After talking about the best wide receivers available on Tuesday, we shift back to the guys covering them – the cornerbacks. When you look at that position, the scheme fit definitely matters more than at some other positions. I tend to differentiate between four different groups – the long press-bail / cover-three types you want in those Seattle-based schemes that so many teams run nowadays, true man-to-man corners, those in two-high safety shells who play a lot of quarters and flats as well supporting the run and nickelbacks lining up in the slot. Obviously you would love to have guys who can do all of those things, but those are extremely rare and I don’t see anybody in this class capable of all those roles.
I think this class of cornerbacks is a very deep one. There are only three, who I think are definitely worth a first-round pick, but there’s several fringe prospects and I think all ten names that I will present here should at least be off the board within the first two days of the draft. I think speed is a big concern with a lot of the guys of this group, but one thing is for sure – it doesn’t lack attitude.
1. Byron Murphy, Washington
This former All-American wide receiver and finalist for the top defensive back in college football redshirted his first year at Washington and earned Defensive Scout Player of the Year. In his first actual season he missed seven games due to a broken foot, but Murphy looked like a stud in limited action with two picks in the Huskies’ season debut and had an excellent Fiesta Bowl versus Penn State. As a sophomore he emerged as a first-team All-Pac 12 and second-team All-American, with four interceptions and 13 pass deflections.
Murphy is a smooth athlete with a lot of sudden traits. I don’t know if the average fan noticed it, but I thought he had one of the best combine field workouts I have seen from a defensive back. It’s not about the 4.55 in the 40. Murphy put together a clinic in the change-of-direction drills, showed oily hips and caught the ball exceptionally well, all despite having put on 14 pounds since the end of the season. The Washington corner is a highly instinctive player and smooth strider, who makes a lot of plays on the ball. There might be nobody in this draft class who identifies route patterns and has that ability to just stick his foot in the ground and go like this kid. Murphy used a lot of side-shuffle and bail technique with the Huskies. He has the athletic talent to go from a five-yard cushion with opened-up hips to break up hitch routes by going through the receiver in a heartbeat. In off-coverage Murphy drives on curl routes and other stuff with a hand on the ball trying to rip it loose and when Washington ran cover-two he was actually a threat to pick those off himself. Murphy has the length to wrap around receivers and make up for not being in perfect position and he can deliver some blows to separate receivers from the ball when he gets a running start. Not only does he have the vertical leap and long limbs to put hands on balls that seem out of reach, he can also track it over his head like a wide receiver and possesses outstanding make-up speed.
Murphy is quick to race upfield and shut down sweeps or other outside runs his way, where he usually shows good wrap-up form. He beats a lot of blocker to the spot and pulls them off himself, at least if they are in his size category. Murphy is also an excellent blitzer off the corner, who doesn’t give quarterbacks any signals that he’s coming and is dangerous especially on the boundary side, which leads to some run stops in the backfield as well. He took over the Pac-12 Championship game versus Utah by scoring the only touchdown on a pick-six, then coming up with another INT with less than five minutes and knocking down the final pass for the Utes. (even though it should have been called pass interference). On 62 targets in 2018 Murphy allowed just 78 yards after the catch, while allowing a passer rating of just 54.5. He had the highest coverage and overall grade for all cornerbacks in the nation by PFF. Murphy also surrendered just 18 first down on the year. He made so many extraordinary plays that are very unique. A broken up two-point conversion versus Auburn in the season-opener comes to mind, where his body is turned completely towards the end-line but his head is still looking the wildcat QB’s way and at the last moment he turns his body to knocks down a throw underneath him into the flats.
Murphy doesn’t always show a ton of effort fighting through blocks. He leaves his feet a lot as a tackler and misses some in the process. The former Husky corner has some trouble turning around against back-shoulder passes, which won’t get any better in the pros. He doesn’t a lot of experience with press-coverage and couldn’t really match big-bodied wideouts on in-breaking routes. Size may be a concern for teams longer looking for disruption off the line or if they feel like he won’t be able to compete for balls neck or higher.
