2017 NFL Draft: Top 5 Cornerback Prospects Pre-Combine

Sep 10, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Marcus Maye (20) and defensive back  Jalen Tabor (31)  works out prior to the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In a historically deep draft on the defensive side of the ball, here are the top five cornerbacks entering the 2017 NFL Draft.

With the NFL Draft approaching on the horizon, the strengths and weaknesses of the class as a whole are beginning to become more apparent. The early rounds are expected to be defense heavy, more specifically at the defensive line and cornerback positions. With as many as eight or nine corners projected with first round grades, this highly diverse group of prospects will be a massive talent injection of cornerbacks in the NFL.

Regardless of teams with zone or man-to-man heavy concepts on defense, there are multiple players that will be able to fill either role, and even more that are capable of both. Zone based defenses will be doing their due diligence on a group consisting of Iowa standout Desmond King, Florida’s Jalen “Teez” Tabor, and USC’s versatile playmaker Adoree’ Jackson. Man-to-man concept heavy defenses will also have their pick of the litter, including the second half of Florida’s cornerback tandem in Quincy Wilson and Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis.

Even more tantalizing are the amount of prospects that project to either defensive scheme at the next level. Ohio State’s duo of Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley were both tasked with press and off coverage, along with Sidney Jones of Washington, and Tre’Davious White of LSU. The wide array of options makes ranking these players a fascinating process, and is sure to continue as a polarizing topic as we move closer to the draft.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the top-five cornerback prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft class before the upcoming NFL Combine.

Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Marlon Humphrey (26) in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game against the Clemson Tigers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Marlon Humphrey (26) in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game against the Clemson Tigers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

5. Marlon Humphrey – Alabama

Height: 6-1
Weight: 196 pounds

Humphrey is easily the most physically impressive and imposing player of the top five. Possessing both a huge frame and great length, he combines it with rare straight-line speed and excellent tackling ability. A force in the run game and especially the screen game, Humphrey consistently plays downhill and dispatches ball carriers with ease. His physical nature makes him more impressive in press coverage, jamming receivers off the line and disrupting their timing.

Where Humphrey struggles is off coverage, as he needs to cut down on his back pedal and improve hip fluidity to not get beat over the top. His lack of downfield awareness is often masked by his blistering speed and the rapidness at which Alabama’s front seven pressured the quarterback. He finds himself on this list for his physical ability, as Humphrey is the largest projection of this group.

Projection: Late First/Early Second

Because of his obvious weaknesses right now and how much of his value is based on potential, Humphrey will likely fall to the end of the first round or potentially to the start of the second. If he reaches his potential in terms of technique to match his physical tools, that will be a steal. However, the risk is too great right now to have him any higher.

Oct 15, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Quincy Wilson (6) intercepted the ball and ran it back for a touchdown against the Missouri Tigers eduring the second quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 15, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Quincy Wilson (6) intercepted the ball and ran it back for a touchdown against the Missouri Tigers eduring the second quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

4. Quincy Wilson – Florida

Height: 6-0
Weight: 209 pounds

One half of Florida’s excellent cornerback tandem, Wilson is the more physical and prototypical of the two. Possessing a fully developed frame for a cornerback, it makes him tough to beat off the line of scrimmage in press man coverage and towards the sideline. Much like Jalen Tabor (we’ll get there), he displays excellent ball skills especially on crossing routes, providing him the ability to catch up when beat.

Wilson’s lack of hip fluidity shows up more so on these crossing and underneath routes, as he often allows receivers to gain inside leverage. For a player sporting his frame and physical potential, Wilson is quite underwhelming playing the run. To play more downhill at the next level, he will need to improve his block shedding and become more willing to finish at the point of attack.

Projection: Mid-to-Late First

Though impressive, Wilson lacks the upside that many of his 2017 draft class peers possess—even at his position. With that said, he has the size and ability right now to slot into a defense on the outside and make an impact immediately—or at least close to it. Given the lesser upside, though, his value doesn’t go much higher than mid-first round.

