With the excellent quarterbacks flooding the NFL, team will need to find as many talented defensive backs as possible to slow opposing offenses down. After tirelessly watching tape and writing profiles this draft season, Dave Archibald is ready to hand out his 2016 NFL Draft corner superlatives.
Best Press Cornerback
It seems like every team is looking for long press cornerbacks, attempting to copy the recent success of the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, but this isn’t a good draft for those players outside of Ramsey. Alexander, Hargreaves, and Cyrus Jones have the technique but not the size. Many of the larger players, such as Baylor’s Xavien Howard and Northern Iowa’s Deiondre’ Hall, are effective at the line of scrimmage but lack the deep speed to bail and run with receivers.
1. Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
Ramsey has the length and physicality teams look for in press cornerbacks, getting strong jams to disrupt receivers at the line of scrimmage. He bails from press coverage fluidly and has the deep speed to keep up with receivers on vertical routes.
2. Mackensie Alexander, Clemson
Despite less-than-ideal size and wingspan, Alexander excels at press coverage. He rarely jams the receiver solidly at the line of scrimmage, but he mirrors well and bails into a shuffle step with precision, allowing him to turn and run to take away vertical routes. No corner in this class defends deep routes better.
3. Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
Hargreaves plays bigger than his size, using quick hands to deliver jams at the line of scrimmage in press man coverage and keep receivers from getting a clean release. He rarely takes a false step and shows terrific hip fluidity to turn and run with receivers in whatever direction they release. He coordinates his hands and feet well, while staying balanced and in solid position.
4. Eli Apple, Ohio State
Apple has prototypical length and frame for a press corner and frequently lined up in press man at Ohio State. Gets a good jam and has enough athleticism to turn and pursue receiver downfield. Struggles defending back-shoulder throws.
5. Cyrus Jones, Alabama
Like Alexander and Hargreaves, Jones is a fine press corner with less-than-ideal dimensions. Perhaps no corner in the class delivers a more consistent and forceful jam at the line of scrimmage. He transitions and runs well in bail technique. Like many college corners, he grabs too much and will draw holding penalties in the NFL if he can’t refine his technique.
Best Off / Zone Cornerback
Off man is a tough coverage to play, and there are few cornerbacks with the explosive athleticism to click and close on short-breaking routes and the agility and footwork to react to cuts at the top of the stem. Redmond’s Bulldogs teammate Taveze Calhoun just missed this list.
1. Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
Ramsey is a quick-twitch athlete with the ability to click-and-close from off-man or zone coverage and attack screens or flat routes.
2. Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
Hargreaves is aggressive in off coverage and zone, using his downhill explosiveness to click-and-close and disrupt or defend passes. Offenses could exploit his aggression with double-moves and pump fakes. A press-heavy scheme will fit him better on day one, but his footwork and instincts suggest he can eventually succeed in an off man or zone system.
3. Will Redmond, Mississippi State
Redmond has above-average athleticism and good change-of-direction skills to mirror receivers through cuts. He shows awareness of his responsibilities in zone coverage and the aggression to drive on cuts and make plays.
4. William Jackson III, Houston
Jackson has good click-and-close from off man coverage to drive downhill and make plays. At times, he can be over-aggressive and teams will exploit him with double moves. Jackson is better driving downhill than reacting to quick cuts.
5. Mackensie Alexander, Clemson
Clemson runs a variety of coverages, and Alexander has experience outside and in the slot. He shows good awareness of route concepts, avoiding pick and rub routes and anticipating passing attacks.
Best Slot Coverage
Many of the best slot cornerbacks in the NFL played outside in college. Hargreaves has the quickness and footwork to be the best slot cornerback in this class, but did not play there often enough for Florida to rank. The same is true of Cyrus Jones. Redmond and Alexander both struggled in run support, which may limit how much teams will play them in the middle of the field. LSU’s Jalen Mills, Maryland’s Sean Davis, and Notre Dame’s KeiVarae Russell just missed this list.
1. Will Redmond, Mississippi State
Redmond has above-average athleticism and good change-of-direction skills to mirror receivers through cuts. Mississippi State used him in the slot at times. He shows awareness of his responsibilities in zone coverage and the aggression to drive on cuts and make plays.
2. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech used Fuller in the slot in some matchups. He shows solid footwork and agility to stick with receivers through their breaks. He is aggressive in jumping routes, letting him make plays but leaving him susceptible to double-moves. He has solid technique in press, off man, and zone. Often does not look back for the ball even when he has position on vertical routes; this is less of an issue in the slot, where he generally has safety help.
3. Mackensie Alexander, Clemson
Clemson runs a variety of coverages, and Alexander has experience outside and in the slot. He exhibits good awareness of route concepts, avoiding pick and rub routes and anticipating passing attacks. Alexander lacks the elite-level movement abilities of Vernon Hargreaves III and many of the more successful precedents for players his size.
4. Tavon Young, Temple
At 5’9”, Young will likely be relegated to the slot in the NFL, and he played both there and outside for Temple. He is experienced in press, off, and zone. Like Alexander, he has good mirroring skills and excellent competitiveness but does not have elite quickness.
5. Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
Ramsey’s ability to recognize routes and drive on them shows up on the inside as it does on the outside. He demonstrates good awareness – he understands game situation, route concepts, and where his help is. Being bigger, taller, and less agile than the typical slot cornerback, Ramsey can struggle covering quick cuts from waterbug slot receivers like Wes Welker.
Cyrus Jones and Tavon Young IMO. Both can also play outside, IMO https://t.co/u95sKimWTn
— Paulo Figari (@Paulo_Figari) April 18, 2016
@davearchie Eric Murray is my guy, arguably the best zone coverage player in the class,imo. Technician with smooth movement and ball skills.