In a class of cornerbacks that lacks a true blue-chip guy and has a lot of prospects with question marks, Byron Murphy is the best zone- and off-man corner available. I think he can travel into the slot, give you an excellent run-supporter and make plays on the ball for you. He might not have elite speed and his lack of physicality in press-alignment might limit his fits in some schemes, but I really like him because of his competitive edge.
2. Greedy Williams, LSU
Andreaz “Greedy” Williams got his nickname from his grandmother as a kid and opposing quarterbacks think alike when they see him go after the ball. Arriving in Baton Rouge as a four-star recruit, the all-state corner redshirted his first year and when a spot opened due to a suspended corner, Williams never looked back, starting every game over these two years for the Tigers. He was an All-SEC selection after leading the conference with six interceptions in 2017 and repeated that feet with less impressive statistics last year, when teams decided not to throw the ball his way anymore, which still earned him second-team All-American honors.
The All-American shutdown corner has elite size at 6’2’’ and speed with a 4.37 at the combine. Greedy plays with a serious swagger and trusts his physical tools. He primarily was in press-man for the Tigers, where he showed patience off the line to not fall for any stutters or quick head-fakes. He is elite when it comes to turning his hips and accelerating to full speed, which enables him not to so prematurely. He likes to be hands-on in coverage and used a ton of stack technique to slow receivers down. Then he has the length and flexibility to make a play on the ball on back-shoulder fades at the last moment from the inside position. He attacks through the hands of the receiver and denies several catches that way. While he can get lost when doing so on a few occasions, Greedy has a unique gift of being able to play the receiver and turn his head around at the last second to locate the ball, which helps him avoid penalties.
While he is a press-corner by trait, Greedy is also pretty good in off-coverage and zone, where he does a good job sinking and keeping his eyes on the quarterback. He is sneaky with slight grabs of the opposing jersey, can get pretty physical for such a lanky corner and doesn’t back down from anybody. He really got into it with Ole Miss’ D.K. Metcalf last season, who caught only three passes for 39 yards and was even called for a push-off later on in that game. In the 2017 Citrus Bowl, Notre Dame barely targeted him, but once they got “greedy”, he punished them with an INT. He was rushed off the edge quite a bit by the Tigers. Greedy is a tremendous talent and constantly talks to his opponents. In 2017 he allowed the second-lowest passer rating at 22.9 and that led offenses to stop throwing it his way last season.
He tackles receivers coming across the field into his area, but Williams is not the type of guy who will jump on piles. He sets soft edges and isn’t too concerned with the run game in general. Overall he will lunge into some tackles and rarely uses his arms to actually wrap up. Williams’ style of play down the field is way too hands-on for the NFL, so he will need a phase to adjust. He seemed a little frustrated when they faced Alabama in 2017 and he saw Calvin Ridley catch a bunch of passes on his side, but they were playing cover-three. Greedy doesn’t use his hands accordingly yet in press and won’t really disrupt receivers off the snap. As impressive as he was through his first one-and-a-half years, that second half of the 2018 season was really disappointing, not showing a lot of fight and playing pretty soft.
Williams has the premiere skill-set to dominate at the next level in him, but I could see guys like DeAndre Hopkins or Mike Evans just bully him with that slender build and I don’t think he is ready for the physicality of those guys. Over his two-year career with the Tigers Greedy has put up a passer rating of 43.0 when targeted. I guess he will be the first corner drafted because of his talent, but it depends on his willingness to be one of the best if he will pay off that pick.
3. Deandre Baker, Georgia
Baker was a three-star recruit from Miami Northwestern, who barely saw the field his first year in Athens. As a sophomore he started 7 of 12 games, intercepting two passes and breaking up another five. By his junior year, Baker was a full-time starter, who picked off three passes and deflected another nine, leading to second-team All-SEC honors. However, it was last year that he put himself into the conversation for the top corner in college football, being named first-team All-American and the winning the Jim Thorpe award, after making another 12 plays on the ball.
