2017 NFL Draft – Top 10 Series: Cornerback

Overall Class Strength

This is an excellent class – with plenty of top-level talent and depth.  There are options for teams running all systems.  It might even be the strongest position in the 2017 Draft class…

Top 10 Cornerbacks

  1. Marlon Humphrey – Alabama. I love physical cornerbacks – and Humphrey is the most physical in this class by some distance. He will fit a team who wants to intimidate.  He can play man or zone coverage, and shows a natural feel for the game.  He has nice hips, plus a good break up on the ball.  The only negative is that he can struggle to find the ball in the air at times.  Despite being a redshirt sophomore entry, he’s pro ready and can play in any system.
  1. Marshon Lattimore – Ohio State. Lattimore can play from day one in a man heavy system – but for me, he’s not as comfortable in zone as Humphrey and it costs him the top spot on what is a general board. Lattimore is a smooth athlete, who will stick to receivers in man coverage – and make it look easy.  When he’s off, he also has a nice break up on the ball.  He’s an explosive athlete and still has upside.  He does have a history of hamstring problems, which may hurt his Draft stock, but is not taken into account here.
  1. Sidney Jones IV – Washington. Jones achilles injury at his pro day was a cruel blow – it can be a tricky injury to rehab, so fingers crossed he makes it back quickly. Jones is a little thin and I don’t think projects best as a press man heavy CB – he’ll give up the inside too easily.  However, if he’s not pressing – either bail or off-man, he sticks to his man.  Jones also looks comfortable in zone.  He can find the ball quickly and you throw at him at your peril.  There’s the odd moment where his balance is a question, but on the whole he’s a fine prospect.
  1. Gareon Conley – Ohio State. Conley is overshadowed by Lattimore, but make no mistake – he’s a top talent in his own right. I would say press man heavy teams will love him – there are flashes in off coverage, but he’s not quite as good, for me.  Conley has long arms (33”) and ensures he doesn’t give up the inside when he’s up in press.  He does a really nice job of getting his head around to find the ball.  He flashes a nice break on the ball in off coverage, but others in this class are better.  So look for him to land with a team who wants to use mostly press man coverage.
  1. Chidobe Awuzie – Colorado. Coming into the year, I hadn’t seen Awuzie’s name anywhere, but right from my early season watch against Colorado State, I was a fan. He did struggle in the Bowl game, but was battling a turf toe injury.  He has experience in man and zone coverage, although he wasn’t asked to press a great deal (and with short arms won’t as a pro).  In man, he’s so comfortable, he’ll get his head around to the QB and is able to make plays on the ball.  In off man or zone, he has a nice break on the ball – and again, will make plays.  He’s not the biggest, but is not afraid to tackle.  In all, he’s a fine prospect.
  1. Adoree’ Jackson – Southern California. Jackson is a natural big game player who can also help in the return game, where he is electric. He also spent some time on offense – and there is a chance a team or two might see him on that side of the ball.  Like Julius Peppers, the many roles he played in college took away from his stock a little as he’s still raw at CB.  He will make plays on the ball – but that aggressive nature works against him as he will bite on double moves and get undressed.  As a rookie, I think he’ll need a safety over the top of him – but a system like the Bengals might suit him best, where he’s given the green light to attack the ball.  This ranking is difficult, but I’ll bet on the upside and high floor because of his return ability.
  1. Tre’Davious White – LSU. White didn’t test as well as others in this class, but his tape is excellent, so he lands here. In some games, he wasn’t particularly tested, but he responded well when teams came after him.  I’d like to see him get his hands up at the line and use his long arms to help disrupt receivers release off the line.  I wasn’t sure if he had an extra gear as he gets “grabby” down the field at times – but he ran fast enough at the Combine (high 4.4’s).  He’s smooth when he turns and runs with his man, but a little jam or guiding hand at the line could help him.
  1. Desmond King – Iowa. King didn’t run the 40 at the Combine, but did at his Pro Day and ran in the mid 4.5’s – which was fast enough to keep him in the CB class. Man heavy teams might view him as a safety – but I think zone heavy teams are going to love him at CB.  King has a wonderful feel for the game in zone coverage.  In Cover-2, he’ll almost bait the QB and then suddenly get depth and make a play on the ball.  King was a good return man in college, but his lack of that extra burst might mean he’s not as productive in the league, but it’s worth giving him a go in this area.  He’s not scheme diverse – but he is pro ready in the right system – and he could end up with more interceptions than some of those above.
  1. Kevin King – Washington. King is likely going to be drafted before Sidney Jones IV because of Jones’ injury – but I think is a step down as a prospect. However, at 6’3” and with an outstanding all-around Combine workout, he’s going to be taken high.  King does a nice job in man coverage, ensuring he gets the inside position, using the sideline as an extra defender – and will get his head around nicely to find the ball.  I always like to look at shuttle and cone times for bigger CBs and he ran the fastest in both tests at the Combine – at 6’3” 200 lbs – so he’s not just a straight line athlete.  With his length, tape and Combine numbers, I might be doing him an injustice by placing him this low – but it shows how good this group is.
  1. Ahkello Witherspoon – Colorado. Witherspoon only played one year of high school football, so as he picks up the nuances of the position, he’s going to get even better. He’s a tall (6’2”) corner with long arms (33”), but I wouldn’t say he’s a Seahawks system type of CB as he’s a little thin and not the most physical presence in the world.  He’ll also miss a few too many tackles.  However, his athletic ability was very much evident on tape – and with teams testing him more than Awuzie, he had more opportunities and responded well.  He will need to get stronger in contested situations, but the arrow is very much pointing up.

