2020 NFL Draft Position Review: Cornerbacks

Charlie lays out an overview at the top players from each position for the 2020 NFL Draft. For further information, check out our in-depth analysis of 2020 NFL Draft Prospects by Position.

By Charlie Campbell.
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This page was last updated March 13, 2020. Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

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

2020 prospects vs 2019
Jeff Okudah
C.J. Henderson
Damon Arnette
DeAndre Baker
Trevon Diggs
Byron Murphy
Rock Ya-Sin
Cameron Dantzler
Noah Igbinoghene
Kristian Fulton
A.J. Terrell
Sean Murphy-Bunting
Trayvon Mullen
Joejuan Williams
Greedy Williams
Lonnie Johnson

Last year’s draft class was a weak group of cornerbacks, and that was proven beyond any doubt when there wasn’t a corner selected until the 30th-overall pick. Conversely, the 2020 NFL Draft is a quality year for cornerback talent, so the 2019 group looks worse in comparison.

If you were to merge the two classes together, DeAndre Baker would be the fourth-rated cornerback this year behind Jeff Okudah, C.J. Henderson and Damon Arnette. Arnette might go lower than where Baker did because of off-the-field concerns, but Arnette is better on the field entering the next level. Trevon Diggs would be on a par with Byron Murphy and Rock Ya-Sin. Those two are better cover corners, though Diggs has the better skill set. Cameron Dantzler, Noah Igbinoghene, Kristian Fulton and A.J. Terrell are all better prospects than that group of five corners who went in the second round last year.

Safest Pick: Jeff Okudah, Ohio State
Previous Picks:
2019 DeAndre Baker
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. Dee Milliner, Justin Gilbert and Vernon Hargreaves were busts for the teams that drafted them. Trae Waynes had a slow start before emerging as a good pro in 2019. Adoree’ Jackson and Denzel Ward have started their careers well and look on their way to having good careers. DeAndre Baker had a rough start, but one can’t make a judgement after one season.

Okudah is the safest prospect at the position in the 2020 NFL Draft. He looks like a future No. 1 cornerback and Pro Bowler. During his career, he could be one of the top corners in the NFL and capable of limiting elite No. 1 receivers. Okudah is worthy of being a high first-round pick, and this analyst thinks Okudah is a better prospect entering the NFL than Jalen Ramsey (2016) and Denzel Ward (2018) were, both top-five picks in their draft class.

Biggest Bust Potential: Trevon Diggs, Alabama
Previous Picks:
2019 Trayvon Mullen
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 the Broncos, and they 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. Awuzie is okay, so I could be off on him. Averett looks like a backup quality player to this point. Mullen had a decent rookie year for the Raiders, so I could be wrong about him.

My top candidates for this were Diggs and Kristian Fulton. I ultimately went with Diggs because I think he could end up being forced onto the field despite still needing development. That’s understandable given his injury history and from having playing some wide receiver early on at Alabama. Diggs has above average instincts but is not a natural corner. He’s late getting his head around to track the ball in flight and bites on double moves. Diggs is a bit straight line and is not a super twitchy athlete. Some team sources feel Diggs folds when things get tough, and they have concerns about his mental toughness. Thus, Diggs could use some developmental time in the NFL, but he might not be awarded that given his draft position. Of the early-round cornerback prospects, I think Diggs might be the most risky, but he also carries a big reward if he pans out.

Cornerback Rankings by Attributes

Off-Man-Coverage Ability:
NFL prototype: Jalen Ramsey, Rams
  1. Jeff Okudah
  2. C.J. Henderson
  3. Damon Arnette
  4. Cameron Dantzler
  5. Kristian Fulton
  6. Noah Igbinoghene
  7. A.J. Terrell
  8. Trevon Diggs

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 agility to turn quickly. NFL offenses use lots of bunch formations to force cornerbacks into of- man coverage whether they want to play it or not.

The top two in this category are the clear best at off-man coverage. Okudah is the top, as he is very natural in off-man coverage. While he may not be as loose as some of the others because of his size, Okudah is instinctive to anticipate the routes and maintain tight coverage while staying in the hip pocket of receivers. Henderson is fast and fluid to run the route. He is smooth and has the agility to cut and not lose speed. Both Okudah and Henderson have rare off-man skills for big cornerbacks.

Arnette 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.

Dantzler and Fulton are very good in off-man coverage. They are intelligent players who read plays extremely well. With good instincts, Dantzler does an excellent job of breaking on the route to eat up any separation. Fulton is skilled and natural to run the route with receivers.

Igbinoghene can play off-man coverage as he has speed and athleticism to run with wideouts. Terrell has that same quickness and agility, but he seems a hair late reacting at times and thus the others are rated higher.

Diggs is not the most instinctive corner, so playing off-man coverage and having the needed route recognition are not his strong suit right now.

Zone Corner:
NFL prototype: Stephon Gilmore, Patriots
  1. Jeff Okudah
  2. C.J. Henderson
  3. Cameron Dantzler
  4. Damon Arnette
  5. Noah Igbinoghene
  6. Kristian Fulton
  7. A.J. Terrell
  8. Trevon Diggs

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. What stands out the most about Murphy are his awareness and instincts. He does an excellent job of reading the offense and getting himself in position to make plays. Okudah is superb in zone, as his instincts lead to him being able to drive hard on the football. Henderson 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 for a zone scheme. Dantzler is an excellent zone corner as his instincts are tremendous and he reads plays extremely well. He breaks on the ball at the right time and makes very good decisions.

Igbinoghene and Arnette can all function as zone corners. Arnette has the speed to close quickly and also is well built to make tackles. Igbinoghene could fit pretty well at playing lots of zone as he has good speed to eat up ground in a hurry. He will need a little more development than the first four corners.