The former Bulldog doesn’t quite reach six feet, but he is very long. He won’t give away the coverage his defense is in and does stuff like giving a press look and then sinking deep moments before the snap. Baker trusts his eyes in zone and is aggressive in man. He might not have premiere speed, but gets away with it usually thanks to a quick flip of the hips to go vertical. This is a junkyard dog when the ball is in the air, fighting through the hands of the receiver, and unlike a lot of other guys, he really gets his paws directly on the ball instead of just ripping through whatever he can grab. Baker has good feel for route development and does a nice job high-pointing the ball in the air. He excels at using the sideline as his friend and pushes receivers into the boundary. Baker loves to play press and keeps sticky coverage, even when his man crosses the entire field. He also has some limited experience lining up in the slot as well. Baker is an excellent tackler and will not miss too many in one-on-one situations, shutting things down quickly, allowing just 31 yards after the catch.
Baker took the challenge of taking on Alabama’s Calvin Ridley in the 2018 National Championship game and despite Ridley getting free a couple of times early, which I thought he should have been thrown to, Baker stayed stride for stride with him for the most part when he was matched up against him. This young man has supreme confidence and looks at himself as by far the best corner in this draft. Watch his tape versus Missouri or Mississippi State – he was all over their receivers for 60 minutes and I don’t think you can put a single reception by them onto his account. He surrendered a passer-rating of just 32.7 in 2017 and was part of a very small group of cornerbacks that allowed less than half the passes thrown his way to be completed as a senior, as he led all SEC corners with a passer rating of 40.2 when targeted. The craziest stat however is that he hasn’t allowed a single touchdown since Georgia’s bowl game versus TCU in 2016.
However, Baker needs to do a much better job disengaging as receivers get into his chest and stay there gives up contain at times trying to cheat inside the block. At 180 pounds Baker can bodied by bigger receivers and he simply lacks the raw speed you want to see from top-tier defensive backs. Because of that he you see him surrender underneath completions as he has to protect against the deep ball. Overall he was rarely left on an island all by himself, being part of a zone-heavy Bulldog scheme that gave him help over the top. He can also get a little grabby at the top of routes.
If you are looking for a corner with alpha dog mentality and tremendous success in college football’s best conference, this is your guy. If you are looking for a physical specimen look elsewhere. I think Baker could fit multiple schemes and would be a great addition to any defense. You might want to put him on number two’s and have him take those guys away, but that’s still really valuable as well.
4. Amani Oruwariye, Penn State
This former three-star recruit from Tampa made a rather small impact in his first two years with the Nittany Lions (two PBUs and one INT), but showed his potential in 2017, when he earned second-team All-Big 10 honors with four interceptions and seven pass deflections. Last season he improved to first-team all-conference thanks to another three picks and 11 broken-up passes.
At 6’2”, 205 pounds, Oruwariye is a very long corner with 4.47 speed. In zone coverage he plays with his eyes on the quarterback and show tremendous route recognition. He has shown the ability to go up and contest catches as well as the natural ball-skills to come down with them himself. That way he made the game-sealing interception in overtime when his Nittany Lions were nearly upset by Appalachian State in week one of 2018. For such a lanky corner, Oruwariye can break on the ball out of his pedal very well to take away curl and comeback routes, even though I’d like to see some more consistency in that area. He is at his best against three-step drops, when he can click and close just like that.
When matched up in man, he shows comfort in his pedal and doesn’t get jumpy when he sees that initial break. While he didn’t do it that much in college, Oruwariye has the tools to get into the frame of receivers and disrupt routes. The former Penn State star does an outstanding job not panicking when the ball is in the air, either turning his head around to locate it and putting himself into position to catch it himself or playing through the hands of the receiver, where he has the length to make it tough at the point of the catch. Oruwariye usually shows a lot of urgency in run support, going through one shoulder of the blocker and forcing plays back inside or filling up as the force defender. You see him sniff out plenty of sweep plays and cut down ball-carriers at the line of scrimmage. He also blitzed of the edge a whole lot for his defense.
