Switching back to the defensive side of the ball, we go from the wide receivers to the guys lining up across from them – the cornerbacks. This list includes outside corners as well as the ones, who I believe will fit better as nickel defenders. With those positions especially, teams will rank them very differently depending on their defensive schemes and needs.
There are five prospects at this position, who will probably end up with first-round grades from me. The odd thing about them is that four of them have very limited starting experience. I like a bunch of players after those headliners and I believe teams might be able to find some diamonds in the rough in the later rounds of this draft.
1. Denzel Ward, Ohio State
With three Ohio State defensive backs being drafted in the first round last year, Ward needed to step up for the Buckeyes last season and he was one of the best cornerbacks in the entire country. He already had rotated a lot in prior years, but he shined even more as a full-time starter in 2017, earning first-team All-American honors.
At 5’10’’, 190 pounds, Ward doesn’t offer the supreme measurements as Marshon Lattimore or Gareon Conley did a year ago, but he was a shutdown corner for the Buckeyes due to his technique and the way the finds the ball in the air. He doesn’t really disrupt receivers off the line, but he likes to shadow them from the start of their route, slightly redirecting them and once the arms of his opponent go up, he tries to stick a hand in there to knock the ball down. Ward possesses extremely loose hips to redirect on pivot routes or double-releases. Moreover, he has a feel for where the ball is being placed and when to make his move to attack it.
Ward is more interested in defending the run than those two guys I mentioned just now. He is looking to force the player further inside, but usually doesn’t give up his contain and uses the sideline as his friend. The OSU standout reduces his shoulder and slips blockers very well to get involved on the action. Since he didn’t play off a lot, it didn’t really come into play, but if he can accelerate at a target, he is an explosive hitter.
The guy, who coaches called a third starter in 2016, bails almost completely sideways in cover-three and keeps his eyes on the QB. He comes off his responsibility and is looking to make an impact once he sees that guy pull the trigger. Ward chases his man all the way to the opposite side of the field on crossing and post routes, with half a step behind him. The part he excels at, is finding the ball in the air and he is dangerous at undercutting throws.
Ward did a great job avoiding penalties, despite initiating contact when the ball is in the air, but he probably won’t get away with most of them at the next level. He also gets too handsy at the top of routes and that will be a learning experience coming into the NFL. While he barely gives up any separation to receivers, I saw him bite on a few double-move, when they were sold well.
This guy didn’t leave me waiting for very long to understand, he will be the next great OSU corner, when I started watching his tape individually. In the season-opener versus Indiana, he allowed a touchdown on the goal-line and was flagged for pass-interference once, but looking at it closely – he was targeted a bunch and only allowed one completion of ten yards or more, while showing perfect coverage on a multitude of snaps and coming up with an INT himself.
Marshon Lattimore was a tremendous prospect last year and if there were no injury concerns with him, he would have probably been among my top five or six overall players available. However, I think Ward could have a similar impact on a team looking for a number one corner. He might not be quite the cover-guy the Defensive Rookie of the Year was for the Saints, but he will give you more as a run defender, while having blocked a punt and field goal respectively last season.
2. Jaire Alexander, Louisville
When I put out my top five positional rankings at the start of the college football season, I had Alexander as my number one cornerback in the country. He came off a season with five picks and nine pass-deflections, while opposing QBs had started avoiding him. Alexander’s 2017 season certainly didn’t go as planned health-wise, as he managed to appear in just six games on the year, but when he was out there, he shut people down.
With one interception and five pass-breakouts in limited action, he made more plays on the ball than the receivers he covered were able to come up, as he gave up just five catches himself and overall, he allowed a horrendous 17.7 QB rating. As outstanding as all those numbers are, they don’t nearly reflect the kind of coverage the Cardinal corner sustains throughout games. Alexander consistently took on the challenge of guarding the number one receiver of the opposing team and didn’t allow them to have any input. With a great combine performance, which included a 4.38 in the 40, he showed me that he’s back to 100 percent and I feel confident in putting him this high again.