Fulton can cover in zone, but he can struggle with passes being caught with him in position. He would be better off in a scheme that plays more man. Terrell and Diggs could play some zone, but Diggs’ rawness and lack of development could hurt him with reading plays in a zone scheme. Both Terrell and Diggs could be better off in press-man coverage.

Press-Man Coverage:
NFL prototype: Richard Sherman, 49ers
  1. Jeff Okudah
  2. C.J. Henderson
  3. Damon Arnette
  4. A.J. Terrell
  5. Trevon Diggs
  6. Cameron Dantzler
  7. Kristian Fulton
  8. Noah Igbinoghene

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 that can stay stride for stride with receivers down the field are very valuable. Almost this entire group of corners project well to playing press man.

For the NFL, Okudah would fit best in a press man scheme. In that style he can use his size and length to cover up receivers running with them downfield. He also has has the straight line speed to run vertically down the sideline.

Henderson is just as good of a specimen as Okudah to be fast and use his length to be effective in press man. What gives Okudah the nod over Henderson is strength and physicality as Henderson does not have Okudah’s toughness. Henderson does need to get more physical with receivers and use his length to jam them at the line. That is a technique issue that might be able to be coached up if Henderson is willing to be more aggressive.

Arnette, Terrell Diggs, and Dantzler all could be press man corners to play on the outside and line up against big receivers. They all have good ball skills, height, length, and the speed to run. Dantzler’s slow combine 40 pushes him below the other three.

Fulton has the skill to play press man as well but his build does not seem to fit that scheme as well as the others. Igbinoghene is not as tall and long as the other corners in this group, so being a press man corner might not be the best fit for him.

Ball Skills:
NFL prototype: Aqib Talib, Dolphins
  1. C.J. Henderson
  2. Trevon Diggs
  3. Cameron Dantzler
  4. Kristian Fulton
  5. Jeff Okudah
  6. Damon Arnette
  7. Noah Igbinoghene
  8. A.J. Terrell

Recap: None of these corners is particularly bad at playing the ball. It might be surprising to see Henderson ranked first here considering he did not have an interception last year, but he had six over his first two seasons and he had 11 breakups in 2019, which was the second-highest total. Henderson also has very good ball skills, as he plays the ball in the air and does a superb job of defending the pass rather than drawing penalties from getting physical with receivers. With his soft hands, instincts, and body control, Henderson is a threat to pick off passes, so it can be very dangerous to throw his direction.

Team sources have been very complimentary about Diggs’ ball skills. The big corner shows his receiver background with how he attacks the football. Diggs has solid hands, and his ball skills are one of his better traits for the next level.

Dantzler has good ball skills and is very aware of the ball. He plays the ball in air and doesn’t panic when passes come his direction. Dantzler has quality hands to make interceptions and smack passes away.

Over the past two seasons, Fulton recorded the most passes broken up with 20, but he only made two interceptions over that span. He plays the ball well overall, but he is not a dangerous threat to generate picks.

Okudah’s ball skills were massively improved as a junior. Over the past couple of seasons, he did a very good job of slapping passes away, but he showed improvement in 2019 to produce the most interceptions of any corner in the group – three.

Arnette and Igbinoghene have solid ball skills, but they aren’t overly impressive in this area. Arnette showed improvement as a senior, so he is trending in the right direction. Terrell had only four breakups over the past two seasons, but he did notch five interceptions. He could stand to improve his balls skills.

Run Support:
NFL prototype: Richard Sherman, 49ers
  1. Noah Igbinoghene
  2. Cameron Dantzler
  3. A.J. Terrell
  4. Trevon Diggs
  5. Jeff Okudah
  6. Damon Arnette
  7. Kristian Fulton
  8. C.J. Henderson

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

Igbinoghene is very good in run defense. He handles perimeter runs well, dodges blocks, chases backs down, and doesn’t hesitate to fly into a ball-carrier. Igbinoghene collected 87 tackles over the past two seasons, and that is no accident as Igbinoghene is very aggressive. His run defense should be a real asset for his pro team.

Dantzler is a thinner-framed guy, but he defended the run well for Mississippi State over the past two years. Only Igbinoghene had more tackles than Dantzler did. Terrell played the run well for Clemson, and he had very good tackle production in 2018. Diggs is a built-up specimen who is a physical player, and he is a nice contributor in run defense.

Ohio State’s Okudah and Arnette are fine against the run. They can contribute at times with hard hits on the perimeter, but they didn’t really need to do much because the rest of the Ohio State defense was very good at stopping the run. Ditto for Fulton, who is not much of a run defender, but he didn’t need to be on his defense.

Henderson was a liability in run support during his final season at Florida. He missed tackles and looked like he was avoiding tackling, resulting in some ugly plays. After an injury early in the 2019 season, perhaps he was protecting himself, as he was a better tackler and run defender during in his previous seasons. Still, Henderson’s tackling was terrible in 2019 and is a real negative with team evaluators.

NFL prototype: Patrick Peterson, Cardinals
  1. Jeff Okudah
  2. C.J. Henderson
  3. Cameron Dantzler
  4. Damon Arnette
  5. Kristian Fulton
  6. Noah Igbinoghene
  7. A.J. Terrell
  8. Trevon Diggs

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 heads to know when passes are coming behind them.

Okudah and Henderson are very instinctive and make plays in coverage. They make interceptions, break up passes, and get in position to help other defensive backs after blown coverage.

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

Arnette, Fulton and Igbinoghene display some instincts. They read plays well and are wise when they make breaks. Igbinoghene is rated behind Arnette and Fulton because he needs more development. The instincts and awareness of Terrell and Diggs are okay but not great.

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