Before I begin my rankings, let me just say that I this is the most nervous I have ever felt about projecting a positional group to the NFL. I felt my self falling for a number of guys on film and then got burned by their lack luster athletic testing. Or, many of the guys that left much to be desired on tape had unreal combine performances. That said, I might go down swinging with this corner class but here goes nothing
Honorable Mentions: Michael Jackson (Miami), Mark Fields (Clemson), and Joejuan Williams (Vanderbilt)
I wouldn’t be doing this class any justice if I didn’t mention these guys. Yes, they might have not made my top 10 but I still think they can play. If I am being completely honest, I believe that that they have higher floors then some of the guys that made my list because they all do at least one thing well enough to start for a specific scheme.
To summarize briefly, Joejuan Williams and Michael Jackson are long corners that can be viable starters in press man heavy systems. Now Jackson is more scheme dependent than Williams, but Williams needs more work with his press technique.
Mark Fields is a little more versatile in terms of what he can do coverage wise but is undersized and had a terrible vertical jump at his pro day. Which is why I believe his best football would be played at nickel. All of these guys received late to mid 3rd round grades from yours truly.
10. David Long, Michigan: After watching David Long’s tape, I really did not expect him to crack my top 10. However, because of his elite performance at the combine, he just made the cut.
I still have my concerns with him on film though. Long is guilty of taking false steps when trying match twitchier receivers at the LOS. This problem really showed it self against Notre Dame and Ohio State. There were also a number of times where his strength was flat out over matched because of his lack of size. I believe a move to nickel could protect him against bigger receivers. Yet, he will have to eliminate the false steps in order to make a living covering quicker/twitchier slot receivers.
Long is most effective when he can get hands on his opponent early because that allows him to stay in phase with contact. Meaning, a press man system is absolutely necessary to maximize his skill set.
9. Justin Layne, Michigan: Justin Layne has been a riser in the draft community in last couple of months and on the surface it’s easy to see why. A 6’2 converted wide receiver to corner with superb athleticism, what is not to love? Well, the luster starts to wear off when you turn on the tape.
For starters, Layne is still extremely raw with his press technique. Intricate releases almost always get the best of him and he does not look comfortable jamming receivers. He illustrates flashes of disruptive hand usage but those examples are far and view in between. Layne will need improvement with this part of his game because he does not have the movement skills to mirror and match receivers in soft press.
In zone coverage, Layne doesn’t make as many mistakes and is pretty sound with his coverage responsibilities. That said, he isn’t very instinctive and doesn’t make a lot of plays on the ball either.
In summary, if you are drafting Justin Layne for the player he is right now, you are getting a player who can be a viable but non impact starter in a zone heavy system. If you are drafting Layne for the player that he could be, you are betting on his traits and possibility that he can be developed into a solid press man corner.
8. Trayvon Mullen, Clemson: Trayvon Mullen should have a much cleaner transition to the NFL because there is very little projection with his game. He is what he is, which is a long press corner that is best near the LOS.
Mullen has one of the most disruptive jams in the class. If receivers allow him to get into their chest, then it’s over for them. Once Mullen has established contact, he doesn’t let up (which can occasionally get him into trouble with penalties). That said, he needs to be in a system that allows him to be physical in coverage. He struggles with matching receivers at LOS in soft press but is solid in off coverage (from a bail technique).
There are really only two big concerns that I have with Mullen. First, he seems to be a tad tight in the hips and he didn’t do any of the agility tests to prove that claim wrong. Second, he tends to get panicky and grabby in vertical coverage.
The hip tightness could be protected by scheme, the vertical coverage will have to improve. Regardless, I still believe that Mullen is a good number 2 option in a cover 3 press system.
Grade: 3rd round
7. Rock Ya-Sin, Temple: Rock Ya-Sin has some really solid tape, especially when you are comparing him to the other corners in the class. Like Mullen, he is long press corner who disrupts receivers at the LOS. The thing is, he looked even twitchier and more fluid than Mullen on tape, but his athletic testing was no bueno.
Fortunately, he ran fast enough in the 40 yard dash for me to still feel comfortable enough to project him as solid starter in a press man system. He doesn’t offer much coverage versatility but the ball skills and physical mentality he demonstrates in press are extremely enticing.
6. Sean Bunting, Central Michigan: If you don’t know who Sean Bunting is, you better start grinding some tape because I believe is going go much higher than everyone is anticipating.
In terms of coverage, Bunting has as much upside as any of the corners in this class. He is good in press, illustrates flashes of excellence in zone, and looks and tested like an elite athlete. His ball skills are hit or miss but there is at least something there to work with.
BUT, his effort against the run inexcusable at times. There are too many instances where he just allows his opponent to block him or is hesitant to pursue the ball carrier. He demonstrates some ugly tackle attempts on tape as well.