With that being said, Oruwariye has some trouble rolling his hips to drive on inside-breaking routes and makes that area accessible way too easily. His press coverage definitely still needs some work when it comes to timing and placement of punches. Him breaking on the ball in off-man is still somewhat of a work in progress, as he flashes tremendous ability in that area, but will also get out of position and take some extra steps when he needs to protect against the deep ball. However, Oruwariye also will give up his deep third responsibility occasionally. It’s like he just launches head-first into every single tackle and doesn’t even know that he has arms .
Oruwariye had an excellent all-around Senior Bowl week against some of the top receivers in the country. He has the versatility to mix up man and zone, fitting several defensive schemes. He has put together impressive ball production and made plenty of splash plays over this last two years. The lack of success in press-coverage considering his body type is a little frustrating, but there is a lot to work with.
5. Julian Love, Notre Dame
A two-time state champion from the Chicago Area, Love stayed at home to join the Fighting Irish. He started the final eight games of his true freshman season with some pretty good success and never missed a game since that point. As a sophomore he ranked second nationally with 20(!) pass-breakups and three interceptions, which he took two to the house of. Last year he was a Jim Thorpe finalist and AP All-American with another 17 passes defensed.
Love played a ton in off-coverage and has made as many plays on the balls as anybody over that two-year stretch. He attacks upfield off his backpedal so quickly and even contests simple slant and hitch routes. You better not be late on throws or try to find your outlet receiver against Love, because he will already be all over that guy. Neither would I try to throw it away his direction, because he sees everything. When the scramble drill happens, he stays attached to his man. Love has such sudden deceleration having turned either way and gets back on top of routes. The former Irish corner is patient with opening his hips and even though he didn’t run that well at the combine (4.54 in the 40), I didn’t really see issues staying stride-for-stride with outside guys on tape.
This is a playmaker at that corner position, who keeps his eyes on the quarterback, anticipates route patterns and is not afraid of jumping routes. Two of Love’s three interceptions in 2017 came when he undercut throws and he took those back to the house. He consistently comes around with that inside arm to knock the ball down and has the other hand around the receiver’s shoulder pad in the rare case that guy actually catches it. When the ball is completed in front of him, he doesn’t wait for receivers to make up ground, instead being aggressive and finishing his tackles. Love has excellent understanding of down-and-distances and when he can jump routes. That earned the number four overall coverage grade by PFF. His only touchdown allowed last season came against J.J. Arcega-Whiteside posting him up at the goal-line. While the pop in his tackles comes more in flashes, Love rarely lets guys get away and allows teammates to join the party. Overall he is very active in run support and approaches the ball-carrier with a low pad level.
Love almost exclusively lined up off on the right perimeter, although he moved around a bunch in the 2017 N.C. State game. With little experience in press and receivers coming at him at full throttle, he might not quite be able to hold up against true speedster running by him. Love gets caught on double-moves every once in a while, because he wants to beat receivers to the spot so badly, At sub-six feet there are some limitations of who you can match him up against in the red-zone and in some spots on the field.
This kid has been one of my favorites to watch these last two years. Love might not have elite size or speed, but he has a tremendous feel for the position and his production is undeniable. He is ultra-competitive and his commitment to the film room is undeniable when you see how all over he is on different routes and concepts. I’m not sure if he’s a true number one corner against a Julio Jones or guys like that, but he would be an outstanding CB2 and I could see him move into the slot at times as well.
6. Rock Ya-Sin, Temple
This two-time former all-state wrestler Georgia was not highly recruited coming out of high school and decided to join the FCS program Presbyterian. After a strong freshman year in a reserve role he became a full-time starter in his second season. Ya-Sin was a first-team All-Big South performer in 2017, intercepting five passes and breaking up another eight. After that he decided to transfer to Temple, where he quickly earned one of those highly touted single-digit numbers. In that one year against FBS competition he immediately became a first-team All-AAC performer, leading the Owls with 12 PBUs and two interceptions.
