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2017 NFL Draft: Ranking the top ten cornerback prospects

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After watching film and analyzing combines and pro days, how does the list of the top ten cornerback prospects lay out?

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Draft inches closer, and with athletic testing and official measurements completed at the NFL Combine and/or at prospect Pro Days, big boards and positional rankings are starting to be released.

If there’s one position group I credit myself with really understanding and scouting well, it’s defensive backs, where I mainly played my high school ball, specifically cornerbacks. I’ll release rankings for a couple other positions as well, but considering the Jaguars still need to add another cornerback or two to their roster, with not much depth behind Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, and nickel cornerback Aaron Colvin, here are my 2017 cornerback prospect rankings!

Notes:

  • I believe the Jaguars will target a cornerback in the 2nd-4th round range. You can never have “enough” good cornerbacks.
  • Linked scouting reports come from Ben Natan from BleedingGreenNation.com. His film breakdowns are great and worth checking out, however his rankings and mine don’t necessarily reflect each others.

1. Marlon Humphrey, Alabama

He isn’t the consensus No. 1, but I see him as the best all-around corner in this class, and CBS Sports had him as CB1 before the emergence of Marshon Lattimore this offseason.

Humphrey, the 6-1, 197 lb redshirt sophomore out of Alabama, is incredibly physical, especially as a running back. He was also a high school track star, competing and earning a silver medal at the 2013 World Youth Championships.

Humphrey uses his physicality, not only in coverage but also against the run, which is becoming more and more valuable in today’s NFL with shifty running backs bouncing outside more often. He uses the same physicality on low routes and screens:

He is also very good at reading the quarterbacks eyes in zone coverage. Below, he stays home in low zone cover 4 and baits the QB to target the corner route. When the QB falls for Humphrey’s step up, it’s game over: Humphrey uses his track speed to get to the ball and come own with the interception.

Humphrey has a tendency to open his hips inside too early in man coverage, causing him to lose his step outside with the WR. While this was a big problem in his 2015 season, he improved on it in 2016, but he still has some adjusting to do with his man coverage technique as he moves into the NFL.

When I watch Humphrey, I see a bit of Jalen Ramsey in his game. Is he as great of a prospect as Ramsey? Maybe not, but they’re similar in height/weight (6-1, 198/210), physical in all aspects, both know how to read the QB, and both had some hip tweaking to d to perfect their man coverage. All in all, Humphrey brings a lot of talent to the table, and I think he will be a star.

2. Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State

Lattimore comes in second to Humphrey, but his coverage skills and mechanics make him worthy of CB1 praise in itself. He’s incredibly quick and clean in his turns and footwork in all coverages’, especially press (top of GIF):

Obviously, the play above is a run, but he begins the play in sync with the receiver and immediately forces him to have to turn inside if he runs a route. Lattimore’s turn was seamless, which is ideal so he doesn’t trip up or slow down.

Lattimore is also incredibly smart on the field. He reads the QB’s eyes and baits QB’s into throwing his way, only to make them pay for it:

He accelerates here to jump the route and grab an easy interception: One of his four from the 2016 season.

Lattimore repeatedly made an impact on the ball throughout the 2016 season: His only season as a starter. His reaction time against a pass is incredibly valuable, and he ended up recording four interceptions and nine defended passes from it:

Lattimore has some issues against the run: He doesn’t seem to put much effort into ending run plays, and while that isn’t necessarily the biggest issue for cornerbacks, it’s definitely a bit of a red flag. He also only has one year as a starter, and that concerns me a bit.

While Humphrey is the better all-around cornerback, Lattimore is definitely worthy of CB1 talk. His ceiling is incredibly high as a cover corner, and as Ben Natan has labeled him, he is the best cover corner in this class.

3. Gareon Conley, Ohio State

Conley follows his teammate in Marshon Lattimore in the cornerback rankings, and is likely to be one of the three OSU secondary members to be drafted in the first round this year (Lattimore and Malik Hooker).

Conley, like Lattimore, is a great cover corner. He allowed a 33% completion percentage in 2016. He’s carries ideal size: 6-0, 195 lbs, and is incredibly athletic.

Conley is able to go up and make big plays on the ball with his athleticism and size, which helped him gather six interceptions and 15 defended passes in his three year college career, two of which were starting seasons. Like Lattimore in his interception above, Conley is sneaky at under-cutting receivers and leading quarterbacks on:

Very much like Lattimore, however, he has effort issues in tackling and run defending. As Ben points out in his report, Conley’s form tackling is, well, completely out of form.

However, like with Lattimore, Conley’s coverage skills are worth taking him in the first round, making him the 3rd best cornerback on my list.

4. Tre’Davious White, Louisiana State

I originally had Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor in my top five... but both of them had poor combines (Teez had an even worse pro day), and Conley, Tre’Davious White, and Kevin King shot up my board.

White offers much more versatility in both zone and man coverage than Wilson and Tabor do, and weighing in 16 lbs heavier at the Combine (192 lbs) than what he measured before the season (176 lbs) only helped raise his draft stock.

Plus, he’s a guy you can trust to make plays on the ball:

White’s biggest issue heading into the Combine was his size, but after adding some weight and performing well in drills at the Senior Bowl, White’s stock shoots up. In his four year career at LSU, he had six interceptions and 34 defended passes.

5. Kevin King, Washington

I’m probably going to catch heat for not having Sidney Jones in my top 10. I think Jones is a top 10 CB in this class when healthy, but after messing up his Achilles at his pro day, as well as not being overly high in my top 10, I left him out.

