2017 NFL Draft Position Review: Cornerbacks

Charlie lays out an overview at the top players from each position for the 2017 NFL Draft. For further information, check out our in-depth analysis of 2017 NFL Draft Prospects by Position.

By Charlie Campbell.
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This page was last updated April 19, 2017. Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

Position Review: Cornerbacks

Cornerback Class
Early-round talent: A+
Mid-round: A+
Late-round: B+
Overall grade: A

2017 prospects vs 2016
Jalen Ramsey
Marshon Lattimore
Eli Apple
Marlon Humphrey
Vernon Hargreaves III
Adoree’ Jackson
Gareon Conley
Willliam Jackson III
Kevin King
Artie Burns
Quincy Wilson
Jalen Tabor
Xavien Howard
Tre’Davious White
Mackensie Alexander
T.J. Green

This year’s draft class features a phenomenal group of cornerbacks, and this group is one of the best cornerback classes to enter the NFL in years. There is tremendous depth with good cornerback prospects for the second and third day of the 2017 NFL Draft, so some teams are going to come away with steals who would go a round or two higher in a typical draft class.

If you were to merge the 2016 and 2017 classes, Ramsey would be the top prospect. However, there is a chance that Lattimore will be drafted higher than Ramsey was. Apple and Hargreaves are equal to Humphrey. I have Humphrey rated higher because I believe he could go higher than Apple or Hargreaves. Jackson and Conley would go above Jackson. King is a late first-round caliber player, like Burns. Wilson and Tabor are on the bubble of the first day and could go high in Round 2 like Howard did. White is on that same bubble, but I like Howard’s skill set more than White’s. Alexander and Green were solid second-day prospects, so they are rated behind the potential first-rounder in White.

Beyond these eight, there are some excellent corner prospects like Washington’s Sidney Jones, Colorado’s Akhello Witherspoon, Iowa’s Desmond King, Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, UCLA’s Fabien Moreau, Houston’s Howard Wilson, Tennessee’s Cam Sutton, Lamar’s Brendan Langley, Clemson’s Cordrea Tankersley, West Virginia’s Rasul Douglas, and more, who will be selected on the second day and into Day 3. This is an amazing class of corners who could be one of the best in league history.

Safest Pick: Adoree’ Jackson, USC
You might be surprised I picked Jackson over Marshon Lattimore or Marlon Humphrey. Lattimore has a little hitch in his twitch, and he also has serious durability concerns. Humphrey is a well-rounded corner who does everything well, except he allows receptions over him.

Jackson is a natural cover corner with speed, quick feet, and agility. He is very fluid and does a superb job of running the route with receivers to prevent them from gaining separation. Jackson keeps receivers from coming open and is quick to recover if they get a step. He has nice hip fluidity to turn and run downfield with speed receivers. He also is a willing run defender who will contribute to the ground defense and tackle. Jackson has phenomenal ball skills, too. He is very skilled to slap passes away and times his contact well while being a threat to pick off the pass. Sources say they like how Jackson plays the ball well and plays it well in flight. On top of all that, Jackson could contribute his big-play ability to offense and special teams as he has tremendous speed. I think he will be a good pro who contributes in a variety of ways.

My track record here got off to a rough start. Milliner and Gilbert were huge busts. Waynes didn’t become an immediate starter, but I believe that Mike Zimmer is going to develop Waynes into a quality pro. Hargreaves had a solid rookie year and looks like he will turn into a fine pro.

Previous Picks
2016: Vernon Hargreaves
2015: Trae Waynes
2014: Justin Gilbert
2013: Dee Milliner

Biggest Bust Potential: Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado
Around the NFL, Awuzie is a love/hate prospect. He has good size at 6-foot, 205 pounds, but he gives up separation. Awuzie got exposed late in his senior year as he struggled in coverage. In his bowl game, Oklahoma State’s James Washington dominated Awuzie, burning him downfield for big plays. Midway through the game, Awuzie was switched off Washington, and teammate Akhello Witherspoon did much better defending Washington. I think Awuzie is going to struggle to run with NFL receivers and could be a corner who gets torched regularly. He would be best in a zone scheme. Some projections have him as a first- or second-round pick, and I think he has real bust potential.

My track record is okay here. Amerson was a bust for the Redskins, but he has been better with the Raiders. Roby is a solid nickel corner and backup behind two very good corners, but he’s developing well and should replace Aqib Talib in a year or so. Williams and Jackson both missed their rookie seasons with injuries, so it is too early to render judgement on either of them.

