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2017 NFL Draft: Ranking the cornerbacks

This class is chock-full of talented defensive backs.

The 2017 NFL draft is stocked with impressive defensive back talents, which is a good sign for a Buffalo Bills team lacking in roster depth. Here I’ve assembled my rankings for the 2017 cornerback class, with scouting blurbs taken from my in-progress NFL draft guide.

In general, players within the same tier are grouped closely together. That is to say, Kevin King is closer to Gareon Conley than Tre’Davious White is to Kevin King.

Tier One

Marshon Lattimore | Ohio State

A stunning combination of speed, fluidity, and physicality. He’s so young, but already gifted at man coverage. In a three game span, I only saw him beaten twice - once was a mental breakdown, and the other time, he tripped.

An enthusiastic run defender, and with excellent press coverage technique, Lattimore has tons of upside as a cornerback. The only concern is his history of hamstring injuries.

Marlon Humphrey | Alabama

Probably the best run defending cornerback in this draft. Humphrey has nice body control and a great catching process, and I bet he could catch 4-6 interceptions per year at his peak. He has plenty of agility to handle man coverage on the outside, but is still developing his footwork. A physical defender, he’d be the #1 cornerback for most teams in the league.

Gareon Conley | Ohio State

Fast and fluid corner, with very long arms. Man coverage is pretty good, but he occasionally ends up out of phase with the receiver. Conley is at his best in zone coverage, where he can play off, watch the quarterback, and bait him into throwing up a dangerous pass. Conley’s footwork is still developing, and he sometimes has difficulty mirroring a more complex route pattern. Looks like he can be an immediate starter in the league with Pro Bowl upside.

Kevin King | Washington

Someone teach this player how to tackle, because that may be the only thing holding him back from greatness. King is an elite athlete who packs his speed and agility into a 6’3” 200 pound frame with long arms. He has excellent hand-eye coordination and is adept at using his long arms to tangle up receivers on their routes. Unfortunately, he’s a submarine tackler who misses a lot of attempts. Clean that up, and you could have a star.

Tier Two

Tre’Davious White | LSU

Long term starter with very developed coverage technique. Has really clean short-area footwork and fluid hips. White had success in man and zone concepts, but I like him best as a zone corner, thanks to his timing for breaking on routes and his great ball skills. In man, he rarely gives up a big cushion on a route.

White is weak in run support - he usually does the minimum necessary on running plays. If the runner is in front of him, he’ll tackle, but if a teammate is there he moves away from the ball. Tackling form is solid, when he’s willing to do it.

Quincy Wilson | Florida

I’ve called a few cornerbacks gamblers this year, but Quincy Wilson is the high-roller. Always keeping an eye on the quarterback, Wilson will make extreme decisions to close on the ball. Sometimes it’s a pick-six, sometimes it leaves a receiver wide open in a meaty part of the field.

Wilson is great handling in-breaking routes, not a technique most college corners have mastered. Has excellent potential in zone coverage, but needs to refine his instincts. Does have a tendency to lose inside leverage in man coverage. Wilson has good tackling form and tries to work his way toward the ballcarrier, but sometimes takes poor pursuit angles.

Ahkello Witherspoon | Colorado

Why aren’t we talking about this guy more? Elite size, outstanding athletic ability, and his talent shows up on the field too. With 33 inch arms, Witherspoon uses his impressive wingspan to great effect. Draped over receivers on short routes, and adept at breaking up slant patterns.

Possesses long speed and quick footwork, but can occasionally be fooled by head fakes or double moves. Does have a tendency to dive for his tackles in run defense. But looks like he can be a long, smothering cornerback in the Richard Sherman mold.

Sidney Jones | Washington

An Achilles tear ended his pro day workout and put his near future in jeopardy. Unlike an ACL tear, Achilles injuries are riskier and require monitoring. Medicine has improved since Takeo Spikes went under the knife, but this is still a significant concern that dropped him from first round consideration in my book.

Jones will grind you up and spit you out. A tough, physical corner with an excellent mentality. Tall with long arms, uses his size to jam and bump receivers. Decent hands but more focused on breaking up the pass than coming up with highlight interceptions. Has excellent positioning on routes and rarely gives up a significant cushion. As a run defender, does a good job working through blocks, but could be better at wrapping players up.

Fabian Moreau | UCLA

Tore his pectoral muscle at his pro day workout, and will miss a chunk of training camp as he recovers. Moreau is a really smart player who made adjustments for his teammates on-field. Played a lot of zone coverage and correctly handled players moving in and out of his zone. Great athlete, and very comfortable sticking on players running short routes.

Man coverage was inconsistent - capable of riding a receiver out to the sideline, but needs to remain in phase through the catch point. A hard worker in run support.

Adoree’ Jackson | USC

Big plays, big plays, big plays. Best return man in college football, with 15 touchdowns in three years - six as a receiver, four on kickoffs, four on punts, one as an interception. US Olympic trial finalist. Good body control, but doesn’t have very strong hands. A bit undersized for the position.

Press technique needs work. At his best when he can read-and-react to the QB. Can be beaten by crafty route-runners, and sometimes leaves too large of a cushion in off coverage. Active in run support, with nice tackling form, but not necessarily a difference-maker there.

Jackson is much riskier than the players before him, but he has the potential to turn games around with his sparks.

Tier Three

Cordrea Tankersley | Clemson

Solid cornerback with great ball skills and a quick close to the ball. Has a tendency to transition out of his backpedal too early sometimes. Doesn’t have a strong read on his opponent’s route, and can give too much of a cushion sometimes.

Teez Tabor | Florida

A very smart cornerback who had a lousy pair of workouts this offseason. Stiff hips hold him back against more agile receivers, but he’s a gambler who can physically win over those players.

