Thursday, April 6, 2017

2017 Corner Back Rankings

1) Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State Buckeyes
Career Stats: 45 Tackles, 1 TFL, 0 Sacks, 11 Passes Defended, 4 INTs, 1 Return TD
Height: 6'0          Weight: 193
40 Yard Dash: 4.36 Seconds
Vertical: 38.5 Inches
3 Cone Drill: DNP

Ohio State has been churning out some very talented secondary players since Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus and Lattimore might just be the best of them. If you hadn't heard of him before this year it isn't surprising because he has been a bit injury prone throughout his career which is probably my biggest knock on him, but after that there isn't much to hate about his game. As you can see from his numbers above, Lattimore has ideal size and tremendous athleticism which he translates into shutdown corner skills. Lattimore is a prototypical press man corner who takes away the opposition's best receiver. He is physical at the line and doesn't allow free releases. He backpedals well and shows the patience to let the route develop before reacting. When he goes to turn his hips and run, it is one of the most effortless motions you'll see. He has the speed and agility to stick to his man and allow very little separation on most routes. But perhaps my favorite trait about Lattimore is how he attacks the ball in the air. You see a lot of corners face-guard which gets them into trouble as they either draw a PI flag or receivers go up over them. Lattimore reads his receiver well and turns to locate the ball. He is always going after the ball in the air as you can see from his passes defended and pick totals through one year. Even if a receiver makes a catch, he rakes his arm down at just the right moment to jar the ball loose. If he can get his hands on the ball, there is a good chance he is going to come down with it himself. Lattimore has good recovery speed as well to help him catch up to a receiver if he does get beat which doesn't happen often. My only real gripe in his game is that he isn't the most willing in run support. I'm not saying he won't do it, but he doesn't really attack running backs like some other corners will.

Number to Know - 1: Number of seasons Lattimore played mostly due to injury issues. We'll have to wait until the first night of the draft to see if this ends up being an issue for teams.

2) Marlon Humphrey, Alabama Crimson Tide
Career Stats: 81 Tackles, 6.5 TFL, 0 Sacks, 13 Passes Defended, 5 INTs, 1 Return TD
Height: 6'0          Weight: 197
40 Yard Dash: 4.41 Seconds
Vertical: DNP
3 Cone Drill: 6.75 Seconds

For most of offseason leading up to this year, it seemed like Humphrey would be the first corner to come off the board until Lattimore burst onto the scene and blew up at the Combine. However, Humphrey still figures to be a high first round pick as there is a lot to like about his game. He is a tremendous athlete having been a 5 star recruit out of high school and shows much more physicality than most corners. He muscles guys off of the line of scrimmage and is willing to come and lay the boom on receivers and running backs near the line of scrimmage. Playing in coverage, I really like Humphrey's ability to turn and run with receivers and practically run the route for receivers. The ability to do this is usually what translates into Pro Bowl success in the NFL. He turns his hips very well and his both the top end speed and the short area quickness allow him to keep up with speed receivers. From watching his tape, I think that Humphrey can excel in both zone and man coverages, although he would probably be better in man to man. Humphrey shows great ball skills as well as he . has very reliable hands for a cornerback. If he gets the ball in his hands, he is always looking for a way to score. In terms of weaknesses, there weren't a lot and it was somewhat knitpicking what I could find. At times I felt that he opened up his hips a bit too soon. This was often negated by the fact that he has great speed and can recover well, but this can get him into trouble on double moves. Additionally, he tends to face guard at times and doesn't turn his head around which can lead to receivers making catches over him or drawing pass interference calls. Despite this, I have high expectations for Humphrey and wouldn't be surprised to see him get taken in the top half of the first round.

Number to Know - 3: Number of fumbles Humphrey forced in two years, a testament to his physicality and relentless attitude in attacking the ball.

3) Sidney Jones, Washington Huskies
Career Stats: 145 Tackles, 8.5 TFL, 1 Sack, 21 Passes Defended, 8 INTs, 1 Return TD
Height: 6'0          Weight: 186
40 Yard Dash: 4.47 Seconds
Vertical: 33.5 Inches
3 Cone Drill: 7.02 Seconds

It is such a shame to hear that Jones destroyed his Achilles at his pro day as he has great talent and you just never want to hear about something like that happening. I should probably drop him because it is completely unknown if he'll recover 100%, but I'm going to keep him here based on just the tape. Jones is a very smooth cornerback who doesn't have much trouble getting his hips turned around to run with receivers. Although his 40 time isn't as impressive as the other corners in these rankings, I think he plays much faster than he is timed. It wasn't very often that you were going to see him get burned or beat on a lot of routes. I really liked his ability to run the route along with receivers to allow a lot of separation in man to man. Washington played a lot of different coverages so it is good to see that he got a lot of exposure to different concepts. He played a mix of press man, off man, and zone. Watching him, I don't think that there is any preference on which system he plays in as he seems to have the skill set that will allow him to excel in any of them. My only real questions is his strength which is why press man may not be his top preference. I saw him get muscled around quite a bit on the line of scrimmage by bigger, more physical receivers. Against USC, JuJu Smith-Schuster pushed him around and made a lot of open catches because of this. This can also be a detriment against the run as he can struggle to fight off blocks and get to the ball. Other than his strength, one area I'd like to see him improve would be in trying to guess routes. I can see it where he will think he knows what is happening and begins to run that only to be turned around and out of position. That can come with some more experience, but for his earlier career it is somewhat of a concern. While I thought he had a chance to be taken in the 20s, with his injury we could see him fall to the third round. Hopefully he had some insurance.