Previous Picks
2016: William Jackson
2015: P.J. Williams
2014: Bradley Roby
2013: David Amerson

Cornerback Rankings by Attributes

Off-Man-Coverage Ability:
NFL prototype: Stephon Gilmore, Patriots
  1. Marshon Lattimore
  2. Adoree’ Jackson
  3. Marlon Humphrey
  4. Gareon Conley
  5. Tre’Davious White
  6. Jalen Tabor
  7. Quincy Wilson
  8. Kevin King

Recap: Going off the opinion of Jon Gruden, which is now a consensus thought around the league, the most important two positions on a defense are an elite pass-rusher off the edge and a shutdown cornerback. The NFL is driven by passing, and a shutdown corner can limit the opposition’s ability to score points by taking the best receiver away from a quarterback. Teams throughout the league are searching hard for that kind of cornerback talent. Playing off-man coverage is more challenging than press man because off-man coverage requires loose hips and the agility to turn quickly. NFL offenses use lots of bunch formations to force cornerbacks into off-man coverage whether they want to play it or not.

Lattimore is a smooth corner who has quick feet in his backpedal with excellent recoverability skills. He closes separation in an instant and his off-man skills are very impressive for someone with just one year of starting experience. Jackson is excellent in off-man coverage. He can flip his hips and run, plus is very smooth. Jackson runs the route of the receiver and doesn’t allow separation. This ability really sets him apart.

Humphrey, Conley and White are very fluid, and they do a great job of blanketing receivers. They can turn and run without wasted steps. Tabor is good in off-man coverage. He has excellent instincts, but sometimes he gambles in trying to jump routes. Thus, Tabor needs to improve his eye discipline in off-man coverage in the NFL, or teams are going to hurt him on double moves.

Wilson and King are more press-man corners who could struggle in off man in the NFL.

Zone Corner:
NFL prototype: Johnathan Joseph, Texans
  1. Jalen Tabor
  2. Marlon Humphrey
  3. Adoree’ Jackson
  4. Marshon Lattimore
  5. Gareon Conley
  6. Quincy Wilson
  7. Kevin King
  8. Tre’Davious White

Recap: Many teams mix man and zone coverage, so a corner who can excel in both is very valuable. There really isn’t a bad zone corner in the group above.

Tabor is an excellent zone corner. His instincts are tremendous, and he drives hard on the football. In the NFL, his thickness, quick feet, and ball skills will be great fits to play zone coverage against pro receivers.

Humphrey, Jackson and Lattimore are very good zone corners. They all have the size to help cover receivers who run into his area. All three would fit well into NFL zone schemes. Humphrey has the explosiveness to close quickly and also is well-built to make tackles, thus he’s rated second.

Conley and Wilson should be assets in zone coverage as pros. They are quick and can cover a lot of ground. Conley is ahead because he is more polished and consistent, while Wilson can have some hiccups in coverage. Either would be a fine fit for zone in the NFL.

King is a press-man corner, but he could be fine in zone after some grooming. White has good quickness to cover ground and has instincts. However, he struggles with big receivers boxing him out and making receptions over him. That could be more problematic for zone coverage.

Press-Man Coverage:
NFL prototype: Richard Sherman, Seahawks
  1. Marlon Humphrey
  2. Kevin King
  3. Marshon Lattimore
  4. Gareon Conley
  5. Quincy Wilson
  6. Jalen Tabor
  7. Tre’Davious White
  8. Adoree’ Jackson

Recap: Many teams in the NFL feature defenses that play a lot of press-man coverage. Having the ability to jam and reroute receivers helps defenses throw off the timing of plays. Corners who can stay stride for stride with receivers down the field are very valuable. Almost every corner in this group projects well to playing press man.

Humphrey is very good in press man. He is strong (6-0, 197) and physical with a good jam at the line of scrimmage. Humphrey has the flexibility to open up and the speed to stay with receivers. Playing press man a lot would be excellent for Humphrey as quarterbacks would probably be less likely to test him than when he is playing off man or zone.

King (6-3, 200) projects as a true press-man corner. That is his wheelhouse as he is excellent at jamming receivers and riding them down the field. King uses the sideline well as an extra defender and stays in the hip pocket of receivers. The more he is able to play press man, the better off he’s going to be.

Lattimore (6-0, 193), Conley (6-0, 195), Wilson (6-1, 2011) and Tabor (6-0, 199) are all good in press-man coverage. They have the size to be effective at jamming receivers and are able to turn and run. All four of them have technique that is ready for press man in the NFL. Wilson and Tabor don’t have much deep speed, thus they are rated behind the pair from Ohio State.

White (5-11, 191) and Jackson (5-10, 186) are too small to thrive as press-man corners. Big receivers could give them lots of problems, so they shouldn’t be used in this manner.

Ball Skills:
NFL prototype: Aqib Talib, Broncos
  1. Adoree’ Jackson
  2. Jalen Tabor
  3. Marshon Lattimore
  4. Gareon Conley
  5. Tre’Davious White
  6. Kevin King
  7. Quincy Wilson
  8. Marlon Humphrey

Recap: This was a tough choice as almost all of these players had seasons of good production for ball skills. Still, Jackson displayed excellent ball skills as he catches passes naturally like a wide receiver. He has soft hands to make catches and plays the ball extremely well. Jackson totaled five interceptions last year, which was the most of any of these cornerbacks. He was extremely consistent despite the lack of opportunities as a sophomore and junior. Immediately in the NFL, Jackson will be better than a lot of starting corners around the league in terms of ball skills.

