NFL Draft 2017: Ranking the top 10 defensive backs

Oct 29, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines linebacker Jabrill Peppers (5) runs the ball during the first half of a game against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 NFL Draft features a strong group of defensive backs but here are the 10 best from this year’s class.

The college football season saw a number of defensive backs emerge as top prospects at the next level. In this year’s NFL Draft, we take a look at the top 10 defensive backs.

The SEC is no longer the only collegiate conference with NFL-level talent. The Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences are close on their heels. The Washington Huskies are one team that is emerging as a school to watch with some top defensive talent.

The Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines are still battling for conference supremacy as well, with both teams having a number of talented prospects on this year’s draft board. Overall, it looks like the Buckeyes have strength in numbers, but the Wolverines may have the best overall defensive back with Jabrill Peppers leading the way.

The Alabama Crimson Tide doesn’t have a lot of defensive backs in this draft, they’re heavy in the linebacker department this year. However, they’ve still got one notable name on the list. Here’s a look at the top 10 defensive backs in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Jan 2, 2017; Pasadena, CA, USA; USC Trojans defensive back Adoree’ Jackson (2) intercepts a pass intended for Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins (3) the 103rd Rose Bowl against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Rose Bowl. USC defeated Penn State 52-49 in the highest scoring game in Rose Bowl history. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

10

Adoree’ Jackson

CB, USC

USC Trojans cornerback Adoree’ Jackson entered 2016 with a lot of promise and impressed scouts with his abilities. He finished his junior season as a Thorpe Award winner and first-team All-American with the USC Trojans. In the Pac-12, he earned 2016 Defensive Player of the Year.

Jackson finished the season with 55 total tackles (46 solo, 9 assisted), 11 pass breakups, 5 interceptions, 2.0 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He also was a special on kick and punt returns. He had 767 kick return yards and two kick return touchdowns and 315 punt return yards and two punts for touchdowns.

Jackson was also utilized some on offense this season. He caught two passes for 76 yards and a receiving touchdown. His versatility was on full-display all season long for a USC Trojans team that went 10-3.

He ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and also registered a 36″ vertical leap. He’ll give an NFL team a great cover corner whose overcome issues with his size to do great things. As the NFL Draft approaches, early projections have Jackson going early to late in round two.

Apr 8, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Marcus Maye (20) looks on in the fourth quarter during the Orange and Blue game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Blue won 38-6. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

9

Marcus Maye

S, Florida

Florida Gators safety Marcus Maye had a quiet senior season by his own standards, but he missed the last four games of 2016 with a broken arm. Maye was still part of a unit that allowed just 16.8 points (6th in the FBS) and 148.5 passing yards per game in 2016. He was selected to second-team All-SEC for his play and gives pro teams an NFL-ready body with room for development in the NFL Draft.

Maye had 50 total tackles (29 solo, 21 assisted), five pass breakups and an interception in 2016. In his junior season, he earned USA Today All-American honors with 77 total tackles (43 solo, 34 assisted), 6 pass breakups, 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and 2 interceptions. He was third in the conference that season in forced fumbles and eighth in the FBS.

The senior safety split time at the nickel back and safety positions in 2014. He’s got solid tackling ability at 6-foot and 210-pounds and has good instincts in pass and run support.

Maye didn’t perform at the NFL Combine remains one of the top-rated defensive backs in this year’s NFL Draft. He’s currently projected to be a second-round pick.

Nov 19, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Budda Baker (32) sacks Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Manny Wilkins (5) during the first quarter at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

8

Budda Baker

S, Washington

Safety Budda Baker only got better by the year while with the Washington Huskies. He ended putting his name in this year’s NFL Draft early, and with good reason.

Baker put up 80 total tackles (58 solo, 22 assisted), 6 pass breakups, 2.0 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, a sack and an interception in his freshman season. In his sophomore season, he put up 49 total tackles, 2 interceptions and seven pass breakups.

Baker’s junior season was a breakout one for him. In 2016, Baker had 70 total tackles (48 solo, 22 assisted), 9.5 tackles for loss, 5 pass breakups, 3.0 sacks, 2 interceptions and a forced fumble.