Number to Know - 1: Number of healthy Achilles tendons Jones has at the moment.

4) Adoree Jackson, USC Trojans
Career Stats: 139 Tackles, 6 TFL, 0 Sacks, 28 Passes Defended, 6 INTs, 1 Return TD
K/O and Return Stats: 27.1 Yards Per Kick Return, 4 K/O Return TDs, 12.6 Yards Per Punt Return, 4 Punt Return TDs
Receiving Stats: 39 Catches, 628 Yards, 16.1 YPC, 6 TDs
Height: 5'10          Weight: 186
40 Yard Dash: 4.42 Seconds
Vertical: 36 Inches
3 Cone Drill: DNP

Out of all the players I have scouted this year, Jackson was probably my favorite and the most enjoyable to watch play. As you can tell from the above profile, I had to add kick and punt returns and receiving yards because simply put, Jackson is a weapon that you cannot limit to one role. He is a tremendous athlete who will probably play corner at the next level but I wouldn't be surprised to see him get put in on offense as well. As a corner, this athleticism bodes well for him given that he is just a tad undersized. Yet like I mentioned, he put up some incredible numbers at the Combine and when watching him it is clear that he isn't just a workout warrior. Jackson's ability to match receiver's speed, his change of direction quickness, and his ability to jump out of the gym are all traits that are needed in order to succeed at corner back. Jackson has quick feet in his backpedal and also shows the ability to turn his hips with minimal effort. There were some times when he got caught looking at the quarterback the whole way through and didn't turn in time, but he has a tremendous burst and shows the ability to recover lost ground. I only saw him get burned a handful of times in the tape I watched, and it was mostly from John Ross who set the Combine 40 record this year. What I also really like about Jackson is his tenacity and attitude towards attacking the ball. He follows his opponents eyes well and will turn when he senses the ball is coming his way. He seems to have a knack for getting his right in the path of the ball as well. In terms of weaknesses, there are a few that I noticed. First is that he can be too quick to react and will bite on double moves. Obviously this is something that happens to corners from time to time, but Jackson will need to improve his discipline in the NFL. This also comes into play when he is in zone or off man. He has a tendency to react just a touch too soon and will take false steps that allows receivers getting inside of or behind him. And although he is a terrific athlete, there were quite a few times when Jackson lost his footing when turning to run. It is somewhat odd to see a guy of his athletic caliber losing their balance as often as he does. Regardless of these shortcomings, I think Jackson is dripping with talent and wouldn't be surprised to see a team go after him in the late teens.

Number to Know - 720: Yards from scrimmage Jackson amassed in his 3 years at USC. Jackson could see some time on trick plays or Wildcat formations depending on where he is drafted.

5) Gareon Conley, Ohio State Buckeyes
Career Stats: 91 Tackles, 1 TFL, 1 Sack, 15 Passes Defended, 6 INTs, 0 Return TDs
Height: 6'0          Weight: 195
40 Yard Dash: 4.44 Seconds
Vertical: 37 Inches
3 Cone Drill: 6.68 Seconds

If you would have told me two years ago that Gareon Conley would be considered a first round prospect, I would have laughed you out of the country. My first exposure to Conley was in 2014 at Michigan State when he was getting torched so badly that Urban had to put an injured Eli Apple back into the lineup. Since then, Conley has vastly improved which is something that I really like about him. Each of the three years that he saw playing time, his quality of play greatly improved which leads me to believe he is still scratching the surface of his potential. His Combine numbers were certainly better than most people expected them to be and his pro day was also impressive according to scouts, but I don't put as much stock into that as some people. Conley certainly showed good enough speed to be able to run with some of the fastest receivers. It wasn't very often, if at all, that he was beaten because he lacked speed. He can look a bit stiff at times when turning to run, but he cuts very well and has good short area quickness. Conley played a lot of man to man while at Ohio State, but he might end up being better as a zone corner. there were some times last year where  he would guess routes instead of reacting to what he sees. He also isn't as physical at the line of scrimmage as some of the other guys on this list. But when plays got extended last year is when Conley was at his best. He reads the quarterbacks eyes well and has a natural feel for the flow of the play. He had some very impressive interceptions this last year, including one against Deshaun Watson and two at Wisconsin. He still might have some work to do, but I think that Conley is a guy who could end up outplaying where he is picked if he does last to the end of the first round.

Number to Know - 2: Conley was always the second best corner at OSU, playing opposite Eli Apple and Marshon Lattimore. Can he take the jump to being The Guy?

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