The first round saw some talented defensive backs selected early by teams hoping to slow opposing offenses down. But more talent is still on the board in the secondary. After tirelessly watching tape and writing profiles this draft season, Dave Archibald has some thoughts on who might hear their name called in the remaining rounds.
The first round of the NFL Draft is in the books, but there are still plenty of opportunities for teams to fill holes with savvy picks. Beyond round one, all the prospects have warts, which makes fit into the proper team and scheme critical to success and development. The best picks on Days 2 and 3 won’t necessarily be the best players available but the players whose strengths and weaknesses align best with the needs and advantages of the defenses they land in.
#42 Miami Dolphins – Mackensie Alexander, Clemson
Earlier this month, ITP’s Mock War Room picked Alexander for the Dolphins, and while the 22-year-old’s prospect star has dimmed a bit since, he still fits in Miami. Alexander doesn’t have the size or measurables of a prototypical corner, but he’s smart, well-prepared, versatile, and doesn’t get beaten deep. It’s easy to see parallels between the youngster and former Miami corner Brent Grimes, who also measured 5’10” and fared poorly in agility drills. Some guys can just cover – and Alexander can cover..
Another option: Jalen Mills, LSU – Like Alexander, Mills doesn’t have top physical traits but he’s got the versatility and experience to contribute early in his career.
#71 New York Giants – KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame
The Giants pushed hard for free agent safety Devin McCourty in the 2014 offseason, but couldn’t land the big fish. They have a chance to land a similar player in Russell, who is, like McCourty, a well-rounded, well-coached corner who might project better at safety in the NFL. Their measurables are very similar:
* Russell’s Pro Day results
Russell didn’t play much safety in college, but that didn’t stop Mike Mayock from ranking him his #4 safety in the draft. The 22-year-old has the speed, savvy and zone experience that marks many of the college cornerbacks who have made the same transition.
Another option: Eric Murray, Minnesota – Murray is a fine zone cornerback with a similar athletic profile to Russell and McCourty.
#111 Detroit Lions – Jayron Kearse, Clemson
Few safeties in this class are better in press coverage than Kearse, who can use his 34 ¼” arms to engulf receiving tight ends at the line of scrimmage. That’s big for a Lions team that allowed an NFL-worst 12 touchdowns to tight ends in 2015. He isn’t the thumper that his 6’4”, 216-pound frame would suggest, but his press skills can help Detroit situationally even if he never develops into an every-down strong safety.
Another option: K.J. Dillon, West Virginia – Like Kearse, Dillon has limitations, but he delivers powerful jams at the line of scrimmage that can disrupt receiving tight ends.
#168 Carolina Panthers – Taveze Calhoun, Mississippi State
With Josh Norman departing, the Panthers have a need at cornerback. Calhoun isn’t a lockdown press corner, but Carolina’s scheme doesn’t demand that skill set. A three-year starter in the SEC, Calhoun is as experienced as a rookie corner gets, and his tackling, smarts, and instincts fit nicely into Carolina’s swarming zone defense. Norman and Bene Benwikere were fifth-round picks for the Panthers who developed into starters at cornerback; perhaps Calhoun can join that club.
Another option: Tavon Young, Temple – The knock on Young is his height (5’9”), but he’s a fine zone defender with some of the best ball skills in the class. The Panthers have gotten production out of shorter corners Captain Munnerlyn and Cortland Finnegan in the past.
#215 Seattle Seahawks – Deiondre’ Hall, Northern Iowa
The Seahawks like their cornerbacks long, and no one is longer than Hall, whose 34 ⅜” arms are the longest measured for a defensive back since 2000. Many teams will disqualify Hall or consider him a safety based on his 4.68 40 time, but Seattle has gotten effective play from slower defensive backs in the past, notably with Brandon Browner (4.63). Hall struggles reacting to comeback routes and his speed can be an issue downfield, but he just engulfs opposing receivers at the line of scrimmage. If any organization can get the most out of Hall while minimizing his flaws, it’s the Seahawks.
Another option: James Bradberry, Samford – Like Hall, Bradberry is a small-school corner with length (33 ⅜” arms).
#250 New England Patriots – Cheatham Norrils, Toledo
Patriots head coach and de facto general manager Bill Belichick can be unpredictable, but his love for stars in the three-cone drill is known. In 2015, New England signed UDFA Justin Coleman of Tennessee, who had a Combine-best 6.61 time, and drafted Darryl Roberts of Marshall, who posted a 6.66 at his Pro Day. They joined secondary stalwarts McCourty and Logan Ryan, who both ran under 6.70. Norrils ran a 6.62 at the Rockets’ Pro Day, and shows the tackling and toughness the Patriots demand from their defensive backs.
More options: Justin Simmons, Boston College or Sean Davis, Maryland – Two more three-cone stars, the Pats would likely need to use a Day 2 pick to nab one of these bigger-name alternatives.