After a small army of underclass prospects decided to enter the 2017 NFL draft cornerback became one of the deepest positions.
Last year five cornerbacks were taken in the first round, and if not for injury, that number would probably be reached this year. Both Sidney Jones of Washington and Fabian Moreau were injured at their pro days, putting their potential first-round status in doubt.
The leader of the group this year is Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore. That comes despite the fact that he started just a season and a half for the Buckeyes. His athleticism and play style are far more advanced than you’d think for a player with 20 games played. His teammate, Gareon Conley, could join him in the first round as well. Long-term, Lattimore may be the better of the two, but Conley could outplay him as a rookie. Between them is Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey, a corner who looks straight out of a video game.
Small school name to know: At Lamar, Brendan Langley proved himself an NFL prospect with a stellar senior season where he had six interceptions. The former Georgia player has played wide receiver, so he obviously has good hands. His technique at corner needs work, but his athleticism helps him make up for it. At 6’0 with 32-inch arms, some team will fall in love with his developmental potential.
1. Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
Lattimore is one of the draft's five best prospects. He's also one of the draft's biggest gambles. Because of injuries he only played a season and a half at Ohio State because of a hamstring injury in 2015. He had a breakout 2016 season in which he had 41 tackles and four interceptions. He's a stellar athlete with speed and the agility to stick with receivers down the field. Ohio State used him on both sides of the field, and he used a man technique where he didn't jam a lot but reacted. For him, it worked. He has good hands for the position, times his jumps to break up passes properly, and is willing to come up and tackle. He could due with adding some bulk to his frame in the NFL, and some instinctual things (picking up fakes and double moves) should get better with more experience.
2. Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
There are moments when Humphrey looks like the best cornerback in the draft, and there are others where he looks like someone who played just two seasons of college football. From a size standpoint, he has desired measurables at 6'0 and 197 pounds. In two seasons he had 81 tackles, five interceptions, and five passes defended. Coming out of Alabama, Humphrey knows how to press receivers at the line and can keep up with speed receivers over the top. He shows good burst to close on passes when he's working in zone coverage. He sometimes has issues locating the football, and his aggressiveness could get him in trouble with flags in the NFL.
3. Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State
Despite playing with Lattimore and former first-round pick Eli Apple, Conley managed to make a name for himself at Ohio State. The Buckeyes used Conley in the slot and outside. He has good agility that lets him mirror receivers and has enough size and power to play with bigger players. When he presses, Conley likes to get physical at the line of scrimmage to disrupt the timing on routes. In the NFL he may need to be more careful to avoid penalties, but should be easy to teach it out of him if needed. In zone coverage, Conley displays the type of instincts and closing speed you want to see. That was evident against Wisconsin last season when he had two impressive interceptions. He may be at his best in a zone system. Conley could get a little better with his tackling technique.
4. Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
You'd be hard-pressed to find a defensive back in this year's draft with as much quality experience as White. He started four years at LSU, playing 49 games. LSU often put White on the right side, but he does have some experience in nickel. Playing nickel could make him attractive to a team that already has a top cornerback on the roster. As a cornerback, White's best asset is his aggressive playing style. That doesn't mean he's a jam specialist. Instead, he's the type of cornerback who gets competitive at the catch point and knows how to jostle with receivers. White isn't the biggest (5'11, 192 pounds), but he gets by with technique and timing. His experience shows.
5. Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
Jones’ draft status is completely up in the air after he suffered an Achilles injury during his pro day. This ranking is going off the assumption he’ll be healthy. Jones started each of his three seasons at Washington and immediately made an impact. He finished his career with 145 tackles, nine interceptions, and 30 pass breakups. He excels at reading routes and utilizing his quickness. He also knows how to really time his jumps to break up a play. Teams will want him to be more physical in the pros.
6. Teez Tabor, CB, Florida
Throw out the 40-yard dash time (4.62 seconds), Tabor is a player. He has good size at just over 6’0 with 32-inch arms, and he knows how to use it jamming receivers at the line. Really neutralized receivers, and was thrown at less and less each year at Florida. Rarely gives up big plays. When he does, Tabor has the on-field speed to catch up. Likes to gamble a little, so he’ll get beat on double moves at times. Generally, though, he displays good route recognition and is really quick to come up and defend passes in the short area.
7. Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
Along with teammate Tabor and former first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves, Wilson is part of a group of impressive Florida cornerbacks who will go early in the draft. The first thing you notice about Wilson is his size (6’1.5, 211 pounds). He looks like a safety playing cornerback. His hands — both catching the ball and pressing at the line — should keep him at corner. Will need to be coached up to not give up plays to the inside. Wilson and can try and shut down the outside move so much that receivers can slip inside him. Called for more penalties than you’d prefer. Not a sudden movement type of player.
8. Adoree' Jackson, CB, Southern California
Speed, speed, and more speed. Jackson is one of the fastest players in pads in this year’s draft. He can keep up with anyone down the field and closes in a hurry. He’s a good tackler for the position. As an added bonus, Jackson might be the best return man in the draft this year. He was even used on offense at USC, catching 39 career passes. Doesn’t have great size and physical players will give him trouble. Needs to work on his press technique.
9. Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado
Awuzie does a little bit of everything from playing inside and outside at corner to blitzing off the edge, which led to eight sacks in his last two seasons at Colorado. Teams that run a lot of zone coverage will love Awuzie because he’s more experienced in it than most and expertly reads routes. He’s a screen pass killer. Coaches will love him. He may never get a lot of interceptions, and will get beat over the top by speed receivers.
10. Fabian Moreau, CB, UCLA
Moreau is going to be the scourge of receivers at the next level. He has size and knows how to use it, and plays with a ton of grit and nastiness. There’s plenty of times where Moreau would just body a receiver out of bounds. He started 40 games at UCLA, and that experience is evident in his playing style. Doesn’t have great hands. Tore a pectoral muscle at his pro day.
11. Kevin King, CB, Washington
If stopping touchdowns is the best trait of a cornerback, King is your man. He didn’t allow a touchdown last season thanks to his comfort playing zone and press. Can make highlight-reel interceptions like the one-handed snag against Arizona State. He’s been used at corner and safety. Needs to add strength, but at 6’3 and 200 pounds, he obviously has the frame to do so.
12. Desmond King, CB, Iowa
Some will see King as a safety, others will like his physical style on the outside. Put up 14 career interceptions. Some will avoid him because of his size and lack of top speed.
Best of the rest:
13. Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson
14. Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, Colorado
15. Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan
16. Rasul Douglas, CB, West Virginia
17. Corn Elder, CB, Miami
18. Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee
19. Damontae Kazee, CB, San Diego State
20. Marquez White, CB, Florida State
21. Howard Wilson, CB, Houston
22. Channing Stribling, CB, Michigan
23. Brendan Langley, CB, Lamar
24. Jalen Myrick, CB, Minnesota
25. Brandon Facyson, CB, Virginia Tech