The former Louisville corner combines loose hips to open up and run downfield with the quick feet to change directions and react to the break. Alexander plays sticky coverage over the course of games. He has a special gift for undercutting routes and making contact with the ball at the last moment. Not only does he stay in perfect coverage position for the most part, unlike a lot of college guys, who play the receiver, he actually locates the ball when running downfield and is looking to pick it off. If he can’t quite go for the INT, he also excels at punching and ripping balls loose, once they touch the hands of the receiver.
Alexander doesn’t waste a lot of time to slip past his blocker and force ball-carriers to cut inside and he isn’t out there waiting to catch receivers, who just received a quick hitch, but rather comes up and brings that guy to the ground. He is also a dangerous return-man with an average of 10 yards per fielded punt.
The 190-pounder was a difference-maker throughout his time with the Cardinals and his defense struggled mightily when he was out of the line-up. His 2016 tape versus Clemson was by far the best I’ve watched of any corner in this class. Alexander was called for one pass-interference, but he also recorded two INTs and the only reception he allowed, ended in a takeaway for his team, as he knocked the ball right back out of the receiver’s hands.
The concern with his is slim body build, as he can be out-boxed by bigger bodies in the red-zone and defaults to jumping at the knees of more massive ball-carriers. His medical reports will be crucial, because of his injury history, but purely based on what I’ve seen on tape, I have to put him this high and if I saw him play all year at the level he did, he might have even been number one.
3. Isaiah Oliver, Colorado
Here we have the third great member of this Colorado secondary, which sent Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Whitherspoon to the NFL a year ago. Because of those guys ahead of him on the depth chart, Oliver only found his way into the starting lineup last year. He made use of that season, recording two INTs and 12 pass-deflections, while earning All-Pac-12 honors and establishing himself as one of the best at the position in the country.
Oliver is a Pac-12 decathlete and track guy with genes from world-class sprinters. He can play press and off equally as well, possesses terrific closing burst and once he turns his head around, he becomes the receiver. Throwing late against the 6’1’’ corner is probably not a very good idea, because he might make you pay. Even with the receiver having a step on him, Oliver’s length can be difference in forcing an incompletion instead of a catch. He is excellent at ripping his arm through the hands of an offensive player trying to grasp the ball.
He doesn’t panic when the ball is thrown over his head, but rather he trusts his speed to run under it. In their matchup with Colorado State, Oliver allowed just one short catch to Michael Gallup in man-coverage (plus a screen when he was playing off), despite seeing a heavy target share. He got the receiver completely frustrated, which I really liked and that led to a couple of offensive pass interference calls, in addition to Oliver knocking down four passes.
While he makes things look easy a lot of times, the supremely talented corner is kind of a long strider and lacks some ability to transition and change directions. Oliver doesn’t show a ton of interest in getting involved against the run, but at least he keeps his contain. He got burnt on a post-route by Washington State’s Tavares Martin, because his safety bit on the run-fake and he was beat clean on an inside-release. While he does a solid job driving his legs through the tackle when he has a straight shot at a guy, too often he reverts back to leaving his feet and twisting down the ball-carrier on the outside.
To sum this up, Oliver certainly has the looks, athletic tools and competitive nature to become a lockdown corner at the next level. He might lack some quick-twitch to break on passes thrown underneath of him in zone coverage. Anyhow, I think he will at his best in man-based defense, where he can go head-to-head with receivers and look to take them out of their game. The tape on Oliver is pretty limited, but I’m very intrigued by what I saw from him during that stretch and I think he has tremendous talent.
4. Mike Hughes, UCF
After one year of limited action at North Carolina, Hughes was suspended for violating team rules and joined community college. He came back to Division I football a year later, earning All-AAC honors and being a huge part to UCF’s undefeated season. With basically one year of tape on this guy, he might be one of the biggest mysteries of this draft.
As part of the Knights’ program, Hughes was a tremendous man-coverage corner, with all the quickness and speed necessary to lock people down. He has an amazing flick of the hips to open up and run deep or counter brakes by the receivers. Yet, because of his acceleration, he’s not afraid of opposing receivers burning him over the top and doesn’t get caught opening up too quickly. Hughes can transition from bailing to coming downhill in a split second. When quarterbacks see this young man undercut throws, they hold their breath, because of how quickly he can get there.