What?!  Where is…?

In such a good group, there are bound to be those who miss out.  The big omission is Florida’s Jalen “Teez” Tabor.  I didn’t connect with him on tape and then he ran slowly at the Combine (and even slower at his pro day).  It means he can’t be a man coverage system player – and in zone, he’s fine on stuff in front of him, but lacks a Desmond King feel on plays behind him.  He might be better at safety for teams who like a deep single high.  His Florida team mate Quincy Wilson also missed out – I wanted to see more physicality from him and I think he’s a click and close CB only.  Jourdan Lewis (Michigan) is an off man prospect – I’ve seen Jason Verrett comparisons, but he’s not as physical.  I also question him when the ball is in the air.  Cameron Sutton (Tennessee) is 188 lbs, but plays smaller – he struggled with the physical nature of the game for me, giving up the inside way too easily.  He has a nice break on the ball and can return punts, but his size and lack of scheme versatility meant he missed out.  I like Rasul Douglas’ tape – but the West Virginia man is another who lacks scheme versatility – and in such a stacked class it costs him.  Much of the same for Howard Wilson (Houston) who is an outstanding click and close CB, but lacks physicality.  I didn’t think UCLA’s Fabien Moreau would run as fast as he did at the Combine – his tape is good and he’s physical, but not enough to crack the top 10 on tape for me.  Finally, Cordrea Tankersley (Clemson) ran fast at the Combine, but didn’t play to that speed.  He’s way too “grabby” and I think will draw a host of flags early in his career.

Sleepers

San Diego State’s Damontae Kazae isn’t big or fast, but he’s a football player.  He doesn’t back down from the physical aspect of the game and he has “plus” ball skills.  He won’t be drafted until day three, but I like him to make a roster as a nickel corner.  Two prospects who ran fast the Combine might end up on day two, or early day three, but Jalen Myrick (Minnesota) I think has slightly better tape than Shaquil Griffin (Central Florida).  Myrick can also return kicks – but both have talent and speed.

Top Small Schoolers

  1. Brendan Langley – Lamar. Langley was originally at Georgia, but left for Lamar to get more playing time. He’s a little thin and when he presses, he struggles more – but he’s good in off man and zone coverage.  When in man, he’s aware enough to be able to come off his man and make a play on a pass intended for another receiver, which is a rare gift.  He’s able to stick to his man without getting too “grabby” and I think that will help his transition to the league.  He ran fast at the Combine and was talented enough to earn a Senior Bowl invitation.  He’ll likely be drafted on day three because of the deep class, but I like him to become an NFL starter.
  1. Taylor Reynolds – James Madison. Reynolds was part of the FCS Champion JMU squad – but as a prospect, he’s received practically zero press. For some reason, he also wasn’t invited to an All-Star game.  JMU ran a different system in 2016 and Reynolds went from being off the line to playing mostly press man.  He did both superbly.  In off coverage he has a nice break on the ball and when the cushion closed, he didn’t panic or get “grabby”.  In press man, when he employs a two handed press – he’s superb.  However, at times, he’ll only use a guiding hand and can give up the inside – that tended to be when had passes caught on him.  There’s perhaps a little tightness in the hips, and a slow 40 at his pro day (high 4.5’s) costs him the top spot – but I do think there’s a place for him in the league.  Given his 40 time, it might be a Seahawks type of system and they have a habit of finding late round/undrafted starters.
  1. Xavier Coleman – Portland State. Sometimes, evaluating small school CBs is difficult because no one throws at them. That was the case with Coleman, who in one of my watches didn’t have a single ball thrown at him.  Coleman is experienced and comfortable in man coverage.  His press lacks punch, so I think he’ll be better as an off man player in the NFL.  He can cover without getting “grabby”, but there were times when he did – so he’ll need to clean that up in the flag happy NFL (no contact after 5 yards in the NFL – in college it’s okay until the ball is in the air).  The small school class is as deep as the top 10 overall, so he’s a bit unlucky to come in at number three, as he’s talented.
  1. Titus Howard – Slippery Rock. Howard was one of the last prospects I watched this year as I went through the early entries list. I watched one game, and was so impressed I immediately watched two more.  Howard earned playing time as a freshman at Pittsburgh, but was dismissed for a violation of team rules.  He’s listed at 175 lbs, so needs to add a little more bulk, but he can play man or zone well.  When in man, he turns and runs nicely for a tall CB and I didn’t see any WR running away from him.  He can also stop and stay tight on comeback passes.  In zone, he has a nice break up on the ball and he will come up and hit.  He also has experience as a blitzer, where his speed helps him.  I would like to see him get his head around to find the ball consistently, but he can do this.  Like Reynolds, he’s flying under the radar, but he can play.
  1. Raheem Wilson – Southeastern Oklahoma State. Wilson is listed at 5’11” 185 lbs, but is not afraid to come up and hit. He’ll fit a physical defense as a nickel CB.  He played mostly off man or zone coverage, showing quick feet and a sudden break on the ball.  He looks comfortable turning and running down the field in man.  A team who likes “click and close” corners will likely give Wilson a shot and I think he might just take it.
  1. Jamal Agnew – San Diego. I’ve generally had top five small school prospect lists, but Agnew is too good to leave off the list. The first snap I saw of him he was beaten for a 96 yard TD; on the second snap he showed short term memory and got an interception!  He looks to be best as a “click and close” off man or zone slot CB as a pro prospect with a safety over the top.  When he played press man I wasn’t sure about his top end speed – but he has a really nice break on the ball.
Updated: April 14, 2017 — 8:30 am

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