New York Giants 2017 NFL Draft Preview: Cornerbacks
by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56
WHERE THEY STAND
What used to cause as much stress to an NYG fan as anything, the cornerback group can rightfully be considered the team’s top unit. Janoris Jenkins was worth every penny that Reese spent in free agency. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie may not be the household name of the group anymore but you’re going to have a hard time convincing me there are better #2 CBs in the league than him. Make that two incredible free agent signings by Reese at the position in recent years. To back them up, tools-rich Eli Apple took his rookie lumps in 2016 but he flashed several times. He looks like a keeper but we need to see more in 2017. Behind these three, a case can be made that the rest of the depth is replaceable. I like Antwon Blake (signed from TEN), a signing that I think we will be looking back on about 6 months from now as a solid under the radar move.
TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS
1 – Marshon Lattimore – 6’0/192 – Ohio State: 86
Summary: Third year sophomore entry with only one full year of experience. Missed the final five games of 2015 with his chronic hamstring problems but played every 2016 contest, earning 1st Team All Big Ten honors. In most scenarios, the lack of career experience and injury woes would be enough to really bump a player’s grade down quite bit. However the 20 year old Lattimore could make a case that he has the most impressive blend of tools and skills within this deep cornerback class. The size, speed, and ball skills are all top notch and he can fit in to any coverage scheme or role. The upside is through the roof here as long as his hamstrings can be trusted.
*Two red flags here. The hamstring issues that plagued him for 2+ years and a lack of experience. I factored both in to the grade and he still finishes at the top of an unbelievably talented and deep group of CBs. Lattimore is as smooth and instinctive as it gets. Very quick reads, even quicker burst matched with ball skills and enough size. Lattimore has true shutdown capabilities. He is a lock for top 6 overall.
Upside Pro Comparison: Johnathan Joseph – HOU
2 – Kevin King – 6’3/192 – Washington: 85
Summary: Three year starter that has saw a lot of time at safety early in his career before making a shift to cornerback in 2015. Two time Honorable Mention All Pac 12. King fits the mold of what the NFL is looking for in cornerbacks. He is tall, long, and fast. His top tier ability to change direction and burst is just as attractive. King has had some shoulder durability issues on that slight frame of his, but when he is on the field he proved to be a cover corner on the way up. His skill set is starting to catch up with his elite, top tier tools. Enormous upside.
*I always get Washington games early on in the year for whatever reason. I went in to their week 1 matchup against Rutgers ready to scout Baker, Jones, Qualls, and Victor. I came away, in that game alone, with the notion that King was the best prospect on that team. Here we are a week before the draft and that thought never left me. King has superstar potential, probably even more so than Lattimore. This kid’s height, length, easy acceleration, and agility can make him able to cover anybody. My fear with him is a lack of bulk. He is an aggressive tackler and I’d hate to see him break in to pieces when he takes on an NFL downhill power runner. But when it comes to coverage, King is top notch. Needs to refine a few things but I think he is heading to top tier status.
Upside Pro Comparison: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – NYG
3 – Gareon Conley – 6’0/195 – Ohio State: 82
Summary: Fourth year junior with two seasons of starting experience. Ended his career with a 2nd Team All Big 10 nomination. A tall, very long, and more than fast enough cover corner that has the potential to excel on the outside. Conley has as much upside as any cornerback in this class. Very few match-ups give him trouble but he will need to develop the mental side of the game. He can be fooled and he’s shown a consistent struggle defending the deep ball, but if he can shore those up his he has upper tier starter written all over him.
*Every time I scouted Apple last year, Conley flashed. He jumped off the screen as much as, if not more. I think he has more natural coverage ability and instincts than Apple did. Slightly less talent, but he was more consistent (if that makes any sense I know). Conley excels in man coverage, especially on the short and intermediate routes. I think he will need some work before you can toss him on an island against speed, but the upside warrants a 1st round pick. He is a possible top 10 pick.
Upside Pro Comparison: Byron Maxwell – MIA
4 – Quincy Wilson – 6’1/213 – Florida: 81
Summary: Junior entry with two years of starting experience, the latter of which he earned 2nd Team All SEC honors. When looking for the current era’s ideal cornerback, the image of Wilson comes up. Very big, tall, long, strong, and fast. These are all physical traits on Wilson’s sheet and he proved that there are football skills to go with them. Even though he appears raw and borderline reckless at times, Wilson has the goods that most cornerbacks will never have. The ability and skills are there, but the consistency is not. If he takes to NFL coaching and pays attention to details, he can be a star.
