Rankings are subject to change based on player workout numbers and injury updates this spring, but for these early rankings, I go solely off of the film grade.
When evaluating players, I use a 12-trait system with certain traits weighted more than others depending on the position. The scoring adds up to 100 possible points. I also watch a minimum of four games per-player before assigning a player grade.
This is a very deep class of cornerbacks, and frankly, a tough one to rank. There isn’t a lot separating the top 5-6 guys. They’re all so good and could have a chance of going in the first round.
Honestly, it was only the smallest detail that led me to favor one cornerback over another, and some of it even came down to personal preference. I went back and forth a lot and rewatched several games before I finalized my grades for the top six players.
Quincy Wilson and Marlon Humphrey head the class, and their ability to excel in man coverage, while also having great size and length give them a slight nod over the other cornerbacks in the class. Wilson is the top lockdown corner of the class, and Humphrey is physical and has a ton of raw ability.
Sidney Jones, Teez Tabor, Marshon Lattimore, and Gareon Conley all have similar size and are excellent athletes with tremendous ball skills. They make a ton of plays and could find an immediate role in the NFL. You could make a case that any of these four are the top corner in the class, and it would be hard to dispute.
Desmond King is a physical defensive back with good playmaking ability, who can make his presence felt near the line of scrimmage. However, he’s an average athlete with subpar speed who may fit better at safety or in a nickel role in the NFL.
Cordrea Tankersley and Kevin King are bigger boundary corners who could go on Day 2 of the draft, while Jourdan Lewis and Adoree Jackson are phenomenal athletes who could be outstanding nickel corners at the next level.
Rasul Douglas and Howard Wilson are two guys that are generating a lot of buzz. I have only watched a handful of games on each prospect and I currently have mid-round grades on them. However, they could be guys that climb up my rankings the more film I watch on them.
Personally, one of my favorite players to evaluate of the group is Colorado’s Chidobe Awuzie. He’s not a traditional lockdown man cover corner. However, he’s a tremendous zone player where he can keep his eyes on the quarterback and use his instincts to drive on the ball and make plays. He’s a very physical defensive back who’s great in run support and playing up near the line of scrimmage.
Most Underrated CB: Chidobe Awuzie
Most Difficult CB to Project: Desmond King
CB that needs Further Evaluation: Howard Wilson/Rasul Douglas
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the specific breakdowns on each of the top 10 cornerbacks who will be available in this year’s NFL Draft …
Washington Huskies defensive back Sidney Jones (26) attempts to intercept a pass intended for Oklahoma State Cowboys running back Desmond Roland (26) during the first half in the 2015 Cactus Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Quick Take: It’s rare to find a defensive back with Wilson’s size and length move so smoothly in space and be able to change direction so quickly. Wilson’s loose hips allow him to turn on a dime and stick with receivers in and out of their breaks. He’s tremendous in man coverage and is a lockdown corner in every sense of the word. Once he gets his hands on a receiver, they’re done. Quarterbacks simply don’t find success throwing at him. Wilson also has a nose for the ball, so he will make opponents pay for throwing in his direction. However, Wilson does need to improve in run support. At times, he’s a bit timid in sticking his nose in the action. He also tends to tackle too high, which leads to some misses in the open field. However, these shortcomings are easily correctable with proper coaching at the next level.
Quick Take: Humphrey can be a difficult player to figure out. He’s very effective at jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage and he competes hard in jump ball situations. He’ll contest plenty of catches and he has the strength and size to knock around receivers. He’s also a solid tackler and very aggressive against the run. You have to admire the competitive fire he plays with. However, there area downsides to his game. Humphrey looks a bit stiff at times changing direction and can get beat by quicker wide receivers. He also bites on double moves and fakes at times or will lose track of his guy and allow a big play behind his coverage. He’s the cornerback that looks dominant at times, but then makes some head-scratching blunders. Hopefully, in time he minimizes these mistakes, and his raw ability shines through. His ceiling is very high.
