2019 NFL Draft Position Review: Cornerbacks

Charlie lays out an overview at the top players from each position for the 2019 NFL Draft. For further information, check out our in-depth analysis of 2019 NFL Draft Prospects by Position.

By Charlie Campbell.
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This page was last updated April 5, 2019. Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

Cornerback Class
Early-round talent: C-
Mid-round: B
Late-round: D
Overall grade: C-

2019 prospects vs 2018
Denzel Ward
Jaire Alexander
DeAndre Baker
Mike Hughes
Josh Jackson
Greedy Williams
Byron Murphy
Rock Ya-Sin
Julian Love
M.J. Stewart
Donte Jackson
Duke Dawson
Carlton Davis
Amani Oruwariye
Trayvon Mullen
Joejuan Williams

Last year’s draft class featured a quality group of cornerbacks, and there was a big run on corners in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. This year is a weak draft for cornerback, and multiple team sources have told me that only one cornerback has received a true first-round grade this year. While there may not be a lot of top-shelf first-round talent, there could be some quality players who get selected on Day 2.

If you were to merge the two classes together, Denzel Ward would still be the top corner with Jaire Alexander the next best. DeAndre Baker is first-round-caliber corner, but he could slide because of character issues. Some teams have Greedy Williams and Byron Murphy graded in the second round, and I think they aren’t as good of players as Josh Jackson was a year ago, but in a weaker draft class overall, Williams and/or Murphy could end up being selected higher than where Jackson was a year ago. Rock Ya-Sin and Julian Love are second-round picks who I think are better than M.J. Stewart. Donte Jackson is the anomaly in this list in that I thought he should have been a first-round pick a year ago and was superb as a rookie. He looks like a steal for Carolina. Duke Dawson and Carlton Davis are better corner prospects than Amani Oruwariye, Trayvon Mullen and Joejuan Williams.

Safest Pick: DeAndre Baker, Georgia
Previous Picks:
2018: Denzel Ward
2017: Adoree’ Jackson
2016: Vernon Hargreaves
2015: Trae Waynes
2014: Justin Gilbert
2013: Dee Milliner

My track record here is looking shaky. Milliner and Gilbert were huge busts. Waynes has has been up and down. Hargreaves has also been a disappointment, but he could still turn it around. Fortunately, I appear to be righting the ship the past two years as Jackson has had a respectable debut for Tennessee and is on his way to turning into a good pro. Ward was excellent as a rookie looks like he will be a Pro Bowl-caliber corner for a lot of the seasons in his pro career.

In the 2019 NFL Draft, Baker is the safest cornerback prospect. He would be a top-20 selection if it weren’t for some makeup concerns. Aside from that, Baker could end up being a No. 1 corner for his defense. He has a lot of skills that should translate to the NFL and could turn him into a starter early in his career. Perhaps his best trait is the quality of his instincts. He recognizes routes well, reads receivers’ hands and eyes well, and times breakups well. While Baker is not the fastest of corners, he has speed and athleticism to run the route and prevent separation. Baker breaks on routes well and demonstrates good ball skills.

Biggest Bust Potential: Trayvon Mullen, Clemson
Previous Picks:
2018: Anthony Averett
2017: Chidobe Awuzie
2016: William Jackson
2015: P.J. Williams
2014: Bradley Roby
2013: David Amerson

My track record here is looking pretty good. Amerson was a bust for the Redskins, but he has stayed in the NFL as a journeyman. Roby was a disappointment for Denver, and the Broncos made no attempt to re-sign him when his contract was up. Williams has not turned into the player he was expected to be coming out of Florida State. Jackson also has been a disappointment, although he still has time to turn things around. Awuzie had a solid second season, so he I could be off on him. Averett was a backup last year, but he is just one year into his career, so the determination on him is still a few years away.

In speaking to some team sources, Mullen is a polarizing prospect. The sources who like him have graded him in the second round, which illustrates that even they see flaws because he has a first-round skill set. The evaluators who don’t like him have him graded as a late third- or fourth-round pick. I don’t like Mullen’s technique in coverage. I think his feet are problematic for him, getting him on his heels and off balance. I think he is going to have issues allowing separation against NFL receivers and could end up being a bust.

