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2017 NFL Draft: Cornerback rankings

Ranking the 2017 NFL Draft prospects at cornerback.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In recent years, I’ve committed to the concept of an NFL Draft “target board.” The idea is to narrow my scope down to 100 prospects, grouped into tiers that indicate where I’d look to select them in an actual draft. Instead of ranking every single player I’ve watched and graded, these are prospects I feel most confident in from a tape, measurables, production, and athletic testing standpoint. In the following days leading up to the draft, I’ll post my board position by position, and to help everyone understand the methods behind my madness, I’ll even include some handy charts and stats to give some insight into which players “checked all the boxes,” and which ones made the cut despite falling short in one area or another.

The cells in the accompanying charts are color-coded based (liberally) on NFL scouting combine averages per position:

  • Green = Significantly Above Average
  • Blue = Above Average
  • Yellow = Average
  • Orange = Below Average
  • Red = Significantly Below Average

Check below for my Cornerback rankings

Marshon Lattimore Ohio State 6’ 193

  • DOB: 5/19/1996
  • 2016: 41 TKL (30 solo) 1 TFL 4 INT 9 PBU 1 TD
  • Career: 46 TKL (34 solo) 4 INT 12 PBU 1 TD in 19 games

Watching Lattimore every Saturday during the season led me to take him for granted. When I finally had a chance to hone in on the third-year sophomore corner, I truly began to appreciate his smooth athleticism, loose hips, and speed. He may have been overshadowed by ballhawking teammate Malik Hooker, but Lattimore displayed outstanding ball skills in his own right, finishing the year with 13 total passes defensed.

Lattimore checks all of the boxes for size, speed and production, and his arm length should be adequate for most teams. He's a sticky cover man, and has shown the capacity to recover from early missteps. Lattimore did not participate in agility testing at the combine or pro day, but I have little reason to doubt his quickness. The main concern here is a history of hamstring injuries. On one hand he completed a full season. On the other, his workouts were cut short. Soft tissue injuries can be tricky little devils.

Grade: 1st Round

Gareon Conley Ohio State 6’ 195

  • DOB: 6/29/1995
  • 2016: 26 TKL (21 solo) 4 INT 8 PBU
  • Career: 91 TKL (66 solo) 1 TFL 0.5 SCK 6 INT 15 PBU 1 kick BLK in 41 games

I compiled my 100 player target board prior to reports that Conley is the subject of a current rape investigation. While he hasn't been arrested at this time, the specter of potential charges and criminal proceedings would effectively remove him from my board, as I suspect will be the case with most, if not all NFL teams. Unless Conley is cleared sometime in the next couple of days, I do not expect him to be drafted.

On the field, Conley's size, long arms and speed would appeal to any NFL team. He's shown the ability to cover outside and in the slot. He's been as reliable as any corner in the country over the last two seasons, and prior to Monday, he'd been regarded as a high character player. Obviously, that may no longer be the case. Incidents like these are unfortunate in many ways. Without intimate knowledge of the events that night, the best we can hope for right now is clarity and a speedy resolution.

Grade: 1st-2nd Round

Kevin King Washington 6’3” 200

  • DOB: 5/5/1995
  • 2016: 44 TKL (26 solo) 3.5 TFL 2 INT 13 PBU
  • Career: 165 TKL (107 solo) 8.5 TFL 2 FF 6 INT 22 PBU in 48 games

King is a rare size/speed athlete at corner, and few players have seen their stock skyrocket like his has since the scouting combine. King can cover deep and get his hands on the ball, and despite his long limbs, shows elite change of direction. He gets a little grabby in coverage and often gets away with it, but even King's most ardent supporters know he'll need some work on his technique. I've seen criticism of his tackling - he's a launcher who comes in low - but I thought he did just fine for a corner. King's many positive qualities outweigh the negatives, and a corner with his unique length, athleticism and ball skills is worthy of first round consideration.

Grade: 1st-2nd Round

Chidobe Awuzie Colorado 6’ 202

  • DOB: 5/24/1995
  • 2016: 65 TKL (53 solo) 6 TFL 4 SCK 2 FF 1 INT 12 PBU 1 kick BLK
  • Career: 266 TKL (217 solo) 25 TFL 9 SCK 6 FF 3 INT 28 PBU 1 kick BLK in 48 games

I've often thought Awuzie was at his best near the line of scrimmage. He's a heavy hitter and strong blitzer who makes plays in the backfield and creates turnovers. Awuzie is fast and athletic, but he's also a short-armed defensive back. I expect he'll be drafted to play corner, but his skill set and build may translate best to safety in the long term. Either way, I love his aggression and playmaking style, and could see him sneaking into the latter third of the first round.

Grade: 2nd Round

Fabian Moreau UCLA 6’ 206

  • DOB: 4/9/1994
  • 2016: 31 TKL (24 solo) 1 TFL 1 FF 2 INT 9 PBU
  • Career: 148 TKL (99 solo) 4.5 TFL 2 FF 3 INT 22 PBU in 51 games

Moreau is recovering from a pectoral injury, but as far as I know his legs are fine, and I have no reason to worry about his long term health. He's expected to return to action sometime in August. Moreau is a big, strong defensive back with blazing timed speed, but that doesn't always show up in his downfield coverage. I like the way he covers slants and curls, but overall his ball skills are just ok. Moreau's pec should heal in time, but a Lisfranc injury in 2015 adds to his spotty health record. At least the two injuries are unrelated.