Hughes does a great jump, finding the ball in the air and understanding he has the same right to go after it as offensive players do. Therefore, he recorded 15 pass deflections and four picks last year. That includes an outstanding contested over-the-head interception versus South Florida, before scoring the game-winning kick return touchdown. Overall, he scored touchdowns taking back two kickoffs, a punt and one interception in 2017.
The 5’10’’ corner tackles low, but he isn’t the kind of guy, who will leap at someone’s feet and miss. I’d still like him to bring his arms forward with him, but he races up and hits ball-carriers around the line of scrimmage. However, he has his struggles covering bigger bodies, because they push off on him and shield the ball with their frame, since he just lacks some physicality.
What makes him such an intriguing prospect to me, is his unreal lower body and hip flexibility, which enables him to rotate 180 degrees with such ease. I saw a few snaps that honestly reminded me of Marshon Lattimore, in terms of how fluid they are, but the difference is Hughes is a good inch smaller and ten pounds lighter than the Saints’ new star cornerback. Yet, Hughes is also an electric return-man with a combination of speed and moves to stress coverage teams. He has a chance to take it the distance any time you put the ball in his hands, which adds value to his draft stock.
I would have liked to see Hughes stay in school for one more year, because there are things, that need to be cleaned up in his game, like opening his hips one way and then completely turning around on some occasions. It would have also given me some more tape to completely evaluate him as a prospect, but I’m a big fan of what I’ve seen and his athletic talents are off the charts.
5. Josh Jackson, Iowa
This guy came out of nowhere, to lead the FBS with eight interceptions last season, on his way to an All-American selection. Jackson also deflected another 18 passes and boosted himself into first round considerations, with some people saying he is the second-best corner available.
Jackson is well-built and has excellent length for the position at 6’1’’, with 31-inch arms. The crazy part about those numbers I just gave you, is the fact opponents went to his side less and less as the year went along, because his coverage was that good and he still made most of his opportunities.
The former high-school receiver just has a knack for the football and plays it like he’s still on the offensive side. He followed his man along the formation at times and showed the ability to really frustrate them. In addition to that, he plays the ball at its highest point and understands the concepts of one arm being longer than two. The one-year wonder also uses his length very well to wrap around receivers and get his paw on the ball.
In zone coverage, Jackson does a nice job redirecting receivers towards his teammates when passing them on. However, he got confused by crossing receivers against Wisconsin and gave up an easy touchdown. The nation’s leader in interceptions races downhill, once he reads screen or a quick hitch and usually makes those tackles, despite mainly leaping into contact, instead of wrapping up. When he does get his arms around the ball-carrier, he punches through the ball. In addition to his ball-hawking coverage, he is an outstanding blitzer off the edge, who stays in full sprint when pursuing plays away from him.
Jackson’s long speed was looked at under the microscope at the combine, because from what I saw on tape, I thought he was pretty aggressive in man with help over the top, but he gave opponents a lot of space in cover-three. He then had a pretty disappointing showing in Indianapolis, clocking in at 4.56 in the 40 and displaying on-field movement, that reminded you more of a safety.
With that being said, I have a couple more concerns with Jackson’s game. In press, he loses balance if that initial punch misses in press. He engages his blocker too straight up and limits himself to holding his ground and releasing once the ball-carriers runs past them. Moreover, he will certainly bite on some double-moves, because of how aggressive he is and in the end he only has 14 career starts, as impressive as they may have been.
All in all, Jackson allowed a passer-rating of just 36.5 on 91 passes his way, according to Pro Football Focus, which is worse than if opposing QBs would have just thrown the ball in the dirt. I had to drop his value with the lack of long speed, which limits his ability to take on star receivers one-on-one. However, I believe he could be a tremendous piece to a cover-two based defense, because he possesses the premier ball-skills in this draft class and he has the ability to take over games, if the opposing QB gives him a chance.
6. Donte Jackson, LSU
Talk about flat-out speed. Jackson was a state champion in the 100- and 200-meter dash and a star sprinter for the Tigers. On the football field, those burners show off as well and he was able to collect two seasons of starting experience in the SEC, being named second-team all-conference in 2017.
Jackson doesn’t quite reach six feet, but he has long arms and does an outstanding job using them to extend and get his paws on passes, as well as on some throws over his head in zone coverage, when the quarterback isn’t even looking at him underneath. He shows a nice flick of the hips and ability to change directions quickly, as well as the make-up speed to close separation fast and the loose lower body to recover even when the target beats him out of his break. Jackson made a play on the final four passes, that came out of the hand of Auburn’s quarterback Jarrett Stidham, which ended in a win for his Tigers.
