About the class:
Marshon Lattimore: #2
In the context of rankings, “#2” is usually associated with being the runner-up, the second best, or the first loser. For Marshon Lattimore, #2 means his overall ranking in this class from me. In another year where a possibly-not-human talent like Myles Garrett weren’t in his class, Lattimore would’ve been my #1 overall player. He’s not a quarterback, offensive tackle, or edge rusher, but I believe he is that special of a football player. What separates Lattimore from his peers at the cornerback position, and from the rest of this class in general, is how well he plays one of the four most important positions in football, and how gifted he is athletically, which leads me to believe the best is yet to come. Lattimore is a true 6’0’’ corner, which means he has the length needed to tie-up with the bigger receivers in the league. He combines his size and length with the explosiveness of a 38.5’’ vertical and 11’0’’ broad jump. Even in situations where he’s outsized, he won’t necessarily be out-jumped or be out of position. His forty time (4.36) shows long speed that few can match. His catch-up ability, highlighted by his interception in the 2016 Oklahoma game proves that even in times when he does get beat on a route – and he assuredly will, like all corners do – he can overcome and win at the end of the route by closing the separation. Lattimore is also willing and able in the run game and short passing game. His quality at coming downhill rivals any corner in this class not named Marlon Humphrey. To get an elite corner in both phases is rare, but Lattimore checks the boxes. He has battled hamstrings injuries, and because of that only has one, true season at Ohio State to compare against, but I’m willing to put the heaping amounts of positives ahead of that worry and keep him at the top of my big board. In four drafts of scouting, Marshon Lattimore is only rivaled with Jalen Ramsey and Marcus Peters as a cornerback prospect. You take a player like him as early as you please.
Trio of First Rounders
Gareon Conley, Marlon Humphrey, and Quincy Wilson make up my other first round grades at cornerback this season. Conley might be more ahead of the curve in Week 1 than his Ohio State counterpart, Lattimore, and should be a Pro Bowl quality cornerback throughout the prime of his career. I think Conley is special enough to be an island corner while also being able to play the slot circumstantially. Humphrey’s Alabama career probably won’t ever be as appreciated as it should be, because his biggest flaw is the most noticeable: Burn rate. For 99% of the games he played, Humphrey was the highest-quality downhill and near-blanket corner for the Crimson Tide – whether it was defending the run or driving down on slants or hitches, no one “brought it” like Humphrey, and more often than not his man was covered downfield. The problem is that the 1% that he wasn’t quality, he was getting beat deep. Humphrey has the potential of a high-end starting corner and backed that up with testing. The traits are there. What he’s going to have to do is learn how to track his man and the ball downfield better than he does now. Is that something that can be developed? Yes. Absolutely. I love his game and believe he’ll be a better professional, than college, player, as he finally rounds into the all-world talent he’s always been heralded as.
Quincy Wilson was quietly Florida’s best cornerback last year, despite Teez Tabor getting all the attention. He’s an ideal Cover 3 corner. A 6’1’’, 211 pound frame can man up with the true X receivers in the league downfield. But he’s not a one-trick pony only capable of running downfield in a straight line against bigger players. Wilson ran a 6.86 three cone and astonishing 4.02 short shuttle, which shows he possesses the ability to cover short-area agility to compete with receivers running rub routes and quick get-offs, especially in the red zone. Big corners are a dime a dozen. Big, quality corners are in vogue and hard to come by. Wilson is the best of that mold and should be looked out between the twenties and early thirties.
Round 2: Not All Grades are Created Equally
The 2nd round is littered with defensive back talent this year, but not all grades are created equally. Sidney Jones has the best tape of any corner in this class – including Lattimore – but put on a legitimate terrible showing at the NFL Combine, where he performed below average in multiple areas. On top of that, he tore his achilles at Washington’s pro day. Where does a great player on tape who tests poorly and gets injured go? I slotted him similarly to how I did Jonathan Allen, only further back due to severity of injury and positional importance. Jones ended up as a late 2nd rounder and outside of my top 50. Right above him was LSU’s Tre’Davious White. I enjoyed his growth in 2016 quite a bit, but he also tested very poorly in general, but especially in such a clustered class. With tape grades being similar, I had to dock points for poor athletic testing, thus him ending up as CB11.
The strong round 2 grades, though, belong to UCLA’s Fabian Moreau, Washington’s Kevin King, USC’s Adoree’ Jackson and Colorado’s Chidobe Awuzie. Moreau is battling an injury now, as well, or otherwise he may have been a first rounder later this month. If not for Kevin King, Moreau would have the strongest profile of anyone with complete testing. King blew everyone away with how extraordinary he tested at the Combine – testing that wasn’t supported by his tape. Any teams with physical thresholds at this position will be keying on him in the late first or early second round. Adoree’ Jackson is nowhere near finished as a corner, but given all the directions he was pulled in at USC, he’s still very much a quality player who can contribute Week 1 on special teams. He reminds me of Green Bay’s Damarious Randall in terms of how we should expect him to perform and grow early on. There will be hiccups, but long term the reward will likely be worth it. Finally, Colorado’s sensational Chidobe Awuzie is another workout warrior who offers Week 1 ability at outside corner, in the slot, and even at free safety. Few, if any, offer his immediate versatility, and for that I would not be surprised if he gets his name called on night 1 of the draft, and should surely be gone by the end of round 2.