Cornerback Rankings by Attributes

Off-Man-Coverage Ability:
NFL prototype: Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars
  1. DeAndre Baker
  2. Byron Murphy
  3. Julian Love
  4. Amani Oruwariye
  5. Rock Ya-Sin
  6. Joejuan Williams
  7. Trayvon Mullen
  8. Greedy Williams

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 coverage 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 defenses want to play it or not.

Baker and Murphy are essentially tied here. Baker is instinctive to anticipate the routes and maintain tight coverage while staying in the hip pocket of receivers. Murphy is a smooth corner who has good feet in his backpedal and recoverability skills. He is a fluid athlete who profiles very well to off-man coverage in the NFL. Love is very good in off-man coverage. He is an intelligent player who reads plays extremely well. With his instincts guiding him, Love does an excellent job of breaking on the route to eat up any separation.

Oruwariye and Ya-Sin can play off-man coverage due to being disciplined and having enough athleticism. Joejuan Williams can do one off-man coverage, but it is not a great fit for him because he lacks short-area quickness and mirror ability. He has a rough time staying in phase in man.

Mullen and Greedy Williams are press-man corners who could struggle in off-man coverage in the NFL.

Zone Corner:
NFL prototype: Josh Norman, Redskins
  1. Byron Murphy
  2. DeAndre Baker
  3. Julian Love
  4. Rock Ya-Sin
  5. Amani Oruwariye
  6. Joejuan Williams
  7. Trayvon Mullen
  8. Greedy Williams

Recap: Many teams mix man and zone coverage, so a corner who can excel in both is very valuable.

The top three really stand out here. The things that stands out predominantly about Murphy are his awareness and instincts. He does an excellent job of reading the offense and getting himself in position to make plays. Murphy is instinctive in his route diagnosis, aware of what the offensive is trying to do, and reacts quickly, so he will be a great fit in a zone scheme. Baker is an excellent zone corner with tremendous instincts, and he reads plays extremely well. Love is superb in zone, with his instincts leading him to be able to drive hard on the football.

Ya-Sin and Oruwariye can both function as zone corners. Ya-Sin has the speed to close quickly and also is well built to make tackles. Oruwariye might be better in press-man coverage because of a lack of twitchiness and speed, but Oruwariye could fit pretty well playing lots of zone. He has good instincts and is adept at covering up receivers who come into his area.

Williams, Mullen and Williams are all fits as press-man corners and aren’t great fits for zone coverage.

Press-Man Coverage:
NFL prototype: Richard Sherman, 49ers
  1. Greedy Williams
  2. Joejuan Williams
  3. Trayvon Mullen
  4. Amani Oruwariye
  5. DeAndre Baker
  6. Rock Ya-Sin
  7. Byron Murphy
  8. Julian Love

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 everyone in this group of corners projects well to handling press-man duties.

For the NFL, Greedy Williams would fit best in a press-man scheme. In that style, he can use his size and length to cover up receivers while running with them downfield. Williams has the straight-line speed to run in press-man coverage, and if he gets stronger, that would help him to be an excellent press-man corner.

Joejuan Williams is a press-man candidate for the NFL to play on the outside and line up against big receivers. Williams has very good ball skills, height and length, plus is a good tackler. He does need to get more physical with receivers and use his length to jam them at the line. That is a technique issue that can be coached up.

Mullen has an excellent combination of size and speed to be a press-man corner, but he has poor technique, getting on his heels and off balance. Hence, he is behind both Greedy and Joejuan Williams.

For the NFL, Oruwariye is a big, long, physical corner who fits well in a press-man scheme. With his height, length and strength, he is skilled at defending big receivers, running with them along the outside, and battling them on contested catches. He has good ball skills and high points the ball well to make him a threat to pick off passes or knock them away. He times contact well to break up passes and is a polished defender.

Baker is a fighter who has some developed strength. He can play press-man coverage even though he is not that tall or long. With his physicality, Baker is versatile to come up and jam receivers at the line. His lack of length puts him behind the first four.

Murphy and Love don’t have the size or strength to thrive as press-man corners. Big receivers could give them lots of problems, so neither should be used in this manner.

