tape and the Senior Bowl stuff are really good. I could see him being one of my favorite picks at the position, depending on how much scouts weigh his performance down in Mobile. He is another guy, who would fit extremely well in those single-high safety heavy defenses, where he can take away big plays on the perimeter, even though he may not be able to stick with the shiftier route-runners super well.
The next names up:
Thomas Graham Jr. (Oregon), Rodarious Williams (Oklahoma State), Benjamin St-Juste (Minnesota), Kary Vincent Jr. (LSU), Ambry Thomas (Michigan), Trill Williams (Syracuse), Zech McPhearson (Texas Tech), Shaun Wade (Ohio State), Marco Wilson (Florida), D.J. Daniel (Georgia) & Tay Gowan (UCF)