The track specialist isn’t afraid of having his man run by him and when he sees him turn his head, Jackson will look back and find the football. Therefore, quarterbacks better not leave those passes short or hanging in the air, because there’s a good chance, the speedster comes up with them. In addition to that, he can climb the ladder and high-points the football consistently. Jackson goes low on his tackles and works his way to the screen-man on throws behind the line of scrimmage. When one of his teammates has the ball-carrier wrapped up already, he is looking to rip the ball out. Once he sees the QB scramble, Jackson comes off his man and dives at the legs of guys in the open field when he’s in one-on-one situations.
Jackson undercut a bunch of passes and should have had at least two or three more INTs last season, but he lets those get into his body and bounce of his chest. He played a ton of press-coverage as a member of LSU and got a little grabby at times, but he was unfairly flagged quite a few times in my opinion. The obvious concern with this young man is his ultra-slim frame. He will definitely have his struggles against the bigger body wideouts in the NFL and you question how much of a pounding he can take.
Yet, his athleticism is off the charts and he will add some muscle with NFL training. The main reason I have Jackson this high are his short-area quickness and speed to recover in a heartbeat. He won’t be able to win off the snap with stronger receivers slapping away his hands, but there will be some plays, where he looks like he is beaten and then comes in at the last second to make a play on the ball.
7. Carlton Davis, Auburn
Here we have a cornerback, who looks like the prototype for the position with excellent length and overall size. Davis didn’t fool around long to show off what kind of player he would become, as he recorded three picks as a true freshman and was a part of the SEC’s All-Freshman team. He is know leaving Auburn as an All-SEC selection and with the chance to make an impact at the next level.
Davis is extremely physical in man-coverage from the snap until the whistle. He loves to push receivers into the boundary and nobody has found a way yet to establish their space on the perimeter, instead of letting Davis ride them to where no pass can be completed anymore. He might give up some plays, but he always competes for the ball in the air. In addition to that, he plays a ton of trail technique and uses his outside arm very well as a bar to pace down the receiver’s stride.
The big corner uses the contact with receivers on inside-breaking routes, to stay attached to them and put a hand on the ball. Davis is a solid one-on-one tackler and he delivers a few big shots along the sideline. At 205 pounds his speed at 4.53 is plenty good for such a physical presence on the outside. He already had to deal with highly talented athletes at the wide receiver position in the SEC and excelled against them.
While he has the strength to impose himself on any receiver, Davis doesn’t use it properly as a run defender yet, as he fools around with the blocker for way too long. He can be turned around by double-moves if he loses contact and fell down on a post versus Georgia in their first meeting, but to his luck, the receiver was overthrown. Davis knocked down 20 passes and QBs avoided him for the most part over the course of his sophomore and junior campaigns, but he only picked off one more pass since his since freshman year. There were a selected few of those big body receivers, like you saw in the Clemson game, who didn’t back down and pushed off a little themselves, to snag the ball underneath of him.
Even though I believe some of those flyers in the NFL, who can disengage, might burn Davis at the next level, I think he should be an excellent heavy-press corner at the next level. He might struggle if a team lets him operate more in space, but in terms of being aggressive at the line of scrimmage and with some help over the top, he could be a very physical presence on the outside. Apparently Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham even avoided throwing the ball his way in practice.
8. M.J. Stewart, North Carolina
This young man is a well-built, physical three-year starter for UNC. It was kind of hard to follow the Tarheel program in 2017, as they had a very disappointing 3-9 season with just one win inside the ACC. Nevertheless, I’ve had my eyes on Stewart for the last few years and he has always been one of my favorite players on tape. Despite not recording any interceptions over the last two years, he was an honorable mention for the all-conference team both years.
Stewart played flat-footed a lot and bumped receivers coming at him. He e does a great job running with his man and turning his head once the receiver’s eyes track the ball, to make a play on it. He is very patient in press and overall in opening up his hips. The 5’11’’ defensive back lined up a ton in the slot and even dropped back as a safety occasionally. He likes to get involved at bringing down ball-carriers and is an excellent solo-tackler at the cornerback spot. However, he occasionally lets ball-carriers get the edge on him. Stewart is an outstanding blitzer off the corner, who gets his hands into the passing lanes and makes things difficult for opposing quarterbacks.
