The next position under the microscope in our 2017 NFL Draft position rankings series is the cornerback group. The Browns are in dire need of cornerbacks after the Browns secondary struggled mightily during the 2016 season. The Browns need at least one starting quality corner.
Luckily, the 2017 NFL Draft is loaded with potential starting-level cornerbacks. This cornerback class is sort of a potpourri. Based on what draft expert or team you ask, you can get a multitude of answers on who the best corners are. So with that, here are my top five cornerbacks in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Joe Gilbert’s 2017 NFL Draft Position Rankings: Safeties
1. Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State
Stats: In 13 games last season, he notched 41 tackles, one tackle for a loss, 13 passes defended and four interceptions.
Marshon Lattimore is the smoothest and my No. 1 cornerback in the 2017 draft class. The former Buckeye has explosive athleticism. At the NFL Combine, he ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash, jumped 38.5 inches in the vertical, and leapt 132 inches in the broad jump, with all of these test results ranking in the top three of the cornerbacks group at the event. His athleticism pops out on film. He is able to stick to receivers’ hips matching their athleticism. He has fluid hips to transition from a backpedal to a sprint and the ability to change directions quickly. He plays low, which allows him to mirror receivers smoothly. He also has quick feet to follow a receiver in any direction. When the ball is in the air, he is able to track it well and go up and contest a pass against the receiver. All of these skills make him a great press man cover corner. His athleticism also helps him when he is behind a receiver. He has the speed to make up the cushion on a receiver and get back to the ball in time to break it up. When he does get the ball in his hands, he can make things happen and pulls off big returns. He is a willing tackler against the run, showing solid wrap-up tackling technique.
Lattimore’s biggest question mark is his experience and injury history. He has only one year as a starter because he suffered numerous injuries that have sidelined him for long periods of time. His hamstrings are definitely something teams need to investigate to see if they are fully healthy. Besides those concerns, he has not really shown a lot of snaps in off-man and zone coverage. He also needs to use his hands more consistently at the line of scrimmage and not allow receivers a free release. But, his athleticism and smooth technique make up for those concerns and make him my No. 1 corner.
2. Teez Tabor, Florida
Stats: In 12 games last season, he posted 33 tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack and four interceptions.
Teez Tabor has the size and movement skills that you want in a cornerback. At 6-feet, 199 pounds and 32-inch arms, he has the length and size teams covet in their secondary. The Gator alum is a smooth athlete with the ability to flip his hips and transition from a backpedal to a sprint. He has good feet to backpedal, along with the ability to quickly change directions on a second’s notice. He explodes to the ball and can close on receivers with great speed. These traits allow him to mirror receivers all across the field. He is a versatile corner, who has the experience and skillset to play in press-man, off-man and zone coverage for a defense. This opens him up to play every type of defensive scheme in the league. With his size, he is able and willing to defend the run. He can get off blocks and make stops on the ball carrier using his size and explosion. He can fight for the ball at the highest point, beating receivers for the ball amidst contact.
But, Tabor has some negatives in his game and off the field. On the field, he does not have great deep speed, running a really slow 4.62-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He can also get too handsy with receivers, which could cause him to draw penalties in the NFL. Off the field, he is a player teams must do their homework on before they draft him. He has been suspended twice for failing a drug test and for fighting with a teammate. Can he be a professional with the NFL contract? But with his talent, he has the chance to be one of the better corners to come out of this draft.
3. Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
Stats: In 14 games last season, he notched 36 tackles, three tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and two interceptions.
Marlon Humphrey is another cornerback with good size and athleticism. At 6-feet, 197 pounds and 32 ¼-inch arms, he is a big corner, but he adds explosive athleticism, too. The former Crimson Tide corner has an explosive first step with great closing speed to close to the ball and make the play on the pass. He is a super aggressive player, who plays with physicality in every area of his game. At the line of scrimmage, he uses his hands to disrupt receivers routes. His physicality and aggressiveness shows up in his run defense. He is a willing defender who will come up and make the big hit, fighting through contact to make the play. He has good recognition skills and reaction time to react on plays and flow to the ball. He uses his explosive closing speed to pair with the recognition skills to be one of the first to reach the ball quickly, whether from a pass or run. He has the experience and the skillset to play in off-man, press-man and zone coverage, which will appeal to every team in the NFL.
On the negative side, Humphrey can overplay a certain direction a receiver is going. So when a receiver changes directions, Humphrey can get off balance trying to go the other direction with the receiver. This can leave a cushion for the receiver. His aggressiveness can also cause him to get a little handsy downfield, which could draw penalties in the NFL. On deep balls, he can allow big plays to happen because of numerous reasons like tracking and ball skills. But, Humphrey is a physical corner with good size and explosive athleticism to play in any kind of coverage.
4. Tre’Davious White, LSU
Stats: In 12 games last season, he posted 35 tackles, four tackles for a loss, a half sack, 16 passes defended and two interceptions.
Tre’Davious White is one of the most fluid corners in the entire draft. The former LSU Tiger has fluid hips and transition skills to flip from a backpedal to a full sprint. He has great feet with the ability to quickly shuffle them in order to keep with the receiver. Both of these skills give him one of the best mirror abilities in the entire class. He may not be the most explosive or athletic player, but he makes up for it with recognition skills. He can read a receiver’s route and undercut the route to make a play on the ball. He is quick to break on a ball and close to the area of the pass. These abilities allow him to play in every sort of coverage. He has experience at LSU playing in off-man, press-man and zone coverage. He has good ball skills to fight, close and break up a pass. He has good length with his 32 1/8-inch arms, along with the ball skills, to reach and break up passes even when the receiver is more athletic.
White is really a finesse corner, lacking physicality. He does not use his hands much at all at the line of scrimmage, allowing the receiver a free release. He is more comfortable using his fluidity and feet to keep with a receiver. His lack of physicality makes him limited against the run. He will not fight through contact and aggressively pursue the ball carrier near the line of scrimmage. His tackling ability is hampered by his lack of physicality and play strength. But if a team is looking for coverage help, White is your guy because of his mirror skills.
5. Gareon Conley, Ohio State
Stats: In 13 games last season, he notched 26 tackles, 12 passes defended and four interceptions.
Gareon Conley was overshadowed by his talented teammates, Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker, but Conley is also one of the best defensive backs in the draft. At 6-feet, 195 pounds and 33-inch arms, he has great length for a corner, along with good athleticism. At the NFL Combine, he ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash, showing his top end speed. Part of his athleticism consists of quick movement skills. This was shown in the 3-cone drill, running it in 6.68 seconds, which was the third fastest of all corners at the Combine. He has quick feet to shuffle with the receivers and stay right on their hip. His quick movement skills allow him to be really good at mirroring receivers in coverage. Conley has the experience of playing in both press and off-man coverage during his Buckeye career. He has the closing speed and explosion to close on receivers and make a play on the ball, using his long arms to bat or pick off the pass. He has shown the ability to instinctually leave his coverage to flow to another receiver, reading the quarterback’s decision to make a play on the pass.
But, Conley has some work to do in his game. His hand usage is not good. He does not press receivers at the line of scrimmage, allowing a free release. But, he can then get too handsy downfield when he feels like he is falling behind the receiver, which could lead to penalties in the NFL. His ability to track the ball on deep passes is also a bit of inconsistent skill for him. He can lose track of the ball, focusing too much on the receiver, which allows the ball to surprise him and cause him to mistime his reaction to the ball, leading to the receivers making big plays against him. But, Conley’s length and athleticism are a rare combination that should be very valuable to NFL teams.