Ya-Sin has created a lot of buzz during this pre-draft process about being like glue in coverage. His body-type with long arms and good definition throughout his frame is already intriguing and when you see what he did in one year of DBS action, you really want to like him. I would describe him as a fierce competitor with a scrappy style of play and he likes to chirp once the whistle is blown. In press Ya-Sin plays with balanced footwork and stays squared up to his target off the line. He can faceguard receivers without making premature contact. Ya-Sin plays through the hands of receivers exceptionally well and has a good feel for back-shoulder throws. His 39.5-inch vertical and 32-inch arms obviously help to crowd the catch point. This kid is a PBU-specialist who really competes to force those incompletions.
While he likes to put hands on the receiver to feel routes coming, it’s Ya-Sin incredibly quick feet that allow him to stay with guys out of their breaks. His ability to accelerate and decelerate is just easy and he displays impressive speed turns with good overall fluidity of the hips. His ability to bring those hips around is tremendous, as he can bite on outside nods or jab-steps and still make a play on inside-breaking routes. Ya-Sin has a special ability to flip his head when leaning too much and recovering against receivers coming out of the breaks. He made a lot of money during Senior Bowl week, where he constantly searched for the challenge of going up against South Carolina’s Deebo Samuels. Ya-Sin pretty much locked down everybody down in Mobile outside of that tremendous matchup.
The former Temple corner is definitely quicker than fast, lacking that top gear to run underneath deep balls and make plays downfield consistently. He allows receivers to get into his chest way too easily in the run game and struggles mightily to disengage, often times not even showing up in the broadcast view as the play progresses. His punch technique in press definitely still needs some work and could be way more disruptive. Ya-Sin’s coverage style overall might be a little too grabby for NFL referees and he probably will have to adjust a little, putting on those baking gloves in practice.
Ya-Sin is a player nobody really talked about before the college season ended, but after people saw him at the Senior Bowl and started watching his tape, he has been shooting up draft boards. While he primarily played on the left outside, he should be a good inside at nickel as well. That combination of athleticism and competitiveness puts him in the first-round conversation.
7. Lonnie Johnson Jr., Kentucky
While being a football and track star in his hometown in Indiana, Johnson joined a community college initially before sitting a year to work on his academics. When he arrived in Lexington, the Kentucky coaches were so impressed that they inserted him into the starting lineup for their last five game. Last year he was the number one corner for the Wildcats, intercepting one pass and breaking up another four, while taking on the opposing teams’ best receiver constantly.
At more than 6’2” with 32 ½-inch arms, Johnson already improved his draft stock by just showing up for Senior Bowl measurements and he really made scouts go back to the film with a highly impressive week, going up against all kinds of top receivers from around the country. Johnson’s speed at 4.52 is perfectly fine at 213 pounds. He is extremely physical, pushing guys into the sideline and landing stabs on receivers off the line. Johnson primarily lined up on the boundary side against the opposing team’s single receiver. He definitely has the length to disrupt those guys at the point of the catch or rip the ball out late. After he does so he will his opponents know and constantly talks trash.
Johnson watches the hips of receivers and you rarely see him lose a step on guys once he turns those hips to run downfield with them. Combine that length with a 38-inch vertical and you have a guy, who can actually make those 50-50 balls more than an even proposition the defense’ way. Usually Johnson races up quickly against run plays and quick screens, trying to shut them down right away. He shows flashes of being a violent hitter from the cornerback spot and punches at the ball when he has a chance to. Johnson made an incredible leaping interception with full extension versus Penn State in the Citrus Bowl.
Unfortunately, that was his lone career INT and that lack of production is a little concerning for some teams. At times Johnson is content with just throwing a shoulder into the tackle and has guys bouncing off those hits. His contain responsibilities will lapse every once in a while. Johnson completely whiffs on some punch attempts in press and definitely needs some coaching in that area, considering the rest of him is made to play that role. He is certainly not the smoothest when it comes to transitions and you see a significant hitch when he decides to drive on the ball in off-coverage, surrendering too many easy underneath completions.