— Cagen Cantrell (@CeeingTheDraft) April 18, 2016
— William S. Carroll (@BCarroll138) April 22, 2016
Best Tackler / Run Defense
Some teams will consider Ramsey, Mills, Russell, and Davis safeties thanks to their excellent tackling. This is a dimension of the game that will hold back some of the better cover corners early on – Alexander, Jackson, and Redmond in particular need improvement.
1. Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
Ramsey’s physical play stands out in his run defense. He is more willing than the typical college defensive back to take on blocks, and stays aware of the ball carrier’s position when engaged so he can keep the edge or get in on the tackle. Ramsey rarely misses a tackle. His height can make him susceptible to cut blocks. He uses his hands and strength to rip free of blockers in the open field.
2. Jalen Mills, LSU
Mills is a bigger corner with experience at safety. He is a capable tackler and shows good understanding of his force responsibilities in the run game. He fights to stay off blocks and remain active in run defense.
3. KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame
Solid run defender who can deliver a hit and wraps consistently. Plays bigger than his size in the run game. Can work free of blocks at times but needs to stay more aware of where the ball is when engaged.
4. Sean Davis, Maryland
Davis has size and safety experience. He is willing to stick his nose in on running backs and wraps effectively. He has trouble getting off blocks.
5. Eli Apple, Ohio State
Apple is a physical player with size. In run support he can be tentative when attacking running backs in the hole. Ballcarriers can juke him in the open field.
Eli Apple is my guy. https://t.co/SGjuF3VgG8
— Chris Dougherty (@CFBIndex) April 22, 2016
— BEARS Bulls Hawks (@rayhollings) April 22, 2016
Best Ball Skills
Last year’s draft class featured several cornerbacks with excellent ball skills, particularly JaCorey Shepherd of Kansas and Washington’s Marcus Peters. Arguably no one in this group has that kind of ability, though Jackson comes closest. This is the one area where Ramsey struggles at times, and Alexander famously had zero career interceptions. Ball skills are particularly a deficiency for Fuller, who allowed big completions even when in excellent position due to an inability to track the ball.
1. William Jackson III, Houston
Jackson has the long wingspan to deflect balls in the air. This allows him to break up passes even when the receiver gets separation on him. He can even defend back-shoulder throws. He has good hands to secure picks. Jackson has an aggressive playmaking instinct and will jump routes to disrupt the pass.
2. Sean Davis, Maryland
Davis looks back for the ball in man coverage and has the hands for the interception. Good anticipation in zone coverage to jump routes and make deflections or picks.
3. Tavon Young, Temple
Young can often make up for his short stature with excellent ball skills. He times his leaps well to deflect passes. Perhaps no corner in this class is better at searching a receiver’s hands in trail technique, letting him make plays on the ball even with his back to the quarterback. He has a tendency to contact the receiver early, something he will need to curb to avoid flags in the NFL.
4. Artie Burns, Miami
Burns is an outstanding athlete with good wingspan to deflect passes and compete at the catch point. He can even break up back-shoulder throws, some of the most difficult passes to defend. He will arrive early at times and commit pass interference, and he gambles too much going for the interception. He hauled in an ACC-leading six picks in 2015.
5. Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
When he has good position and times his jump well, he can compete with larger players to deflect passes or make plays. If he finds himself off-balance or mis-times his jump, receivers with size can beat him at the catch point. Hargreaves displays good football intelligence, knowing where his help is so he can undercut routes or attempt to tip balls to teammates. He demonstrates strong situational awareness: while he will concede the back shoulder throw in the middle of the field, he plays much more aggressively at the goal line, and will break up passes.
Other opinions: Everyone seems to like Jackson in this category.
— Summer Hanx (@HankJoness) April 17, 2016
@davearchie William Jackson
— Conor Myles (@MylesSheet) April 17, 2016
Best Special Teamer
These rankings include safety prospects. Some of these players figure to be high picks and not see the field much in the kicking game, but for players like Bush, Houston-Carson, and Northern Iowa’s Deiondre’ Hall, who just missed this list, it can be the difference between being active on game day or relegated to the bench.
1. Cyrus Jones, Alabama
Jones led the NCAA with 530 punt return yards and four touchdowns. He has the wiggle to make tacklers miss in the open field and the speed to break away for scores. He has the vision to pick through congestion and get consistent yards; he’s not just a boom-or-bust returner.
2. Deon Bush, Miami
Bush is an impact player on coverage teams, able to get down field and lay the wood on returners. Some of his nine forced fumbles in his Hurricanes career came on special teams. He also works on the field goal and punt block teams.
3. DeAndre Houston-Carson, William & Mary
Houston-Carson played on several of William & Mary’s special teams units, serving as a gunner and safety on the kickoff team, gunner on the punt team, and edge rusher on the field goal block and punt block units. He blocked nine kicks in his career for the Tribe, showing explosive speed and bend off the edge. In kick coverage, as in run defense, he can get out of control running downfield at top speed and miss tackles. Overall, special teams is an area where he can contribute immediately to an NFL team.
4. Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
He showed outstanding ability to avoid press jams and get downfield on the punt coverage team, and was frequently the first player downfield on punts. Ramsey played on the kickoff units, where he showed the ability to absorb blocks, stay alert for the ball carrier, and make tackles.
5. Karl Joseph, West Virginia
Joseph’s athleticism and explosive tackling ability shows up on special teams. He is effective disengaging from blocks on coverage teams and has the speed to get downfield in a hurry.
CB Taveze Calhoun, Mississippi State
CB Xavien Howard, Baylor
CB Eric Murray, Minnesota
DB Deiondre’ Hall, Northern Iowa