I can’t get over that one play he made early on against then-undefeated Miami. The Tar Heels were in a two-high safety look and Stewart read run off the snap. He then raced downhill and just ran through the receiver, putting him and the ball-carrier flat on their backs for a three yard loss. That was a 1-7 North Carolina team against number eight in the country and he still played with that kind of attitude. This just tells me so much about what kind of competitor Stewart is. He also didn’t allow a single completion his way versus N.C. State despite being matched up a lot with Jaylen Samuels, who was one of the premier offensive weapons in college football.
Overall, Stewart recorded 37 pass break-ups during his three years as a starter for the Tarheels and always competed hard. Solely looking at the numbers and critiquing him for not picking off any passes over the last two years, doesn’t serve him any justice, because he delivered some great coverage. When I watched him down in Mobile, I thought was in the running for the top cornerback throughout Senior Bowl practices. Stewart should be at his best as a nickel at the next level, because he won’t get away with sitting on routes on the boundary as much in the NFL and he lacks elite speed, but I love his film and I can easily see him shut down slot receivers on Sundays.
9. Anthony Averett, Alabama
Averett waited his turn to get an opportunity with the Crimson Tide. He redshirted his first year and only contributed in one game the following season due to the crazy depth among defensive backs. With injuries keeping him off the field after that, he finally saw snaps on defense in 2016. When it was time to play, Averett had to learn how the succeed the hard way, as he was frequently targeted with Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick alongside him. Last year, he finally put himself on the map as one of the top corners in the nation.
At six feet, Averett offers a very good reactive lower body with light feet to mirror receivers. He does an excellent job turning his head and rotating around to make plays against back-shoulder throws, as well as playing the ball at its highest point. In addition to that, he understands the idea of one arm being longer than two. Averett possesses outstanding short-area quickness and balance to transition from running downfield to reacting to comeback routes. In zone coverage, he attacks underneath routes through the receivers and keeps them in check.
The New Jersey state champion in the 100-meter dash and high jump comes downhill against the run and has no problem cutting down pulling O-linemen either. Averett is a great blitzer off the edge with snap anticipation skills and adequate pursuit towards running plays away from him. Unlike a lot of smaller DBs, he actually wraps up on his tackles and rarely lets anybody go.
Despite getting engaged with his receiver off the snap, Averett is not the most physical guy on the perimeter. He came up with just one interception in 31 career games, which in large part is due to misjudging too many balls in the air and being content with just knocking it down. He had one potential interception just brushing his outstretched fingers despite being in perfect position. Averett’s injury history is colorful, but to his credit – he fought through them.
He will definitely need to add to his 185-pound frame, but he ran an outstanding 4.35 at the combine and never let his size never define him as a player. However, I think it might contribute to a move inside at nickel in the NFL. I love his confidence and I think he could play either way, plus he has quality experience on different special teams, which should help him see the field early on.
10. Duke Dawson, Florida
Next to Ohio State and Washington, Florida was the third school to bring out two highly profiled cornerbacks last year. Therefore, Dawson started his career at nickel before Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson came out a year ago. Dawson moved to the outside in 2017 and recorded four INTs with more aggressiveness on the perimeter.
At 210 pounds, Dawson can absolutely take away the momentum of receivers at initial contact and seems to be in control from that point on, but he doesn’t always use his hands. While he can cover inside or outside and stay glued to his man, Dawson might actually move into the nickel at the next level again and I liked a bunch of his snaps there.
Dawson shows football smarts in zone and excellent awareness for the targets around him. He trusts what he sees and jumps on it. When the ball is in the air he is very crafty, slightly pushing back the arms of the receivers and using little tricks like that. The 5’10’’ corner has no problem getting down and dirty against the run game, while being a strong tackler. When the ball comes out, he doesn’t waste any time coming downhill and getting involved.