With his ability to get physical with the receivers in one-on-ones and stay on their hip throughout the development of routes, Johnson is a highly intriguing prospect. He really boosted his draft stock with his performance down in Mobile and he put up some pretty good numbers at the combine for a big corner. He is far from a finished product, but the upside is immense if you can refine his technique in press. Apparently there are some scouts around the league that think Johnson could end up being the top corner from this draft a couple of years from now.
8. Justin Layne, Michigan State
A former All-Ohio receiver, Michigan State coaches moved Layne to the defensive side of the ball midway through his true freshman season. He ended up starting the team’s final five games and even recorded a pick-six. As a full-time starter in 2017 he was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection with eight PBUs and an INT. He improved to second-team all-conference with 15 passes knocked down, which ranked top ten nationwide.
Layne has experience in a variety of coverages – press-man, two-high safety shells and cover-three, although the Spartans put him out there one-on-one quite a bit and he is at his best right over opponents. He has a prototype skill-set for a press corner at close to 6’3” with 33-inch arms. Layne is physical off the line and stays plastered to receivers. He has the length to redirect opponents and stick a hand in the basket of receivers late. Layne was all over Ohio State’s wide receivers in their matchup last season, outside of Terry McLaurin getting a step on him once, breaking up several passes. His only touchdown allowed last season came against Arizona State superstar N’Keal Harry.
The former MSU corner plays the eyes and hands of receivers exceptionally well, while having the trusts to get a hand up when turning his head as well as the long arms to reach in-between the paws of the receiver. In off-coverage he shows patient footwork and with the way he moved in the on-field drills at the combine, he showed better change-of-direction and fluidity than I expected. Layne keeps bouncy feet when he is sorting through the trash and shoots upfield when the ball-carrier bounces outside his way. Overall as a tackler I would like to see better form, but he arrives low and usually gets the job done. When Layne can come up on receivers stopping for the ball, he blasts through them. He will not allow screen passes on his watch and was used as a blitzer on some occasions as well.
Layne’s base gets a little too wide and he allows free access to routes breaking inside. He is a little leggy in general and will have his troubles against some of those shiftier guys. Layne simply doesn’t give you that closing ability to just read and react to underneath routes when assigned with zone responsibilities. In general, his footwork can get a little sloppy and his awareness in space is still developing. For a former wide receiver, Layne doesn’t catch the ball very naturally and dropped a couple of interceptions on the tape I watched.
Assuming LSU’s Greedy Williams will go in the top 20 at least, this is your next bump-and-run corner to target. Layne can mix up his punches and stabs, crowds receivers not only off the ball, but also at the catch point, and he can play some zone as well. His hands-on style of play will call for some adjustments, but I don’t see him slip out of the first 50 picks with a team falling in love with him.
9. Trayvon Mullen, Clemson
The first cousin of former Heisman trophy and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, Mullen arrived at Clemson as a top 100 national recruit as a receiver, but saw limited action in six games as a freshman and had to earn playing time through special teams primarily. He started all but one game in 2017 and intercepted three passes on his way to an All-ACC honorable mention. Last season he was a second-team all-conference performer, who ended the year with a National Championship MVP trophy.
Mullen has elite length at 6’2”. He actually didn’t play that much true press with disruptive hands, but he likes reducing the cushion to a minimum and mirroring the guys lined up across from him. Mullen stays attached to his receiver down the field and forces him into the boundary, not allowing himself to be stacked. His long arms enable him to reach around pass-catchers and put his paws on the ball. He takes away some completions, where the receiver already has the ball in his hands, but Mullen jumps on that guy and strips down on it. You see him jump up after breaking up passes and get really fired up. The former Clemson CB1 lined up in the slot on occasion as well for certain matchups.
This young man has experience in a very diverse defensive scheme under Brent Venables, which will make it easy for him to fit into several pro systems. He has experience playing on and off. Mullen uses a light pedal when playing off-coverage, but pretty much sits on routes and attacks them aggressively when he can play flat-footed. He shows a fluid turn of the hips for a rather lanky guy and allowed the fewest yards per coverage snap among all ACC corners last season, limiting opponents to 0.65 yards a snap. Mullen is a reliable contain defender in the run game, who forces plays back inside and cuts down ball-carriers by their ankles. He was used as a blitzer from the boundary side quite a bit and got a sack that way in the National Championship game versus Bama last year. You see him mix up looks and shows pressure on some occasions as well.