A liability against the run, but does a great job keeping his eyes on the QB in zone coverage and tracking the ball to the catch point.

Jourdan Lewis | Michigan

I want to compare him to Jason Verrett, but Verrett tested like an elite athlete, while Lewis was below average. Small size, but has beautiful press coverage technique and excellent ball skills. Keeps tight coverage in man, and has nice run defense, albeit with a small tackle radius. Was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence in March after an altercation with his girlfriend, the details of which are still being sorted out.

Jeremy Cutrer | Middle Tennessee State

Such an impressive, high potential cornerback. If he can get better at play recognition in zone coverage and bulk up from his string-bean 6’2” 170 pound frame, he could be a stud. Very active in the running game, with great grip strength but a tendency to dive for tackles. Physical press coverage but an aggressive jam. Uses impressive ball skills to great effect in zone coverage. Sometimes gets lost among complicated route patterns.

Howard Wilson | Houston

Very fluid zone cornerback with outstanding ball skills but only one season of play at the college football level. Makes route-jumping look easy, but needs to develop backpedal and mirroring in man coverage.

Damontae Kazee | San Diego State

Very active in run support, despite his size. Hits hard on tackles. A serious playmaker, with 15 INTs and 15 PBU in the last two years. Excellent awareness in zone coverage, good explosion in the short area. Missing long speed and overall athleticism, and his short stature makes him a mismatch against bigger receivers.

Corn Elder | Miami

Fun cornerback prospect - capable of crazy feats of ball skill. Good instincts and angles as a blitzer. Very much a gambler, and he usually guesses right, creating big plays. Undersized, and struggles in man coverage against big, physical players. Clearly watches a lot of tape, blowing up screen passes before they even started.

Tier Four

Chidobe Awuzie | Colorado

I suspect this is one of the lower grades you’ll see for Awuzie. Athletic and versatile, more in the sense of “no best fit” rather than “can do anything well”. Played all over the field in college. Tall, but short arms and small hands, doesn’t rack up interceptions.

Seems to have play recognition issues, and struggled reading the quarterback in zone. Performed better in man coverage when he only had one guy to worry about. Developing his physicality in coverage. Nice jam off the line of scrimmage. Plays too passively in run support, content to clean up after his teammates do most of the work. Tackling form isn’t great.

Rasul Douglas | West Virginia

Great length, effectively used to tangle up other players. Pretty good speed, nice ball skills and body control. Motor runs hot and cold in run support. Displays good awareness in zone coverage. Route recognition is solid, but can be fooled at the top of the pattern.

Channing Stribling | Michigan

Long corner with long arms, and plays to that prototype. Often called for penalties because he can’t help himself wrapping his arms around his opponent. Good timing and positioning for pass breakups, but too aggressive. Decent hands. Stribling is a great open field tackler but has trouble disengaging from blocks. An inconsistent player all around.

Cameron Sutton | Tennessee

Man coverage technique is solid, but susceptible to fakes and double moves. Doesn’t have much experience in zone. Tackling technique is pretty good, but has a tendency to stand back and watch if his teammates appear to have a running play under control. Great punt returner in college, with 625 yards and 3 touchdowns on 39 returns.

Marcus Rios | UCLA

Conquered a serious fungal infection in 2013 which required six surgeries. Good size and length for a cornerback and appears to have the requisite athleticism for a zone defense. Physical, with a knack for legal handwork that disrupts his opponents. Didn’t have much production, but I believe he has starter upside.

Tier Five

William Likely | Maryland

Had 8 return touchdowns in college, including two from interceptions. A playmaker who was also used on offense as a running back or receiver at times. Fiesty and competitive, he has great play recognition and a knack for disrupting passes at the catch point. Very small player who struggles to tackle or disengage from blocks. Has had multiple injuries in his career, including most recently an ACL tear.

Treston DeCoud | Oregon State

Might be better suited to playing safety, given great size and lack of athleticism. Nice balanced backpedal, and does a good job staying engaged with receivers on their routes. Best outcome would be to continue developing press coverage technique. Aggressive in run support, coming downhill and working through blockers.

Marquez White | Florida State

Good size, length, and athleticism, a multi-sport athlete who committed fully to football for his last two seasons. A lot about his game runs hot and cold. Tackling, play recognition, pattern matching.

Balance is a problem with his technique, and didn’t flash much in the way of ball skills.

Nate Hairston | Temple

Played receiver, then converted to cornerback as a junior. Good length and experience in zone coverage. Nice effort in run support, and rarely beaten deep. Backpedal and transition technique are still a work in progress, as are man coverage abilities, and doesn’t do much to play on the ball yet. But there’s room to grow for this player.

Tier Six

Shaquill Griffin | UCF

Ultimately just too hesitant in too many facets of the game. Looks like a potential starter when playing in press man. Comfortable running in phase with receivers, and has coordination and ball skills on his side. In off-man and zone coverage, just seems lost. Poor pattern recognition, huge cushions afforded.

Jalen Myrick | Minnesota

Everything Myrick does is about a half-second behind when it needs to happen. Would run past a running back covering a receiver in man, oblivious to the fact that the runner has the ball. Would turn to locate the ball and only find it as it dropped into his opponent’s hands. Adjusts a half-second too late to cuts by receivers. Also showed a lack of natural vision as a kick returner. Impressed with a sub-4.3 forty yard dash at the Combine, but so did DeMarcus Van Dyke.

Nigel Tribune | Iowa State

First entered NFL draft radar after a sophomore season with 13 passes defended and 3 interceptions. Numbers dipped in each subsequent year, finishing his senior season with 14 tackles and a single pass break-up. Lacking in size and overall athleticism. Doesn’t have comfort playing physically in man coverage, and gives up too big of a cushion on most plays.

Not evaluated

Any cornerback not listed here.