Sep 12, 2015; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Jalen Tabor (31) intercepted the ball and runs it back for a touchdown against the East Carolina Pirates during the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida Gators defeated the East Carolina Pirates 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 12, 2015; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Jalen Tabor (31) intercepted the ball and runs it back for a touchdown against the East Carolina Pirates during the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida Gators defeated the East Carolina Pirates 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

3. Jalen ‘Teez’ Tabor – Florida

Height: 6-0
Weight: 201 pounds

Another cornerback that shows competency in both press and soft coverage, Teez Tabor may possess the best hip fluidity of the group, easily matching receivers on breaks and staying in his hip pocket. He shows excellent timing in coverage and defends passes consistently without committing penalties. Rarely getting beat, it allows Tabor to get his hands on many passes, an ability that should translate easily to the NFL.

Despite being willing in the run game, even against running backs with much greater size, Tabor still struggles. His lack of block shedding often leaves him lunging at ball carriers instead of fully wrapping up, and often gets washed out of plays if a larger receiver gets his hands on him. Like Vernon Hargreaves before him, Tabor will probably suit best as a nickel corner immediately with potential to progress.

Projection: Mid-First

Though he compares similarly to his predecessor in Hargreaves, Tabor might fall a bit more in the first round than Hargeaves did (Buccaneers selected him at No. 11). Even still, whoever does take him in that position will be getting tremendous value and a player with both the ability to contribute now and grow into a much better player.

Oct 22, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Sidney Jones (26) in action against the Oregon State Beavers during the first quarter at Husky Stadium. Washington won 41-17. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 22, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Sidney Jones (26) in action against the Oregon State Beavers during the first quarter at Husky Stadium. Washington won 41-17. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

2. Sidney Jones – Washington

Height: 6-0
Weight: 181 pounds

Playing a major role in Washington’s stout defense this last season, Jones’ fundamentally sound style of play will make him coveted by teams running wildly different types of defensive schemes at the next level. Capable in both press and soft coverage, he excels slightly more in the latter, with a high level of awareness to break on comeback and underneath routes. Displaying excellent ball skills on all levels of the field, Jones should have no issue becoming a ballhawk at the next level.

Sporting a slender frame, he may struggle initially to bring down larger ball carriers. This is no indictment on his run stopping ability, however, as Jones shows a willingness to play downhill. A year in a NFL conditioning program will do wonders in helping him fully develop his frame and become a complete corner. The only minor weakness found in his coverage ability comes in his tendency to open his hips quickly in soft coverage, this may leave him more susceptible to underneath routes in the pros.

Projection: Mid-First

Especially with the work that he’ll put in throughout the draft process, physical drills and interviewing included, Jones has the complete package as a prospect that could see his value continue to climb as it has for much of the season. He’s an impact player already with potential to be a star if he can progress physically to give himself the total package at the position.

Marshon Lattimore 2017 NFL Draft

December 31, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes safety Malik Hooker (24) celebrates with cornerback Marshon Lattimore (2) after intercepting pass against the Clemson Tigers during the first half of the the 2016 CFP semifinal at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

1. Marshon Lattimore – Ohio State

Height: 6-0
Weight: 195 pounds

Previously battling hamstring issues his first two seasons at Ohio State, Lattimore finally fulfilled his potential and broke out in a big way last season. A complete cornerback with fantastic athletic traits, he displays the agility, foot speed, and hip fluidity to cover receivers on all three levels of the field. Showing great play recognition and downfield awareness, he gains inside leverage with ease on deep routes, often giving himself a better play on the ball than most receivers. He plays with an aggressive mindset and shows the ability to shed blocks and finish tackles with consistency.

It’s difficult to find major areas of weakness in Lattimore’s game, with the most prevalent being his lack of play time in zone concepts. He was most often being utilized as a man-to-man cover corner. His injury history will also play a big factor leading up to the draft, although after playing a full season it’s expected to become a non-issue.

Projection: Top-10 Pick

As part of a such a deep crop of cornerback prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft, Lattimore stands above the rest in early February. There are the fewest obvious holes in his game in addition to a great deal of upside. The expectation should be for the Buckeye to be selected in the top 10 come April, but him falling beyond there would see the team that eventually takes him get enormous value with their pick.

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