2024 NFL Draft Position Review: Cornerbacks

Terrion Arnold


Cornerback Class

Early-round talent: B+
Mid-round: B+
Late-round: B+
Overall grade: B+

Merging the 2023 and 2024 prospects

Devon Witherspoon
Christian Gonzalez
Quinyon Mitchell
Terrion Arnold
Emmanuel Forbes
Nate Wiggins
Cooper DeJean
Kool-Aid McKinstry
Deonte Banks
Joey Porter Jr.
Ennis Rakestraw Jr.
Kamari Lassiter
JuJu Brents
Cam Smith
Tyrique Stevenson
Max Melton

Just to be clear, this article and series is all my opinion based off my own study and information I’ve gotten from general managers, directors of college scouting, national scouts, area scouts and NFL coaches. They all know way more than I do.

The cornerback class for the 2024 NFL Draft does not have high-end talent that the 2022 or 2023 class did. This year’s class, however, does have some quantity depth in the middle of the first round and for the second day of the draft.

If you were to merge the two classes together, Devon Witherspoon and Christian Gonzalez would be rated above Quinyon Mitchell and Terrion Arnold. Mitchell and Arnold are better prospects than Emmanuel Forbes. Nate Wiggins, Cooper DeJean and Kool-Aid McKinstry are better prospects than Deonte Banks. Ennis Rakestraw and Kamari Lassiter are second-round caliber prospects like Joey Porter Jr. and JuJu Brents. Max Melton is not as good of a prospect as Cam Smith or Tyrique Stevenson.

Safest Pick: Cooper DeJean, Iowa

Previous Picks:
2023: Christian Gonzalez
2022: Trent McDuffie
2021: Jaycee Horn
2020: Jeff Okudah
2019: DeAndre Baker
2018: Denzel Ward
2017: Adoree’ Jackson
2016: Vernon Hargreaves
2015: Trae Waynes
2014: Justin Gilbert
2013: Dee Milliner

This year was not a difficult choice as DeJean is a very good football player. He is an excellent weapon in coverage who can play safety, outside corner, and slot corner. DeJean demonstrates tremendous instincts and ball skills to make game-changing plays. Beyond his intelligence, DeJean is big and fast with athletic upside. Thanks to his instincts, DeJean could be a dynamic weapon at safety or corner, and he looks like a safe pick to be a very good NFL defensive back.

Biggest Bust Potential: T.J. Tampa, Iowa State

Previous Picks:
2023: Kelee Ringo
2022: Kaiir Elam
2021: Asante Samuel Jr.
2020: Trevon Diggs
2019: Trayvon Mullen
2018: Anthony Averett
2017: Chidobe Awuzie
2016: William Jackson
2015: P.J. Williams
2014: Bradley Roby
2013: David Amerson

Some in the media have projected Tampa as a first-round pick for the 2024 NFL Draft, but I think he is a mid-round backup-caliber player. While Tampa has good size and is a physical defender, he needs to be protected from lining up against fast receivers. Tampa lacks deep speed, and if a wide receiver gets free of him, Tampa does not have the speed to recover. He also has some stiffness in changing direction. If Tampa is a first-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, he will get forced onto the field quickly, and I think he could be a disappointment as a first-rounder.

Cornerback Rankings by Attributes

Off-Man-Coverage Ability:

NFL prototype: Marlon Humphrey, Ravens

  1. Nate Wiggins
  2. Terrion Arnold
  3. Quinyon Mitchell
  4. Cooper DeJean
  5. Max Melton
  6. Kamari Lassiter
  7. Ennis Rakestraw Jr.
  8. Kool-Aid McKinstry

Recap: The consensus thinking around the league is that 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 the corners want to play it or not.

The top three in this category are clearly the best at off-man. Wiggins is the top, as he is very natural in off-man coverage. He is extremely fast and fluid with smooth athleticism to turn. There is no doubt that Wiggins is very adept at running the route to prevent separation. Arnold is well-rounded with speed, agility, and fluidity to maintain coverage throughout the route. Mitchell demonstrates smooth movement skills and speed, but his awareness and instincts make him a natural in off-man coverage.

DeJean is instinctive to anticipate the routes and maintain tight coverage while staying in the hip pocket of receivers. However, he does not have the same suddenness or quick-twitch juice of the top three. Melton has the speed and athleticism to handle off-man duties, but he has a hitch sometimes and lets receivers cross his face too easily.

Lassiter is a smooth corner who has good feet in his backpedal with recoverability skills. He is a fluid, twitchy athlete who profiles as capable to play off-man coverage in the NFL. However, Lassiter lacks speed, and that could be a problem for playing off-man responsibilities. Thus, he is ranked behind the top five.

The bottom two are not as good of fits to play off-man coverage in the NFL. Rakestraw and McKinstry are better off in zone or press man.

Zone Corner:

NFL prototype: Jalen Ramsey, Dolphins

  1. Cooper DeJean
  2. Quinyon Mitchell
  3. Terrion Arnold
  4. Nate Wiggins
  5. Kamari Lassiter
  6. Ennis Rakestraw Jr.
  7. Max Melton
  8. Kool-Aid McKinstry

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. DeJean’s awareness and superb instincts are his biggest advantages. He does an excellent job of reading the offense and getting himself in position to make plays. With his route-recognition and instincts, DeJean is quick to get in position to cover up receivers. He is a fantastic zone-coverage defensive back and the best zone defender in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Mitchell is very good in zone, with his instincts leading him to be able to drive hard on the football and make plays. Arnold is very dependable. He reacts quickly in his route diagnosis, and he is aware of what the offense is trying to do, so he will be a good fit in a zone scheme.