However, some cornerbacks are being forgotten about in this class due to their own teams’ secondary being so good. King is one of those guys, coming from a secondary that also hosted Jones and Budda Baker.

King is a big corner, standing at 6-3, 200 lbs, and offers versatility in the secondary: He started 14 games at safety and 25 at cornerback in his college career. He’s balanced schematically and can play both man and zone coverage.

King isn’t the most physical cornerback, which is unfortunate due to his dominant size, but he’s swift in his transitions and really knows how to play the ball: He recorded six interceptions and 22 defended passes in his college career:

6. Quincy Wilson, Florida

Wilson didn’t wow anyone with his Combine performance, as his vertical jump ranked in the 8th percentile among cornerbacks (32 inches), and his 40 yard dash ranking in the 29th percentile (4.54 seconds). While he certainly didn’t perform as poorly as his teammate Teez Tabor did, he missed on the opportunity to either jump up draft boards or even stay at his original slot higher up draft boards.

Wilson is mainly a man coverage cornerback with decent, but not strong, ability in zone coverage and is weak against the run. When you play him in man — both on and off coverage — he kills the game:

Wilson brings ideal size — standing at 6-1, 211 lbs — to the table, and physicality comes with that size. When he makes contact with receivers, he more than likely ends the play in dominance. However, that physicality doesn’t exist in his run game, as he has troubles shedding blocks and tracking running backs:

In order for Wilson to find success in the NFL, he will need to be drafted as a No. 2 CB in a man-heavy scheme so he can still work on his zone coverage from time to time on No. 2 receivers, and still be given a chance to succeed in man.

7. Cordrea Tankersley, Clemson

Tankersley returned to Clemson for his senior year, and in the end that was 100% the right decision. He had issues with technique and hand discipline in years prior, but he really cleaned that up in 2016 and locked down receivers on his side:

Tankersley is an ideally sized corner at 6-1, 199 lbs who ran a 4.4 flat 40 yard dash. His speed to stay in tune with receivers paired with his ability in man coverage is special. He made plays in his two starting seasons at Clemson, racking up nine interceptions and 20 defended passes. His tackling is incredibly suspect and his hand discipline still has work to do in order to not draw flags, but Tankersley is a special player flying under the radar.

8. Ahkello Witherspoon, Colorado

Witherspoon has flown under the radar during the draft process with Colorado hosting a very good secondary in 2016 in Witherspoon, Chidobe Awuzie, and Tedric Thompson, similar to Kevin King’s supporting cast in Washington.

However, Witherspoon is really good. He’s another big outside cornerback, standing at 6-3, 198 lbs. And with that size comes speed, as he ran a 4.45 second 40 yard dash, a 4.13 second 20 yard shuttle, and a 6.93 second 3 cone drill at the Combine.

Witherspoon has a knack for defending passes. Although he doesn’t have a jaw-dropping amount of interceptions, he has 28 pass breakups in the past three seasons, including 22 pass breakups in 2016 alone, which led the nation.

Witherspoon has technical issues in his back pedal when he has too much field to work with, which is a big reason as to why I don’t have him ranked higher. He also has huge effort issues in the run game. However, his hips are fast, like his feet, and that helps him make up for his shady technical issues.

Witherspoon is a force to be reckoned with in the redzone, and with work on his technique, he can be special.

9. Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado

Awuzie is a very gifted athlete who is a chess piece to be moved around the secondary, but I believe his best fit is as a nickel cornerback. Standing at 6-0, 202 lbs (up 12 from his school measurements), Awuzie has the frame to play outside and inside, but possesses very short arms to be relied on outside against bigger receivers: 30 5/8 inches (22nd percentile vs NFL cornerbacks. His hands are also tiny: 8 12 inches (10th percentile).

However, size aside, Awuzie has a high football IQ and knows how to jump plays:

Awuzie is a physical player who consistently jumps the ball, but his measureables will hurt his stock and will cause him to be more of a slot guy in the NFL, which drops him in my rankings.

10. Teez Tabor, Florida

Teez was my 5th highest ranked cornerback before the Combine, as I hadn’t gotten to watch enough prospects yet. With the emergence of other cornerback prospects and following a really bad Combine and pro day, Tabor’s stock is really falling.

Tabor is a one-trick-pony to me: He knows how to play zone coverage really well. but that’s really the only special aspect of his game.

However, don’t let my negative outlook on his game takeaway from his zone skills:

Tabor reads the QB well here in cover 3 and jumps the route from far off the ball. If he’s playing in a zone heavy defense, perhaps the Chargers’ if the adapt to Gus Bradley’s heavy cover 3 defense, he will do well. But in man, he takes big forward steps on the snap, and that’ll leave him burnt like toast against NFL receivers:

Honorable mention:

As I said before, Sidney Jones is a top 10 cornerback in this class based on his skill and athleticism...

...but his Achilles injury will cause him to slide past where I project these corners to be drafted. That’s why he isn’t included in this list.

Another guy I like is Rasul Douglas out of West Virginia:

Douglas doesn’t rank highly because he’s a stiffer athlete without killer speed, which will lead to him getting beat deep from time to time. However, with his ball skills (eight interceptions in 2016), you can work him in short conversion spots and in the redzone where he can make plays.

So, there are my official top 10 cornerbacks for the 2017 draft class! Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!