There is no doubt that Tabor has excellent ball skills. He had 20 passes broken up over the past two seasons with eight interceptions. Teams were throwing at him, but he did well to break up those passes and tricked quarterbacks into throwing some interceptions. Ball skills are one of Tabor’s best traits.

Lattimore plays the ball extremely well and doesn’t panic when it comes his direction. He had nine breakups and four interceptions last year. He has good ball skills, and I think he’s going to produce some nice interception totals in his NFL career.

Conley displayed impressive ball skills at Ohio State. Last year, he totaled four interceptions with eight passes broken up. Conley is very natural at defending the ball and times his contact well.

White showed consistent ball skills throughout his time at LSU. He notched two interceptions and 14 breakups last year. Wilson had three interceptions and six passes broken up. His ball skills aren’t bad, though not overly impressive.

At times, Humphrey can play the ball well, but there were too many plays where he didn’t play the ball and allowed a reception over him. That happened far too often last year. With Humphrey’s size and athleticism, he should be better at playing the ball. Playing the ball is the only chink in his armor, and if he fixes that, he will be a superb NFL cornerback.

Run Support:
NFL prototype: Richard Sherman, Seahawks
  1. Marlon Humphrey
  2. Marshon Lattimore
  3. Kevin King
  4. Adoree’ Jackson
  5. Gareon Conley
  6. Tre’Davious White
  7. Quincy Wilson
  8. Jalen Tabor

Recap: Some college and NFL teams aren’t too concerned with how corners play the run, but good run-defenders at corner can prevent big gains on the edge and make tackles to prevent long carries.

Humphrey didn’t have a big tackle total (33) in 2016, but he is very aggressive to play the run and is a physical form tackler. Lattimore is the same as he was very willing to make a tackle on the perimeter or fly over to get in on a tackle in the middle of the field.

King is very good in run defense. He chases backs down and doesn’t hesitate to fly into the tackle box. King made 44 tackles last year and has size to help him tackle NFL backs and receivers.

You might be surprised to learn that Jackson had more tackles than any of these defensive backs with 55 stops last year. Team scouts have really praised Jackson’s tackling and his willingness to mix it up. He is a gritty, tough player who didn’t hesitate to help the ground defense.

Conley and White aren’t afraid to stick their nose in the scrum and take on a back. Wilson and Tabor seemed content to let their linebackers and safeties make tackles. Once in awhile, they would flash with a hard hit, but it was inconsistent, Tabor especially. Tabor needs to improve his tackling for the NFL.

NFL prototype: Joe Haden, Browns
  1. Jalen Tabor
  2. Adoree’ Jackson
  3. Tre’Davious White
  4. Gareon Conley
  5. Marlon Humphrey
  6. Marshon Lattimore
  7. Kevin King
  8. Quincy Wilson

Recap: For cornerbacks, instincts aren’t just picking off passes. Instincts also are about reading the route and the quarterback. It starts before the snap when the offense lines up. Elite corners seem to have eyes in the back of their head to know when passes are coming behind them.

Tabor and Jackson are very instinctive and make plays all over the field. They make interceptions, break up passes, and get in position to help other defensive backs after blown coverage. Tabor gets the edge with more experience. Team sources say Tabor is a bright kid, and it was evident in the way he tricked quarterbacks the past two seasons.

White displayed real instincts for LSU over the past few seasons. He is a smart defender who is quick to realize what an offense is trying to do.

Conley, Humphrey and Lattimore were instinctive in college. They read plays well and were wise when they made their breaks. That led to each of them producing turnovers. All three were very good at reading receivers and quarterbacks to prevent separation.

King displayed nice instincts last year. Wilson’s instincts weren’t horrible, but he wasn’t as instinctive as the others. His instincts could improve as he gains experience.

NFL prototype: Patrick Peterson, Cardinals
  1. Marshon Lattimore
  2. Marlon Humphrey
  3. Gareon Conley
  4. Adoree’ Jackson
  5. Tre’Davious White
  6. Kevin King
  7. Jalen Tabor
  8. Quincy Wilson

Recap: The majority of cornerbacks in the NFL are going to allow some separation against good route-runners, but the good corners have the ability to recover to close the space. It takes short-area burst, but having length also plays a significant factor.

In this draft class, Lattimore, Humphrey, Conley and Jackson are excellent in recovery. They quickly close any separation, which makes it hard to complete passes against them, especially Lattimore. An instant after the receiver is open, he’s covered again before the quarterback can complete the pass as Lattimore has a serious burst. His recovery last season was phenomenal. Humphrey’s recovery was phenomenal as well as he immediately ate up ground in coverage.

White and King were very skilled at recovery last year. Tabor and Wilson can struggle with deep speed, so when receivers get over the top on them, they are challenged to make up ground.

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