Now, I don’t think Bunting is a soft player because he regularly chirps at his opponents, is physical in coverage, and as a blitzer. He just needs to bring that same energy when defending the run. If he does that and irons out some other small parts of his game, he can be a very good corner at the next level.
Grade: Early 3rd Round.
5. Julian Love, Notre Dame: Julian Love is one of the more scheme diverse corners in this class. That said, he doesn’t particularly do one thing exceptionally well. His game is more well rounded.
A cover 3 press system would be ideal for him if you are playing him on the boundary. He might not have the ideal length that coaches want for this style of defense but he is good enough in press, instinctive in zone, and this system would allow him to play both. However, my ideal role for Love would be to move to nickel because he possesses the short area quickness and route recognition skills to match up with twitchier slot receivers.
Love’s versatility definitely gives him more appeal than some of the other corners in this class. He might no have the athletic upside or a trump card trait to be a true number 1. Yet, he has everything he needs to be a very good number 2 option.
Grade: Early 3rd
4. Amani Oruwariye, Penn State: Amani Oruwariye is one of the more polarizing players in this class. Some analyst think he is going late day 2/early day 3, and some think he is go in the end of round one. I am on the more positive side with Oruwariye but that doesn’t mean I am willing to die on his hill either.
Obviously, his size, athleticism, and ball skills are enticing. The flashes of instincts and closing speed he demonstrates from a bail technique are awesome. Which is why I think he can be a plug and play starter in a zone heavy system. His press technique does need some work though.
For example, Oruwariye does not use his hands enough. He usually tries to mirror and match receivers but doesn’t possess the short area quickness to be effective at this technique. He has the length to disrupt receivers, he just needs to learn how to use it.
If Oruwariye improves his hand usage, I believe that he can be a low tier number 1 corner or at worst a very good second option. If he can’t, then he will need to be in a zone heavy scheme and should not be relied upon in press man.
Grade: Early 3rd
3. Greedy Williams, LSU: Greedy Williams is still considered the best corner in this class by most and that is understandable. The peaks of his performances make it easy to believe that he is going to be one of the best corners in the NFL, but the low points are hard to swallow.
Most of his issues are caused by low effort or toxic arrogance. For example, Williams makes a lot of “business decisions” on tape, meaning he doesn’t like to tackle or help in run support. Also, there are times where his technique is sloppy or he flat out doesn’t use it. His athleticism is obviously in a helpful tool, but he can’t abandon his technique and solely rely on it in the pros as much he did in college.
With all of this being said, the reps where Williams gets hands on receivers, stays on their hip, and puts himself in position to make plays on the ball are so encouraging. Plus, these reps tell me that he has the technique down, he just needs to be more consistent with using it.
If he Greedy Williams can put it all together, he can be a special corner in the NFL. A press man system maximizes his skill set, but he is capable in off coverage if called upon.
Round Grade: 2nd
2. Deandre Baker, Georgia: If you are just judging off the tape, you could make the argument that Deandre Baker is the best corner in this class. He is unquestionably the most physical out of the group. His ability to neutralize receiver’s at the LOS is second to none.
In addition to Baker’s prowess in press, he has exceptional instincts in off coverage as well. He is excellent at recognizing routes and reading quarterbacks’ eyes. So, where is the down side? Well for starters, he isn’t the best athlete and some of his limitations rear their ugly heads on tape. Which means he probably shouldn’t be in off coverage a whole lot in the pros because he doesn’t have the speed to run freely with receivers.
Also, there have been multiple reports/rumors about teams having concerns with his work ethic and character. I can’t speak on that because I have obviously never met him or any of these prospects but if he falls in the draft, these concerns are probably why.
In all fairness, these questions with his work ethic do not show up on tape. His competitive nature and passion for football are extremely evident on film. So, if a team gets the best version of Baker, I believe they would be getting lock down corner (if he is in a press heavy system).
Grade: Early 2nd
1. Lonnie Johnson, Kentucky: Gotcha! (the hype for him is seriously out of control though!)
1. Byron Murphy, Washington: As if we ever had any doubts who CB1 is! Now, Byron Murphy isn’t a transcendent corner back prospect but he has the highest floor out of this group. Meaning I have 0 questions or serious concerns with him.
Murphy is exceptional in off coverage. His change of direction skills, closing burst and instincts make him a ball hawk when he has eyes on the quarterback. That said, he won’t thrive in press man, but showed that he can play it at a more than functional level.
I believe that Murphy can plug right in and be a number 1 option in zone heavy scheme. His skill set might not be as coveted in today’s NFL (because he is not a press man specialist) but it’s still valuable.
Round Grade: Late 1st