He put his hard-hitting ability on full display this past season leading the Huskies in total tackles and tackles for loss on his way to first-team All-Pac 12 honors.

Baker enters the NFL Draft a bit undersized at safety but his 4.45 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine should make up for that. Current draft projections have Baker going late in the first round to early in the second round.

Dec 31, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley (8) intercepts a pass intended for Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams (bottom) during the first quarter in the 2016 CFP semifinal at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

7

Gareon Conley

CB, Ohio State

Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Gareon Conley is the latest Urban Meyer product to hit the NFL Draft. Last year, Eli Apple was drafted 10th overall to the New York Giants. This year, Conley joins a group of talented Buckeyes players to hit the NFL Draft in the past few seasons.

He had 26 total tackles (21 solo, 5 assisted), 8 pass breakups and 4 interceptions in 2016 to earn second-team All-Big Ten honors. He was fifth in the conference and third on the team in interceptions last season.

In 2015, Conley had 49 total tackles (33 solo, 16 assisted), 5 pass breakups and 2 interceptions. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in that season.

Conley was a trusted cornerback in coverage the past two seasons on Ohio State’s defense. He made 26 straight starts in 2015 and 2016 and enters this year’s NFL Draft as a top defensive back. The Buckeyes’ secondary allowed just 172.2 passing yards last season. He is currently projected to be a first round pick.

Sep 10, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers cornerback Tre’Davious White (18) carries the ball between Jacksonville State Gamecocks safety Delwyn Torbert (21) and safety Ra’Shad Green (8) as he carries the ball in the first quarter at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

6

Tre’Davious White

CB, LSU

Tigers cornerback Tre’Davious White made his presence known on the football field as soon as he stepped on LSU’s campus. He was a four-year starter who earned All-American honors this past season.

White earned freshman All-SEC honors back in 2013, racking up 55 total tackles (39 solo, 16 assisted), 7 pass breakups, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions and a forced fumble.

White had just 35 total tackles (19 solo, 16 assisted) this past season. But he also had 14 pass break ups, 4.0 tackles for loss, two interceptions and an interception return for a touchdown.

He finished 2016 as a first-team All-American and first-team All-SEC selection. He’s got great patience in press coverage and has experience in the punt return game. He had 688 punt return yards and three punt return touchdowns through 2014-16.

White serves as another defensive back with pro-level skill out of LSU. His experience against SEC offenses will serve him well at the next level. With his 4.47 speed in the 40-yard dash, he’s currently projected to be drafted anywhere between the first and second rounds.

Dec 31, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Marlon Humphrey (26) during warm-ups before the 2016 CFP Semifinal against the Washington Huskies at the Georgia Dome. Alabama defeated Washington 24-7. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

5

Marlon Humphrey

CB, Alabama

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey only needed two seasons to prove himself with the Alabama Crimson Tide. His early entry to the NFL Draft is another sign of a deep class of defensive backs in the 2017 class.

Humphrey racked up 81 total tackles (61 solo, 20 assisted), 13 pass breakups, 6.5 tackles for loss, 5 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles and an interception return touchdown in the past two seasons in Tuscaloosa.

He earned freshman All-American honors in 2015 and first-team All-American honors in 2016. He led a secondary scored a lot of defensive touchdowns until it’s final loss of the season. Humphrey recorded an interception return for a touchdown in the team’s season opener over the USC Trojans and seemingly never looked back.

Despite his youth, Humphrey’s got good size at 6-foot-0 and 197-pounds. He’s got good toughness and speed in coverage (4.41 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine) but still a lot to learn. Currently, he’s projected to be a first round pick.

December 31, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Marshon Lattimore (2) tackles Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) in the 2016 CFP semifinal at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

4

Marshon Lattimore

CB, Ohio State

Marshon Lattimore is another Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback with something to prove at the next level. He played alongside Gareon Conley to make up one of the most dynamic duos of defensive backs in college football last season.