The All-SEC performer might lack some long speed and height for the outside, as well as having some trouble with his flexibility and changing directions with receivers out of their breaks occasionally, losing a step or two if the receiver has room. Dawson got too handsy at the top of the route sometimes and will have something to learn from NFL refs. Even though he came up with four picks last season, I’m not quite sure how easily he catches the ball, because he had two interceptions float right into his hands and dropped a couple others he should have had, but didn’t hold onto.
Dawson was kind of forgotten over the course of a horrific Florida season, but he looked like a dude at the Senior Bowl. Down in Mobile, he played extremely physical and confident, shining in practice overall. I think he can be an excellent player in slot, when he gets hands on those smaller guys and redirects them, but if he stays outside and plays off, he can get lost at the next level. He might not be the flashiest athlete, but I really his understanding and feel for the game.
Just missed the cut:
Nick Nelson, Wisconsin
Nelson transferred from Hawaii in 2016 and was named first-team All-Big Ten in his lone season up North. He doesn’t quite possess the length for boundary defenders, but he is in outstanding shape and plays with supreme confidence. Nelson loves to play heavy press and stays physical with those guys across from him, while using the sideline as a friend and the receiver’s arms as a signal for when to leave his feet. He rarely bites on double-moves or runs his feet away from the route. The 5’11’’ corner shows a lot of awareness in zone coverage and keeps his eyes locked on the QB. Versus Miami in the Orange Bowl, Nelson almost was called for pass-interference on a running back screen, because he arrived at the target that quickly. When they played Maryland, he was all over D.J. Moore, who is a top five wide receiver prospect on most people’s board. Unfortunately, Nelson lets receivers get the into his frame way too easily and fails to disengage in the run game. Moreover, he tugs the jersey on guys, who run past him, which he won’t get away with at the next level and he already was penalized for 183 yards over his last two seasons. Overall, Nelson recorded 41 career pass-breakups and led the nation in that department last season as a member of the Badgers, but he never came up with an interception in his college days. Yet, Wisconsin trusted him to field punts and I didn’t see any pass on tape, which he flat-out dropped.
Rashaan Gaulden, Tennessee
This guy might be the most experienced and well-rounded slot corner in the draft. He is quicker than fast, plays with an attitude and will punish receivers for trying to catch the ball on him. Gaulden never quits and he finishes plays. He reacts to what happens underneath of him and makes a lot of crucial stops. The 6’1’’ defensive back doesn’t open his hips prematurely and stays under control. He extends one arm and keeps the other one free when being blocked and at least holds up the ball-carrier consistently, if he doesn’t get a clear shot at that guy. Gaulden rushes hard off the edge and mixes things up with different looks. As a tackler, he puts his helmet on the ball and is literally looking to wrestle it out of the hands of the ball-carrier once he’s stood up. Versus Kentucky, he forced two fumbles, one of which he just ripped out of the hands of the running back right into his own. Gaulden was all over the field versus Alabama. On one snap he brought the scrambling Jalen Hurts down in front of the sticks, another one he pushed through the chest of a receiver in a stacked set, so he could knock the ball out the other guy’s hands on a quick screen and then he made a couple of plays on the ball in the air. Gaulden is a pretty feisty competitor, which I really like, but he doesn’t have a ton of ball-production with nine pass-deflections and just one INT over his 25 career games as a quasi-starter. Of course, I don’t want to see him pull out the double-bird to opposing fans, but I won’t hold that against him too much in a very frustrating year for the Vols. I think Gaulden is at his best as a nickel in zone coverage, where he shows great understanding of passing on receivers or following them. I don’t think he has the long speed or oily hips to survive on the boundary, but I really like him inside.
Quenton Meeks, Stanford
Meeks is very effective with his side-bail in cover-three as well as his jab in press-man. He is patient in his back-pedal and usually only opens up his hips once the receiver definitely goes vertical. I’ve seen him squat on 15-yard comebacks and be right on the receiver, when that guy puts his hand on the ball. The 6’2’’ corner races up against the run quickly and doesn’t wait for the ball-carrier to get to the second level. Meeks side-steps, dips and slips past his man once he sees the ball completed underneath of him, but he struggles a bit to disengages once receivers with a bigger frame get their hands on him. While he possesses very loose hips in general, he was caught off guard on a few sudden inside releases. Meeks gets himself into the right position, but isn’t a very active tackler, rather looking to pull the ball-carrier down to the ground. If the receiver gets a step on him and he needs to catch up, Meeks kind of gets lost and has trouble finding the ball in the air and once he gets beat deep, his cushion seems to get bigger. He also gets quite off balance if his initial jab misses. Based off his Washington tape, he looks like a first-rounder, against Washington State however, I thought he looked more like a day three guy. The Stanford DB wasn’t penalized in all of 2017. Since he likes to be so aggressive, but doesn’t have elite closing burst, I think Meeks is probably at his best as a corner in two-deep safety defenses. I’ve also seen some people project him as a safety, which could be interesting as well if he finds the right fit.