Quick Take: The biggest knock on Jones is his thin build. He definitely needs to add weight and get stronger before he plays at the next level. However, outside of this it is very difficult to find downsides to his game. He’s a tremendous athlete with quick feet and smooth change of direction ability. He sticks on his man’s hip in and out of breaks, and he uses his length well to jam at the line of scrimmage and contest passes. He also has excellent hands for a defensive back. He’ll win in jump ball situations and show the soft hands and concentration to go up and pluck the ball out of the air. At Washington, he was constantly asked to lock on the opponent’s top receiver, and he’s held his own against some of the top receivers in college football.
4. Teez Tabor, Florida (6-0, 201) — Film Grade: 83.0
Quick Take: Tabor is an instinctive defensive back with tremendous ball skills. He has a real knack for making big plays. Eight interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, in his last two years at Florida really showcase the impact he can have on games. In coverage, Tabor competes hard, but this competitive fire doesn’t always translate over to run support. Tabor is a bit timid at times against the run and doesn’t show an assertiveness to stick his nose in the action. He also appears to be more quick than fast and this could be a concern when facing receivers with top-flight speed in the NFL.
Quick Take: Lattimore has all the ability in the world to be a very good cornerback in the NFL. He has loose hips, good change of direction ability, and smooth footwork. He also possesses the recovery speed needed for any lockdown corner at the next level. His ball skills are impressive. He shows a natural ability to track the ball in the air and make the proper adjustment to make a play. In 2016 as a first-year starter, Lattimore recorded four interceptions and 13 pass defensed. Despite the evident talent, Lattimore does get a little lost at times in coverage and he didn’t hold up as well when dropping in zone coverage as opposed to man. He was beat a few times on fakes and double moves, which hurt his overall grade.
Quick Take: Despite good quickness and speed, Conley isn’t quite as the elite athlete as his teammate. However, Conley competes hard in coverage and shows excellent awareness in recognizing route concepts and anticipating ball placement on throws. He’s rarely out of position and seldom falls for fakes or double moves. Like Lattimore, Conley has tremendous ball skills and has the potential of being a lockdown corner at the next level. Having said this, Conley could serve to make more strides in run support and shore up his tackling in the open field.
Quick Take: King will receive a lot of criticism leading up to the draft because he’s not a top-tier athlete nor does he possess blazing speed. He’s also not a traditional lockdown corner. However, despite these downsides to his game, it would be a big mistake to overlook King as a legitimate pro prospect. In his final two seasons at Iowa, he recorded 11 interceptions and 31 pass defensed, more than any other player in college football. In the right system, King can flourish as a playmaking defensive back. If allowed to drop back in zone, facing the quarterback, King can use his excellent football instincts to break on the ball or play up near the line of scrimmage in run support.
Quick Take: Tankersley is a solid boundary corner with good length and ability in man coverage. He does a nice job getting his hands on receivers near the line of scrimmage and tracking them across the field. He also has a knack for breaking on the ball. He will fall victim to double moves or wideouts with superior strength that can box him out and high-point the ball. However, despite this, Tankersley competes hard every time he takes the field and his game still has plenty of room to grow.
Quick Take: Lewis is feisty defensive back who will probably make a home as a nickel cornerback at the next level due to his size and frame. Lewis is a flat-out competitor and will give receivers hell all game. He also possesses great hands and a knack for making plays in the secondary. Just watch his pick against Wisconsin this past year for a good example of this. Despite good cover ability, size concerns will probably keep Lewis out of first round considerations.
Quick Take: Like King, Awuzie is not a traditional man cover cornerback. However, he excels in zone defense, where he can keep his eyes on the quarterback and use his football instincts to break on the ball. Awuzie is a tremendous playing up near the line of scrimmage, where he can make plays against the run and defend short-to-intermediate routes. Awuzie will make a really good nickel corner-safety hybrid player in the NFL.