Lattimore is an early entry to the NFL Draft despite limited experience in the past two seasons. He played in just three games in 2015 before being sidelined with injury.

He came back stronger than ever in 2016. Lattimore posted 41 total tackles (30 solo, 11 assisted), 9 pass breakups, 4 interceptions, a tackle for loss and an interception return for a touchdown. He had nine tackles in the teams’ 30-23 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers back on October 15.

He was a first-team All-Big Ten selection and ranked sixth in the conference in interceptions. At the NFL Combine, Lattimore ran a 4.36 40-yard dash and had a 38.5″ vertical leap, showing no signs his early hamstring injuries are bothering him. He’s currently projected to be drafted in the first round.

Dec 31, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; LSU Tigers safety Jamal Adams (33) reacts after they they stopped Louisville Cardinals on 4th down during the second half at Camping World Stadium. LSU Tigers defeated the Louisville Cardinals 29-9. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

3

Jamal Adams

S, LSU

Safety Jamal Adams is another prospect from the LSU Tigers in a deep class of defensive backs. He was three-year starter at LSU before entering his name in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Adams started in all 24 games the past two seasons, two in 2014. He earned All-American as well as All-SEC honors this past season for his performance on a highly-ranked defense.

Adams tallied 76 total tackles (42 solo, 34 assisted), 7.5 tackles for loss, 4 pass breakups, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 2016. He recorded four interceptions in his sophomore season back in 2015.

Adams is a hard-hitting safety that NFL teams would love to have. He has impact potential in the right secondary at the pro level. In the SEC, he proved he can lead but he’ll have to turn things up a notch in the NFL. He’s currently projected to be a first round pick.

Nov 12, 2016; Iowa City, IA, USA; Michigan Wolverines linebacker Jabrill Peppers (5) carries the ball as Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Desmond King (14) defends during the first half at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

2

Jabrill Peppers

S, Michigan

Michigan Wolverines safety Jabrill Peppers is the most versatile defensive backs in this year’s draft class. He was a finalist for this year’s Heisman Trophy, finishing fifth in final voting. He made 25 starts in 27 games for the Wolverines.

Peppers made the move from safety to linebacker in 2016 but he still did other things too. He had 66 total tackles (46 solo, 20 assisted), 13.0 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, an interception and even more work on special teams and offense.

On special teams, he had 21 punt returns for 310 punt returns yards and a touchdowns. He also had 10 kick returns for 260 kick return yards. On offense, he had 27 rushes for 167 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. He led the Big Ten in punt return yards and also earned the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2016.

Peppers worked out with both the cornerbacks and safeties at the NFL Combine, showing his work ethic on the field. But, he’s voiced his desire to play in the NFL as a safety. The 5-foot-11, 213-pound safety prospect ran a 4.46 40-yard dash, finishing in the top five among safeties at the combine and had a 35.5-inch vertical leap. He’s currently projected to picked in the first round.

Oct 8, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes safety Malik Hooker (24) returns the interception during the second half against the Indiana Hoosiers at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes won 38-17. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

1

Malik Hooker

S, Ohio State

Malik Hooker is the last of a slew of Ohio State Buckeyes’ defensive backs in this year’s deep draft class. Hooker proved to be a great anchor on the Buckeyes’ defense in 2016.

The early draft entree had 74 total tackles (43 solo, 31 assisted), 7 interceptions, 5.5 tackles for loss, 4 pass breakups and three interception returns for touchdowns. He was a first-team All-American and Big-Ten selection after making 13 starts in his final collegiate season.

Hooker had a 16-yard interception return for a touchdown in the season finale 30-27 double overtime victory over Michigan back on November 26. He also had seven tackles.

He had seven tackles and an interception against the Clemson Tigers in the College Football Playoff Semifinal, but it wasn’t enough in a 31-0 shutout. Hooker, did however, injure himself in that game and as a result, didn’t perform at the NFL Combine after undergoing surgery.

Despite lingering injury concerns, Hooker is still being looked at as a top safety in this year’s draft. He’s currently projected to be a top 10 pick.

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