*You want upside? I feel like a broken record here…but Wilson is another guy that could easily be the top CB in this class. He is a little on the non-traditional side, but the kid gets it done. Really physical as a press corner, probably the most aggressive cover man in the class. He is ultra-confident, has the short memory you want, and the talent just drips off him. There is some rawness to his techniques and he is going to need to know that his ability won’t be enough against NFL WRs. If he applies himself and takes in coaching, watch out.
Upside Pro Comparison: Aqib Talib – DEN
5 – Ahkello Witherspoon – 6’2/190 – Colorado: 80
Summary: Under the radar high school recruit. Started off as a 5-foot-8 junior college corner but then grew 5 inches prior to joining the Colorado roster. In his senior season, Witherspoon led the nation with 23 passes defended and earned 2nd Team All Pac 12 honors. The arrow is pointing up for this kid as much as any player in the draft. His tools and ball production were top notch all season and there are plenty of reasons to believe his upside is through the roof. As long he takes in NF coaching and improves his techniques, Witherspoon is headed towards being a household name.
*A name that wasn’t on my radar prior to the season, he abruptly climbed to my top 10 of the group by midseason. The height, length, speed, and ball skills are enough to get anyone high on him. But I saw a level of competitiveness that few players have. He relishes the role of being matched up on an island and I love that about him. He can be a star. There are some very important things he needs to work, like maintaining speed and body control on deep balls. He is a day 2 name NYG would have to think about.
Upside Pro Comparison: Richard Sherman – SEA
6 – Tre-Davious White – 6’0/197 – LSU: 80
Summary: Four year starter on a defense that breeds NFL defensive backs every season. He capped his career off with a 1st Team All SEC nomination while wearing the honorable #18 jersey, given to the team’s leader. A four year starter in the SEC with his kind of production, versatility, and consistency says a lot about what he can offer in the NFL. He won’t ‘wow’ anyone with tools, but his ability to stay on the hip pocket and play with proper techniques will get him on the field early in his career. His best fit may be defending the slot, but he can easily be moved around depending on the situation.
*In this high ceiling CB class, I think White gets overlooked. While he may not have the top tier measurables (he’s no slouch there) in comparison to the others, White can make the case that he accomplished more than any of these guys over his college career in the SEC from a school known for producing NFL talent at defensive back. White is a “know what you’re getting” prospect. Very solid player that can fit in to any coverage role right away.
Upside Pro Comparison: Casey Hayward – LAC
7 – Fabian Moreau – 6’0/206 – UCLA: 80
Summary: Fifth year senior that came to UCLA as a running back before making a switch to cornerback during his first year. He went on to become a four year starter and earned All Conference honors 3 out of those 4 years, the only not being 2015 where he suffered a season ending foot injury. Moreau is one of the best pure athletes in the entire class. His development is ongoing and if he can reach his upside, he could be the top corner in the class. He has a rare blend of tools and a skill set that appears to be catching up. The lack of feel and instincts is worrisome and could expose him early on, but in the right role he can be a difference maker while he develops.
*Every now and then, you actually see the top tier athlete develop in to a high quality, skilled player. That is Moreau. He’s always been an eye-popping athlete but in 2016 he showed a different level of skills and instincts. He is a nicely built, smooth operator that can still evolve in to an even better player. Very high upside and yes, you guessed it, could be the top guy in this group a few years from now.
Upside Pro Comparison: Patrick Peterson – ARI
8 – Jourdan Lewis – 5’10/186 – Michigan: 79
Summary: Three year starter that, after missing the first 3 games with an injury, capped his career with a 1st Team All Conference nomination, winner of the Big 10 Conference Defensive Back of the Year Award, and Jim Thorpe Award finalist performance. Lewis had an ultra-productive career and seems to be ready for an NFL role week 1. His abilities are best suited to defend the slot because of his seamless transitions out of his breaks and ability to cut off routes. If he gets matched up against bigger receivers, he can be pushed around easily. However his performance inside could be top tier.
*It took 8 guys to find a corner under 6 feet and below a 1st round grade. Lewis, who just missed a 1st round grade in my book, is more than a slot corner. He can play outside as well. I think he is one of the top corners in the class when it comes to playing the ball and maintaining his body control downfield. That can certainly make up for some of the size deficiencies. Lewis is a little under the radar but I think he is almost a sure thing to factor in the league at a high level.
