The 2017 NFL Draft is shaping up as a strong one for defensive backs – NFL.com’s latest mock draft has 11 cornerbacks and safeties in the first 39 picks. The group down in Mobile, AL for the Reese’s Senior Bowl showcases that strength, with a number of intriguing prospects. While the NFL Draft is still three months away, and mountains of film review remains to be done, what follows are initial scouting notes on a few of the Senior Bowl defensive backs, courtesy of Dave Archibald and Luc Polglaze.
Note: all heights and weights from NFLDraftScout.com. Ages are as of 8/31/2017.
Chidobe Awuzie – Colorado – Senior – 5-11 – 205 – 22
Coaches will love how Awuzie prepares and how well he knows his job. His excellent route recognition isn’t a talent gained by happenstance; it’s created by spending time in the film room studying tendencies and route structures. Scouts will love Awuzie’s defensive versatility (including a ferocious blitz). He has a very fluid backpedal and the ability to play the slot, although he was used across the board in college. What may hold him back is how flat-footed he can be working through his reads. He can be slow to react to the run, caught unprepared, and his tackling doesn’t have any drive behind it; however, he is technically sound in coverage schemes. Awuzie has played gunner and blocked FGs. His lack of tackling ability could limit him at the slot in the NFL.
Note: Awuzie was originally listed on the Senior Bowl roster but will not play because of a toe injury.
Rasul Douglas – West Virginia – Redshirt Senior – 6-1 – 208 – 22
Douglas was buried last year in a talented Mountaineers secondary but broke out in his first extended playing time as a senior, tying the NCAA lead with eight interceptions. He plays mostly off coverage in the West Virginia scheme and displays great click-and-close to drive on plays in front of him, particularly slants. Douglas demonstrates aptitude shedding blocks and plays with a physical edge tackling and in run support. At 6’1” he has the frame to play press coverage and showed great acceleration coming out of his bail turn on the few occasions he did line up in press. Teams will be intrigued to see more of that skill set.
Corn Elder – Miami – Senior – 5-10 – 175 – Age Unknown
When you lack the prototypical size to play NFL cornerback, you compensate for it with other things. In the case of Miami’s Corn Elder, it’s 110% effort. Elder obviously never missed a motivational lesson from his coaches, because he is an Energizer bunny on the football field. He thrives playing around the ball, whether it be the speed to run down Dalvin Cook from the opposite side of the field or flipping his hips and dropping 12 yards from the flats to cause a deflection. This kind of play is great in Elder’s Mighty Mouse situation when he can click and close downhill against receivers, but could come back to bite him against superior NFL athletes. It will be interesting to monitor how Elder’s football smarts translate with coaching all week in Mobile to make a positive impression, given that his size is unlikely to thrive at the next level. He will also need some refinement to smoothen his footwork.
Desmond King – Iowa – Senior – 5-10 – 203 – 22
Some teams will view King as a slot corner only because of his lack of ideal height, but he played a lot outside for the Hawkeyes. Patient and balanced in press coverage, with a consistent bail turn to stay with the receiver’s initial release. The DB lacks top recovery speed when beaten deep. He has fluid hips and top agility which shows up in the return game, particularly in punt returns. King possesses good ball skills and plays with a physical edge which can cross the line into excessive grabbiness. He is a willing tackler but struggles to work free of blocks in the run game.
Jourdan Lewis – Michigan – Senior – 5-10 – 176 – 22
Teams looking for a big, imposing press corner might not love Lewis, but his leaping ability and ball skills allow him to play bigger than his size. He can make the athletic interception and, as a junior, he led the Big 10 with 20 passes defensed. He shows quick feet in coverage but allows too many inside releases and holds too much, especially on vertical routes when he’s lined up in the slot. He doesn’t wrap consistently and his run support suffered in 2016. Effective returning kicks.
Cam Sutton – Tennessee – Senior – 5-11 – 186 – 22
Sutton entered the season with high expectations, but fractured his ankle early in the 2016 season and played only seven games. He’s a fluid athlete that transitions from press to run with receivers easily. Playing off, he can click and close to drive on action in front of him. While Sutton has a thin build, he plays physical at the line of scrimmage. His frame hurts him in run support, however, where receivers can block him out with ease and his tackling suffers. Sutton’s change-of-directions skills help him return punts; he ranked second in the nation with an 18.0 average as a junior.
Tre’Davious White – LSU – Senior – 5-11 – 192 – 22
White has a good build for a cornerback and flashes at times, but his tape is inconsistent. Watch the right game, and you’ll see good press technique, advanced ball skills, and a physical edge. Watch the wrong game, and you’ll see lapses that lead to long gains and an inability to tackle. As a four-year starter in the best college conference with experience in a variety of coverages, he has an appealing resume, but he allows too many inside releases and must improve his tackling. Three punt return touchdowns for his career.
Justin Evans – Texas A&M – Senior – 6-0 – 195 – 22
Evans flashes plus athleticism, good movement skill, and burst in coverage and attacking downhill. He has plus ball skills, nabbing four interceptions and defending eight passes in 2016. Opposing offenses lit him up for big plays, however, exposing poor angles and inconsistent instincts in zone coverage. He lacks play strength and had trouble bringing down ballcarriers. Evans stood out as a special teams player in the return game and the field goal block unit, which means he can contribute on fourth down immediately while developing his defensive skills.
Nate Gerry – Nebraska – Senior – 6-2 – 220 – 22
Gerry has a linebacker’s build and tackles like one, too, exploding through contact and dragging down anyone he can get his hands on. Like most players of this ilk, he’ll need to prove his coverage and movement skills are up to task. His 12 career interceptions point to above-average ball skills, but he struggled with man-to-man coverage and he doesn’t always recognize the pass patterns unfolding in front of him. The Senior Bowl will be an opportunity for Gerry to prove he can defend the pass well enough to play at the next level.
Rayshawn Jenkins – Miami – Redshirt Senior – 6-1 – 208 – Age Unknown
Jenkins fits the mold of a big, physical strong safety. He shows twitchy athleticism moving forward, both while blitzing and reacting to the play in front of him, but he must answer questions about his change-of-direction and coverage skills. Jenkins will deliver the physical hit but can miss tackles when he doesn’t wrap up. Jenkins shows a linebacker-like willingness to take on blocks in run support, a quality that will endear him to many teams.
Lorenzo Jerome – St. Francis (PA) – Senior – 5-11 – 190 – Age Unknown
For small-school prospects like Jerome, the Senior Bowl provides an opportunity to test their skills at a higher level. Jerome was a standout performer in the FCS Northeast Conference, finishing First-Team All-Conference four times. The Red Flash often used him underneath, where his zone awareness in robber coverages, click-and-close reaction, and straightline explosion let him make plays. His long arms engulfed ballcarriers as much as tackled them, but he could be juked out when driving downhill. At 5’11” 190, pro teams will likely see him as more of a free safety at the next level – can he thrive there as well? He excelled as a return specialist, able to break tackles with his play strength and run away from would-be tacklers, but this too will need to be evaluated against stiffer competition.
Obi Melifonwu – Connecticut – Redshirt Senior – 6-3 – 216 – 23
Teams looking to copy the Cover 3 scheme of the Seattle Seahawks will surely be drawn to Melifonwu, who has the rare size those teams crave at the strong safety position. His movement skills are outstanding for a defender his size, and he even shows some man-to-man coverage aptitude at times. He can be over-aggressive in zone coverage and in his pursuit angles. Melifonwu wraps up and can also deliver the big blow when tackling.