Grade: 2nd-3rd Round

Ahkello Witherspoon Colorado 6’3” 198

  • DOB: 3/21/1995
  • 2016: 23 TKL (19 solo) 1 FF 1 INT 21 PBU
  • Career: 71 TKL (61 solo) 1 FF 3 INT 26 PBU in 37 games

Witherspoon somehow had more pass breakups than solo tackles last year, but I'm not a big stickler for cornerback tackle stats. I'm more interested in his height, arm length, speed and agility, and the fact that he got his hands on the ball 30 times (29 passes defensed and a forced fumble) in 37 career games. The sketchy run defense is going to rule him out for some draftniks, but I like the coverage ceiling enough to spend a Day Two pick.

Grade: 3rd Round

Tre’Davious White LSU 5’11” 192

  • DOB: 1/16/1995
  • 2016: 35 TKL (19 solo) 4 TFL 0.5 SCK 2 INT 14 PBU 1 TD 1 PR TD
  • Career: 167 TKL (111 solo) 11 TFL 1.5 SCK 1 FF 6 INT 34 PBU 1 TD 3 PR TD in 49 games

SPARQ and other athletic formulas like that aren't going to be kind to White because he weighs under 200 pounds and posted below average jumps for a cornerback. White also tested in the average range for speed and agility, but corner includes a lot of fast players, so I'm not discouraged by those numbers. White has long arms and the ball skills NFL teams covet. I think he's a Day Two guy, but by some accounts the league is even higher on him than I am.

Grade: 3rd Round

Quincy Wilson Florida 6’1” 211

  • DOB: 8/16/1996
  • 2016: 33 TKL (18 solo) 3.5 TFL 1 SCK 3 INT 6 PBU 1 TD
  • Career: 84 TKL (47 solo) 4.5 TFL 1 SCK 1 FF 6 INT 14 PBU 1 TD in 39 games

Wilson is another player who's probably going earlier than I have him slotted. I know the guy can cover, but he's right on the edge of acceptable speed. There's no shortage of prospects who can run in the mid-4.5s, just not many tall, long-armed corners who can change directions so smoothly. Wilson isn't a great tackler but I've at least seen him stick his nose in against a big back. I could probably live with that as long as the effort is consistent.

Grade: 3-4th Round

Adoree’ Jackson USC 5’10” 186

  • DOB: 9/18/1995
  • 2016: 55 TKL (46 solo) 2 TFL 5 INT 11 PBU 1 REC TD 2 PR TD 2 KR TD
  • Career: 139 TKL (114 solo) 6 TFL 2 FF 6 INT 28 PBU 1 TD 6 REC TD 4 PR TD 4 K TD in 40 games

Jackson is a roller coaster, and when I hear him discussed as a first round prospect, I wonder if someone has only been watching the highlight footage. For every stumble in coverage there seems to be an acrobatic interception or a long touchdown in the return game. Jackson has star power. He's a track athlete and the Thorpe Award winner, the type of player who makes some evaluators believe that if Jackson's best can be harnessed it can become his norm. He's been a very good college player, but he's just not big enough for me to deal with the inconsistencies on defense. That said, I have little doubt Jackson will at least become a key special teamer.

Grade: 3-4th Round

Cameron Sutton Tennessee 5’11” 188

  • DOB: 2/27/1995
  • 2016: 23 TKL (19 solo) 2 TFL 1 INT 4 PBU
  • Career: 127 TKL (111 solo) 13 TFL 1 SCK 3 FF 7 INT 30 PBU 1 TD 3 PR TD in 45 games

Sutton is a short-armed guy with short-area quicks and just enough speed. I have him ticketed for slot duty as a third or fourth corner. Sutton has also been successful returning punts in his career, so at the very least he can be an early contributor on special teams.

Grade: 4th-5th Round

Damontae Kazee San Diego State 5’10” 184

  • DOB: 6/5/1993
  • 2016: 65 TKL (45 solo) 3 TFL 7 INT 8 PBU 1 TD
  • Career: 239 TKL (171 solo) 15.5 TFL 1 SCK 6 FF 17 INT 29 PBU 2 TD 1 PR TD 1 kick BLK in 53 games

Kazee is an older prospect, small and short-armed, and with marginal agility testing. The fact that he made this list is a testament to how much I loved watching him play. It's cliche to say the guy has a nose for the ball, but he truly does. He's been making plays since his freshman season, is a two-time conference Defensive Player of the Year, and finished his prolific career with 46 passes defensed and six forced fumbles in 53 games. Not one corner in this class can match his production. I worry that he's a little stiff for nickel duty, but he's such an aggressive and experienced player that I have to give him the benefit of the doubt. Like the last couple of players on this list, Kazee can also contribute as a core special teamer.

Grade: 4th-5th Round

Shaquill Griffin Central Florida 6’ 194

  • DOB: 7/20/1995
  • 2016: 50 TKL (30 solo) 3 TFL 4 INT 15 PBU 1 TD 1 kick BLK
  • Career: 125 TKL (88 solo) 3.5 TFL 7 INT 28 PBU 2 TD 1 kick BLK in 43 games

Griffin was flagged a couple of times in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, but his size, attacking style and a couple of pass breakups caught my eye and sent me scrambling to find some UCF game footage. Griffin's athleticism and speed show up on tape, and he's been very disruptive in coverage throughout his career. I suspect he will face a learning curve early because of the jump in level of competition.

Grade: 5th-7th Round

Howard Wilson Houston 6’1” 184

  • DOB: 10/30/1995
  • 2016: 54 TKL (45 solo) 2.5 TFL 5 INT 10 PBU 1 TD
  • Career: 107 TKL (77 solo) 3.5 TFL 9 INT 15 PBU 1 TD in 29 games

I like Wilson's coverage underneath, namely his ability to read and break on slants and curls. His marginal speed is almost a deal breaker for me, but I like the idea of him lining up inside to take advantage of this quickness and those coverage strengths I mentioned. Generally, I still see him rated as an outside corner by other analysts, but I don't think he can run out there. Guys don't typically get faster in the pros.

Grade: 5th-7th Round