Upside Pro Comparison: Brent Grimes – TB
9 – Adoree Jackson – 5’10/186 – USC: 79
Summary: A four year starter that has as many accolades and awards on his mantle as anyone. Jackson has played all over the field for the Trojans and no matter where he was, he excelled. Jackson will enter the league as a cornerback, where he won the 2015 Jim Thorpe Award and earned All American honors, but his quality tape as a receiver and running back will give NFL coaches some ideas to try out. In addition, the All American track and field star will immediately become one of the league’s top return specialists. Now that he can fully focus on football, Jackson’s arrow is pointing up as much as anyone.
*Watch this kid’s highlight reel and you may wonder why he plays cornerback because he has some big time, legit ability with the ball in his hands. As a CB alone, he may not be graded this high but because of what he can offer on special teams and a special offensive package, he is borderline round 1 for me. He was an accomplished collegiate track and field athlete but now that his training is solely on football, I think you may see an uptick in his skill set as a cover man. Jackson has some holes and lacks some instincts, but he can be a starting corner in the league for sure. If not, you have one of the most dynamic playmakers with the ball in his hands in this class.
Upside Pro Comparison: Robert Alford – ATL
10 – Chidobe Awuzie – 6’0/202 – Colorado: 78
Summary: Four year starter that finished his career as a 1st Team All Pac 12 honoree after being named to the 2nd Team in 2015. Co-recipient of the team’s MVP Award in 2016, as well. The Colorado secondary was among the best in college football this past season and it was Awuzie that led the way. The quick twitched, physical corner can excel from the slot and in most outside coverage responsibilities. He may not have the confidence in his deep speed to man up the NFL’s fastest downfield threats, but everywhere else this kid can be a factor. He plays with an excellent combination of technique, instincts, and quick-twitch reaction. He can play week 1.
*The best tackler and the toughest competitor in this group. Don’t be fooled by the #10 ranking of the group, I think this kid can be a fan favorite and integral piece to a good defense. He may need a specific scheme, one that is more zone based. But I love the way this kid plays and he is a quiet leader that plays as hard as anyone. Smart, instinctive, and quick to react. Someone is going to get a great player here if they put him in the right role.
Upside Pro Comparison: Darrelle Revis – FA
11 – Marlon Humphrey – 6’1/198 – Alabama: 77
Summary: Third year sophomore entry and two year starter. A former high school state champion sprinter and son of former 1st round pick Bobby Humphrey. An overly aggressive, talent-filled cover corner that was among the best players on the best defense in the country. Humphrey is ready to start in the NFL week one and he won’t show an ounce of fear. He is an overly confident, overly aggressive defender. He needs to improve his consistency from a skill ad technique perspective, however. Talent can only take you so far at cornerback. If he can learn to trust his footwork and track the ball better, Humphrey can be a quality starter.
*I wouldn’t go as far as saying I don’t like Humphrey, I just simply believe there is a lot of work to be done. I hate to see that his weaknesses are the in the same place as they were in 2015. He has talent, he has the mindset to play the second toughest position in football, but there are too many inconsistencies with his technique. He has a high ceiling but in such a stacked CB class, I could see him falling deep in to day 2.
Upside Pro Comparison: Stephon Gilmore- NE
12 – Sidney Jones – 6’0/186 – Washington: 77
Summary: Junior entry that started all three years and finished with two straight 1st Team All Pac 12 nominations. Jones came in to 2016 with very high expectations after a breakout sophomore campaign in 2015. The size, speed, and physical style led some to compare to him to former Huskie and current Chiefs star Marcus Peters. Jones isn’t quite on that level, but his upside can scratch that surface. He knows how to play the ball once in the air and he forecasts well. The issues with him are very correctable but they’ve been there for awhile now with little-to-no progress. He needs to clean up vital techniques to the position. If he does, he has star written all over him. If not, he will be a major liability. High risk, high reward.
*Since my report was filed, Jones went through arguably the worst situation imaginable during the pre draft process. He ruptured his Achilles during the Washington Pro Day on a simple cut in DB drills. He will more than likely be out for all of 2017. So anyone that spends on a pick on him will be deferring that selection to next year AND dealing with an injury that is not easy to bounce back from. That said, Jones was a top 5 CB in this class no doubt. The upside is enough and you know what? NYG could be a landing spot for him considering their need at CB at this time next year could be much stronger. If he is there in round 4, it’s an easy decision. Before that….flip of the coin.