Ball Skills:
NFL prototype: Aqib Talib, Rams
  1. Greedy Williams
  2. Julian Love
  3. Amani Oruwariye
  4. Joejuan Williams
  5. Byron Murphy
  6. DeAndre Baker
  7. Rock Ya-Sin
  8. Trayvon Mullen

Recap: Ball skills are the collective strength of this group, because only Mullen stands out for having poor ball skills. Greedy Williams possesses very steady ball skills, collecting 20 breakups and eight interceptions over the past two seasons. In the NFL, Williams should be a real threat to produce interceptions and break up passes, as he is very adept at playing the ball. Team sources have told me that Greedy Williams is not that instinctive and his awarenesses is off, but he still manages to do a good job of generating ball production.

Love has excellent ball skills, and that can be seen in the numbers. In the storied history of Notre Dame football, Love rewrote the record book with the most pass breakups in school history. In 38 career games with 34 starts, Love amassed a tremendous total of 39 passes broken up. With his instincts guiding him, Love does an excellent job of breaking on the ball to smack passes away or snatch them for interceptions. His ball skills are superb, as he shows recoverability and a knack for getting his hand on passes to prevent receptions.

Oruwariye had steady ball production for Penn State, including 20 breakups and seven interceptions over the past two years. He plays the ball extremely well and is a disciplined corner who finishes well by timing his contact properly.

Joejuan Williams has good ball skills with his reactions and his strong finishing. He totaled 24 breakups over the past two years and snatched four interceptionsin 2018.

With his instincts getting him in position, Murphy shows good ball skills to break up passes or pick them off. He is very calm and comfortable with the ball in the air, displaying a knack for timing his contact well to avoid penalties while breaking up passes. During his NFL career, Murphy could produce some good interception totals by using his good hands to snatch the ball out of the air, plus he plays the ball extremely well.

Baker showcased steady ball skills at Georgia. He can be too physical, which might draw some penalties in the NFL, but Baker is skilled at slapping passes away while being a threat to pick them off.

Ya-Sin had only one season of big-time college football, but he had a decent 2018 in terms of ball production, totalling 12 breakups and two interceptions. His ball skills are solid, but not as impressive as the players listed above.

Mullen only broke up three passes as a junior. He also had one interception that came in the National Championship when he basically ran under a punt. As a sophomore, his ball production was better, but for the NFL, he needs to improve his ability to play the ball.

Run Support:
NFL prototype: Richard Sherman, 49ers
  1. Julian Love
  2. Byron Murphy
  3. Rock Ya-Sin
  4. Amani Oruwariye
  5. DeAndre Baker
  6. Trayvon Mullen
  7. Joejuan Williams
  8. Greedy Williams

Recap: Some college and NFL teams aren’t too concerned with how corners play the run, but good run-defending corners can prevent big gains on the edge and make tackles to prevent long carries. This group does not have a bad run defender.

Love is very good in run defense. He defends perimeter runs well, dodges blocks, chases backs down, and doesn’t hesitate to fly into a ball-carrier. He had 131 tackles over the past two seasons, and that is no accident as he is very aggressive. Love’s run defense should be a real asset for his team.

Murphy is a thinner-framed guy, but he defended the run well for Washington last year. Only Love had more tackles than Murphy did. Ya-Sin is built-up specimen who is a physical player and could be a nice contributor in run defense. Oruwariye played the run well for Penn State and put up quality tackle production last year.

Baker was okay against the run. He will contribute at times, but he didn’t really need to do much because the rest of his defense was very good at stopping the run. Ditto for Mullen, who is not much of a run defender, but he didn’t need to be on his defense. He did flash some hard hitting and a willingness to contribute.

Joejuan Williams and Greedy Williams did not contribute that much to run defense for their teams. Each one came up short of having a single season with 40 tackles over the past two years.

NFL prototype: Patrick Peterson, Cardinals
  1. DeAndre Baker
  2. Julian Love
  3. Byron Murphy
  4. Amani Oruwariye
  5. Joejuan Williams
  6. Rock Ya-Sin
  7. Greedy Williams
  8. Trayvon Mullen

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.

Baker and Love are very instinctive and make plays all over the field. They make interceptions, break passes up, and get in position to help other defensive backs after blown coverage.

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

Oruwariye, Joejuan Williams, and Ya-Sin show some instincts. They read plays well and are wise when they make breaks. Ya-Sin is rated behind them because he needs more development.

Greedy Williams and Mullen lack instincts and awareness.

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