Mullen is not very interested in getting involved when the ball is caught somewhere across the middle or the run goes the other way. At times he lets his man slip because he is too focused on knocking the ball down with his inside arm and doesn’t secure the tackle with the other. Mullen surrenders some easy underneath completions with too much cushion in zone coverage and won’t really jump on curl or hitch routes either. Overall I think he is not the most instinctive player when it comes to anticipating route patterns. He loses track a little on downfield throws, especially when put to the back-shoulder of the receiver, and gets turned around by some guys nodding outside before coming back inside for slip or tunnel screens.
While you love the length and speed with Mullen, the lack of instincts and consequent ball production is discouraging. You like the competitiveness and experience in a pro-style defense however. I think Mullen might not have number one corner written all over him, but he would fit well as the second guy in a press-man heavy scheme.
10. JoeJuan Williams, Vanderbilt
This former all-state pick from Nashville was quickly recruited by the nearby Commodores. After spending his first year as a reserve, Williams started all 26 games these last two years. He was already a strong cog in that defense as a sophomore, breaking up ten passes, but it was last season that he really put his name on the map, recording four interceptions, 14 PBUs and being voted second-team All-SEC by league coaches.
Williams is ridiculously long press-corner at 6’3”. He was almost exclusively lined up on the right outside of the defense, but also was used to match up with some receivers in specific games. While speed isn’t his forte, Williams rarely was beaten deep. He recovers against curls and comebacks surprisingly well for long-legged guy. Williams is about as physical and hands-on as any corner in this draft. He stacks a ton of routes and won’t even let guys get a step on him. In addition to that, he will turn his head and find the ball once he sees his receiver tracking it. I think Williams has the skill-set to develop into a tight-end eraser and matchup piece for some NFL team. He rips at the ball until the very last moment and still cancels some completions that were all but called dead. He had this wonderful late denial versus Ole Miss along the sideline that way.
For a guy his size, Williams shows excellent closing burst, which leads to successful late contests combined with his length. He does a good job forcing receivers inside in cover-two and falling off when there is no underneath target for him to cover. Williams generally stays true to his assignments and doesn’t bite on transparent fakes underneath. This is a premiere run-support corner and tough to get away from because of his length and strength. He doesn’t mind going through somebody to shut down screen passes his way. Williams had a really strong day versus Miles Boykin and the Notre Dame receivers as well as A.J. Brown and DeMarkus Lodge of Ole Miss, who both had pretty good days, but almost all of their production came against the opposite corner. Williams allowed a reception on less than every twelve coverage snaps.
Long speed is a major question mark with Williams, running 4.64 at the combine. He lacks some patience in press and won’t be able to recover from missed punches against the top-flight athletes in the NFL the way he did versus college opponents. However, he also doesn’t bring much upside in off-man, because of limited change-of-direction ability. He will try to rip the ball loose instead of making the secure tackle at times and misses a few of them. His style of play will not directly translate to the next level, when you see how he snatches cloth at the top of routes.
Williams would fit well as a press-man corner against big-bodied wideout or in a cover-two based scheme, where he can also be physical underneath and helps out your run defense. You could call him somewhat of a developmental prospect and speed is a major limitation when it comes to his fits, but I really enjoyed the bullyish style of play and the way he imposed his will on some of the receivers he faced.