Upside Pro Comparison: Josh Norman – WAS
13 – Corn Elder – 5’10/183 – Miami: 77
Summary: Former top tier running back recruit made the move to cornerback his freshman year. Elder has a lot of athletic and style of play traits that can make him a defensive weapon in the league. His issue may be that he is too small for every down outside duty and not quick enough for nickel duty. If he can be put in to the right scheme, Elder will make a team very happy. While the desired measurables aren’t quite there, he has shown he can make up for them with his aggression, toughness, and instincts.
*The first corner in the group that I think purely a slot guy. He has the short area quickness and reads routes as well as anyone. Very instinctive and smart. In addition, Elder can give Awuzie a run for his money as the top tackler in this group and that is always a plus for guys that play the slot.
Upside Pro Comparison: Chris Harris – DEN
14 – Brian Allen – 6’3/215 – Utah: 76
Summary: Fifth year senior that began his career as a wide receiver. After making the switch, Allen started just 13 games over the course of four seasons. The size and speed to go along with his ball skills create a sense of potential and high ceiling here, but at the end of the day is was too easily beaten by receivers that knew that there were doing. He is a long term project .
*I’m likely waiting until day 3 for Allen, as I just don’t see the early impact from this guy and there is a lot of risk associated with a prospect like this. I love the size, speed, and aggression as much as the next guy but he looks overly raw to me at times. A terrible tackler and he gets fooled easily. Gamble worth considering if you have enough short term security at CB.
Upside Pro Comparison: Sean Smith – OAK
15 – Channing Stribling – 6’1/188 – Michigan: 76
Summary: Fourth year senior with a year and a half of starting experience. A former Division I basketball recruit ended his career with a 2nd Team All Big 10 season. Stribling initially comes across as too frail and thin, but it won’t take long to realize he has all the aggression and playing strength a cornerback needs. He is a tough, hard nosed player that will not hesitate to get dirty in oncoming traffic. Stribling showed top tier ball skills and paired with his length, it could make up for a lack of long speed.
*The Michigan defense was so stacked. It took forever to get a hold of all their guys in the scouting process and for no particular reason, Stribling was one of the last guys I really zeroed in on. I was very impressed with how consistently well he played the ball in the air. I love his competitiveness and knack for being in the right place at the right time. I don’t see a high ceiling here because his speed can be beat and he still plays with a light presence at times, but I think he can be a top tier backup that gets on the field in nickel/dime situations.
Upside Pro Comparison: Dre Kirkpatrick – CIN
BEST OF THE REST (16-30)
16 – Jalen Myrick – 5’10/200: 75
17 – Shaquil Griffin – 6’0/194 – Central Florida: 75
18 – Damontae Kazee – 5’10/184 – San Diego State: 75
19 – Ryan Lewis – 5’11/192 – Pittsburgh: 74
20 – Cameron Sutton – 5’11/188 – Tennessee: 74
21 – Teez Tabor – 6’0/201 – Florida: 74
22 – Nate Hairston – 6’0/196 – Temple – 74
23 – Cordrea Tankersley – 6’1/199 – Clemson: 74
24 – Aarion Penton – 5’9/177 – Missouri: 73
25 – JR Nelson – 6’1/187 – Montana: 73
26 – Howard Wilson – 5’11/200 – Houston: 73
27 – William Likely – 5’7/180 – Maryland: 73
28 – Jeremy Clark – 6’3/220 – Michigan: 72
29 – Rasul Douglas – 6’2/209 – West Virginia: 71
30 – Treston Decoud – 6’2/206 – Oregon State: 71
This is the deepest AND most top heavy CB I’ve seen. For any teams looking for secondary help, this is the year to get stocked. Throw in the safety class and you could make the argument this is the best DB class ever. Even though the NYG top three corners can be called the best in the NFL, there is without a doubt room for another guy in there. The position has been hit by injuries every year and we’ve seen in the past that weak backups at corner can ruin a defense. Might as well use one of these picks to stock the shelves for depth and future reasoning. Round 1 is likely out of the question, but after that I think all bets are off. This class is so deep, I’m confident the right value will be there almost every time NYG is on the clock. When you actually take one can be debated but let’s not forget how quickly this position as a whole can get ugly.