Brandon Facyson, Virginia Tech
At 6’2’’, Facyson has a long, lanky build. He knows how to use his excellent length to his advantage, getting his hands in front of receivers on slants and crossing routes, as well as playing the ball through the hands of the receiver on high passes. Facyson fought through some nagging injuries throughout his collegiate career, but he was a very productive contributor for the Virginia Tech program. The talented corner defended a school-high 39 passes in his career with the Hokies, but he didn’t manage to come up with a single interception since his freshman year, when he had five of them. Nevertheless, I believe Facyson tracks the deep ball very well and it’s not a matter of missing ball-skills. With his length, he can keep blockers away from his body, but either just jumps head-first into his tackles or grabs the ball-carrier with his hands only. He also lacks some transition quickness and I believe some of those explosive NFL wideouts with refined route-running might give him trouble going forward. The part I really like about him is that swagger he has about him and the attitude of not wanting to allow a single catch. Facyson was one of the favorites of his teammates and coaches, and if he finds the right scheme for him, he can really succeed.
Greg Stroman, Virginia Tech
Stroman allowed a QB rating of just 26.8 on the 2017 season, recorded four picks and ten pass-deflections, while surrendering just 12 receptions and 54 yards after the catch. He has the long speed to run with receivers 40, 50 yards down the field and the fact he made 35 plays on the ball, compared to just 39 solo tackles tells a major part of the story about his game. It’s not because he can’t bring people down – he just locked guys up in college. Stroman understands when to sink in zone if the underneath guy is covered. The coaches at Virginia Tech called him the fiercest competitor on the team and he was all over the Pittsburgh receivers, especially late in the game. What separates him from the top corners in this draft is his extremely skinny frame. He will be boxed out by NFL receivers, who know how to use their size, if Stroman doesn’t add to his 180 pounds. He isn’t afraid to get involved against the run game, but he simply doesn’t have the size to really take on anybody. Being a lightweight never was a problem for him at the collegiate level, but it has to be a concern in this league with all those big bodies. Regardless of that, I really enjoyed watching him compete during his time with Virginia Tech and I’m rooting for him.
Holton Hill, Texas
This guy is a long press-corner, who plays with a lot if physicality and toughness. Hill swipes away the hands of the receiver and comes downhill fast against the run, as well as completed passes underneath of him. No matter if he’s beat or a play goes the opposite way, he doesn’t give up on it. Moreover, he fights through picks and rub routes to get involved. Hill gets a little grabby at the top of the route and struggles to rotate his hips around against late inside releases or breaks away from him. Unlike a lot of those Big XII defenses, who run quarter coverages all the time, Hill has some experience in actual NFL-style defensive schemes. He played his best versus the biggest teams in Oklahoma, USC and Oklahoma State. I really like his aggressive nature, but he doesn’t fully trust his technique and has his troubles finding the ball in the air. His tape was very inconsistent in the big picture. More importantly, he was suspended for violating team rules in 2017 and his maturity is a major question mark for a lot of scouts. If he stays clean off the field and his future coaching staff allows him to continue to grow and rely more heavily on basic technique instead of raw physicality, Hill could develop into a quality starter.
The next guys up:
Tavarus McFadden (Florida State), Levi Wallace & Tony Brown (Alabama), Deatrick Nichols (USF), D.J. Reed (Kansas State), Avonte Maddox (Pittsburgh), J.C. Jackson (Maryland), Rashard Fant (Indiana), Parry Nickerson (Tulane), Michael Joseph (Dubuque)
Find more from Halil’s Real Footballtalk at https://halilsrealfootballtalk.com/