Wiggins could play zone because his speed allow him to come down on routes extremely well. He breaks on routes and the ball with speed and explosion. Lassiter and Rakestraw are instinctive and react quickly in zone.

Melton and McKinstry are not great fits for zone corner. They both are better in man coverage.

Press-Man Coverage:

NFL prototype: Sauce Gardner, Jets

  1. Kool-Aid McKinstry
  2. Ennis Rakestraw Jr.
  3. Cooper DeJean
  4. Terrion Arnold
  5. Quinyon Mitchell
  6. Kamari Lassiter
  7. Max Melton
  8. Nate Wiggins

Recap: Many teams in the NFL feature defenses that play a lot of press-man coverage. Having the ability to jam and re-route receivers helps defenses throw off the timing of plays. Corners who can stay stride for stride with receivers down the field are very valuable. The majority of this entire group of corners project well to playing press-man duties.

McKinstry is a great fit to be a press-man corner. He is tall, has long arms, and can really run, showing good speed for a big cornerback. McKinstry does not let receivers get over the top on him and maintains tight coverage running verticals along the sideline. He is a superb fit for press-man coverage in the NFL.

Rakestraw would be best in the pros as a press-man corner. He is very good at jamming receivers as well as turning and running with them downfield. Rakestraw has the height and physicality to defend big receivers and enough speed to run vertically. As a pro, Rakestraw could be a solid starter in a press-man system.

DeJean, Arnold, Mitchell and Lassiter have the skill sets to be press-man corners. They all are gritty, physical, and have the ability to play press-man coverage. Melton and Wiggins lack the weight and strength to re-route pro receivers. They could get pushed around by big, physical NFL wideouts. Melton and Wiggins should not be used to play press-man coverage as pros.

Ball Skills:

NFL prototype: Darius Slay, Eagles

  1. Quinyon Mitchell
  2. Cooper DeJean
  3. Terrion Arnold
  4. Max Melton
  5. Nate Wiggins
  6. Ennis Rakestraw Jr.
  7. Kool-Aid McKinstry
  8. Kamari Lassiter

Recap: Mitchell is the textbook example of a cornerback with ball skills, as he was a true ball hawk in college. Over the past two seasons, Mitchell totaled a staggering 37 passes broken up over alongside six interceptions. He has superb instincts and rare and phenomenal ball skills. He also has soft hands and attacks the ball extremely well. Mitchell enters the NFL with outstanding ball skills.

DeJean has excellent ball skills, and he was a ball hawk in college. His fantastic instincts put him in position to make plays, and he is dangerous to throw at. DeJean recorded seven interceptions and 13 passes broken up over the past two seasons.

Melton is natural at playing the ball, and he does a good job of affecting the pass. He totaled five interceptions and 15 breakups over the last two seasons. Wiggins is similar, putting up quality ball production despite teams not throwing his direction as much as other cornerbacks. He plays the ball very well.

Rakestraw, McKinstry and Lassiter all notched zero interceptions last year. Rakestraw and McKinstry showed more ball skills in 2022, while Lassiter had zero picks over the last two years. These three needs to improve in this facet at the pro level.

Run Support:

NFL prototype: Patrick Surtain, Broncos

  1. Cooper DeJean
  2. Terrion Arnold
  3. Kamari Lassiter
  4. Ennis Rakestraw Jr.
  5. Quinyon Mitchell
  6. Kool-Aid McKinstry
  7. Max Melton
  8. Nate Wiggins

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. This is a strong group overall, and there is not a single player who is a huge liability in run defense.

The top two, DeJean and Arnold, were physical and tough run defenders in college. They are gritty, strong and solid form-tacklers. DeJean is a fantastic run defender who displays zero hesitation to fly into the scrum and make a tackle. His tackling is so good that he could move to safety full time. Arnold is a very good run defender, and he will also be an asset in defending the ground game as an outside corner.

Lassiter was a steady run defender and contributor over the past two seasons. He did a nice job of coming downhill and getting after ball-carriers. Rakestraw is another willing tackler in run support who is willing to fly to the ball to make tackles.

Mitchell and McKinstry are decent run defenders, but not impressive. Melton is not much of a run defender, and that won’t be his strong suit in the NFL. Wiggins made only 28 tackles last year, and at 173 pounds, he is going to have issues with tackling running backs, receivers, and tight ends in the pros. Along with getting stronger, Wiggins needs to play with more tenacity because there was an obvious lack of physicality to his play in 2023.

Instincts:

NFL prototype: Marshon Lattimore, Saints

  1. Cooper DeJean
  2. Quinyon Mitchell
  3. Terrion Arnold
  4. Nate Wiggins
  5. Kool-Aid McKinstry
  6. Kamari Lassiter
  7. Ennis Rakestraw Jr.
  8. Max Melton

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.

DeJean and Mitchell are very instinctive and make plays in coverage. They make interceptions, break up passes, and are threats to make a game-changing play on the ball.

Arnold, Wiggins and McKinstry displayed instincts and good football IQ over the past two seasons. Lassiter, Rakestraw and Melton showed some instincts in college. They read plays well and were wise when they made breaks.



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