Just missed the cut:
David Long, Michigan
This former top 100 national recruit from Los Angeles didn’t record a single tackle even his freshman year, but started all games in year two and recorded a couple of picks plus six pass break-ups. Last season he made a name for himself as a first-team All-Big Ten selection and absolute shutdown corner, who was part of a Michigan defense that allowed just 13.5 points through the first 11 weeks before that meeting with Ohio State. Long was eavily deployed in man-coverage throughout games and consistently gets hands on receivers and takes them off their route. He stays physical with his man throughout plays and continues to be air-tight to them, plus when those routes stall, he will look back and try to make a play on the ball. That way he allowed a completion rate of just 28.1%, a passer rating of 37.0 and a micoscopicly small 0.14 yards per coverage snap in 2018, as part of one of the elite secondaries in college football. Long makes some tremendous plays, extending himself to break up passes in front of him and knocks them out of the hands of receivers on crossers or slants routes. He also lined up in the slot a whole lot for the Wolverines. Long typically a very dependable tackler, who does well to wrap up and lift ball-carriers off their feet when the opportunity arises, even if those guys outweigh him by several pounds. While he can control the pace of the route and stay “attached” to receivers for the most part, if Long gets stacked he doesn’t have the closing burst to catch up once somebody gains a step on him vertically. He really struggles to get off bigger bodies in the run-game and isn’t overly urgent at supporting the run in general, marked by just 37 career tackles. His size is also a concern on jump-balls and back-shoulder fades. Similar to Jourdan Lewis a couple of years ago, Long is another Michigan corner who has been incredibly successful at the collegiate level, but might not have the size or premiere athletic tools to be looked at as a true number one outside corner. He is not nearly as effective when facing physical big bodies, who can deal with his press, or shiftier smaller ones, who can elude them entirely. Nevertheless, I think he can be a valuable addition at nickel for some team, similar to the way his former teammate Lewis is for the Cowboys – even if he is run defense or lack thereof is concerning.
Jamel Dean, Auburn
Talk about a bad start to a collegiate career. Dean was medically disqualified by Ohio State due to suffering multiple knee injuries and had to sit out the year after transferring to Auburn. He hurt his knee once again during 2016 preseason camp. Finally healthy in ’17, he started 11 of 14 games for the Tigers, breaking up eight passes. Last season he started all but one game, intercepting two passes and deflecting another nine. This kid is a press-cover specialist, who almost looks like a linebacker at 6’1”, 210+ pounds. Dean is patient in his approach off the line and uses the sideline as a 12th defender, in order to take away space for the ball to be completed. He puts his outside arm on the inside armpit of the receiver and feels breaks coming, plus he has the feet to contest curl routes. Dean quickly closes throwing windows on inside-breaking routes when he stays on the hip-pocket of his man. Dean shows some nifty moves like pinning the arms of receivers and limiting their ability to attack the ball in the air. With a 41-inch vertical and excellent length he can contest high throws. He led all corners at the combine with a 4.3 flat in the 40, showing the ability to turn and run with just about anybody not named Jerry Jeudy. This young man extremely physical for the cornerback position, as bench-presses receivers trying to put hands on him and plays through them. He doesn’t mind sticking his in the box and taking on offensive linemen in space either. He even put LSU’s left tackle on his butt who was sliding over late to the blitzing Dean. Unfortunately he doesn’t display the sudden quickness or instincts to make plays on the ball in off-coverage. Dean relies too heavily on his jam off the line and gets his feet stuck in the mud a little, which forces his to grab jerseys as guys start get a step on him. He is not the most aggressive tackler and is content with just dragging guys down a lot of the time. Dean’s pursuit from the back-side of run plays is very limited. The medical reports on his knees will be a huge factor in Dean’s draft positional. Physically he has pretty much all you want, even if his feet are a little slow, but I think he is press-man corner only by nature.
Next guys up:
Iman Marshall (USC), Sean Bunting (Central Michigan), Saivion Smith (Alabama), Isaiah Johnson (Houston), Kris Boyd (Texas), Michael Jackson (Miami), Montre Hartage (Northwestern), Brian Peavy (Iowa State), Jimmy Moreland (James Madison), Ken Webster (Ole Miss), Hamp Cheevers (Boston College)
For positional rankings on the top running backs, linebackers, interior offensive and defensive linemen, offensive tackles, edge rushers and wide receivers in the NFL draft go to halilsrealfootballtalk.com