Cornerback is becoming an increasingly important position due to the bevy of talent at wide receiver in the NFL. Teams are starting to value these cover men more and more. However, the criteria to start at cornerback is becoming much stricter. With the skill level of NFL quarterbacks getting better, pass rush is at a premium and defenses will dedicate more bodies to the rush and less to coverage. Due to the extra dedication towards pass rush, cornerbacks are being left on islands much more often, hence why teams are reluctant to just throw out someone serviceable and would rather get a fully capable player in the early rounds of the draft. Patrick Surtain II, Caleb Farley, and Jaycee Horn have solidified themselves as the best cornerbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft but the truth is, there are quite a few cornerbacks that could be lockdown at the next level. So behind the big three, who could be the next late first-round steal like Tre’Davious White, Byron Jones, or Xavier Rhodes?
University of Georgia
6’1″ 185 lbs
Eric Stokes will probably be the CB4 for most, and that’s not a bad bet at all. Stokes is an SEC battle-tested corner with great athletic tools. He turned heads at his pro day when he ran an absolutely blazing 4.25u forty-yard dash. For context, that would have been the third-fastest forty-yard dash in NFL scouting combine history. Whether it was official or unofficial, Stokes has undeniable speed which projects well in press-man coverage in the NFL. Stokes has great size to match up with any and all body types in the NFL and is probably an outside corner only. I think Stokes has true CB1 potential and could be a shutdown guy at the next level. There were concerns about his ability to make plays on the ball prior to the 2020 season but he squandered those worries by posting an impressive four interceptions through nine games all against SEC opponents. I have real concerns about how handsy he is. His speed is enough to stick in any receiver’s hip pocket but he holds on a little too tight. This may not sound like a huge problem but we have also dismissed problems like this before with guys like Eli Apple and their careers were dictated by whistles and yellow flags. With proper coaching, Stokes can learn how to utilize his speed to be sticky instead of being overly physical. Overall a great athlete with a high ceiling in the NFL.
Pro comparison: Jonathan Joseph
GREG NEWSOME II
6’1″ 190 lbs
Possibly no cornerback had a better 2020 season than Newsome II. Through six games, he allowed a grand total of 93 yards, all against Big Ten competitors, according to PFF. There were three games where he allowed zero yards, two games where he didn’t log a stat, and no games with over sixty yards allowed because teams refused to throw his way or even run plays on his side of the field. Through his first two years in Evanston, he had fifteen passes defended and created a name for himself by being an ultra athlete who can make plays on the ball. Newsome II plays a physical brand of football even with his thin frame. If he adds about ten pounds of muscle, he’ll be a nightmare. Plus, he ran a 4.38u at the Northwestern Pro Day, which will only help his stock. He isn’t being mentioned with Surtain II, Farley, and Horn, because he played at Northwestern and because of his thin frame. Sounds like excuses to me.
Pro Comparison: Darius Slay
ASANTE SAMUEL JR.
Florida State University
5’10” 183 lbs
Generally, when a defensive back comes from the burgundy and gold, it’s a good sign that they have a bright NFL future ahead. Asante Samuel Jr. fits that bill. His technique is great and he plays real sound man coverage. He also comes from a legendary NFL background, with Asante Samuel Sr. being his father. His college tape is flat-out fun to watch and he has thrived against ACC competition. One huge concern I have is his 5’10” height. It doesn’t matter who your dad is, how big you play, or how sticky you are in man coverage, he will get bullied by guys like DK Metcalf, Michael Thomas, and Julio Jones in the NFL and that is an objective statement. These ultra physical wide receivers will have their way with Samuel Jr. He might be slot restricted in the NFL and that would significantly lower his draft stock. Time will tell if a team believes in his outside ability, but if it was up to me I would slide him into the slot.
Pro Comparison: Patrick Robinson
Not only is Greg Newsome II the CB4, but it’s also really not that close. In fact, I think Newsome II in the CB3 conversation isn’t ridiculous. He terrified his opposition so much that they refused to throw to his side of the field. His biggest flaw is his lack of muscle and that is more of an excuse at the rate that football players can add muscle. He has some impressive tape and the Big Ten is a no-joke conference. Greg Newsome II is going to impress a lot of people in the NFL. Don’t let him fly under your radar any longer.
Best fits: Saints, Colts, Steelers, Ravens, and Titans