Draft 2020: Cornerback
Before I go anywhere here, let me start by saying I think this class is deep. Maybe one of the deepest we’ve seen for a while, and in a number of ways, too. Not only are there numerous good quality corners just by volume, many of them are also deep in terms of talent, being able to play a number of roles and likely able to fit several schemes.
Whilst that’s great if you’re a GM who has a DC screaming for more help on the back end, or need someone to fill a number of holes on a poor roster, it’s not that great if you’re the poor sucker (me) who has to try and put them in some sort of ranking!
I genuinely think there could be 8 or 9 prospects this year that wouldn’t really turn any heads if they went ahead of any of the others, such is the talent pool. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t all “Revis Island Mk.II” good, but I think they could all hold their own at the highest level.
With all that said, I would be very surprised… no, AMAZED… if the first corner off the board this year isn’t a Buckeye. More specifically, a Buckeye called Jeff Okudah. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see a GM trade up some fair distance to get hold of this guy. I really do think he’s that good.
Yes, he’s only played one season as the permanent starting corner (and only had one start prior to that) and…. ummm… nope, that’s it. That’s honestly the only negative I can find, and even that feels like I’m nit-picking.
Simply put, Jeff Okudah does everything. Really well.
He’ll pop the receiver in his pocket in man coverage, seemingly know what the QB is going to do before the DC has called the play in zone, is equally happy out wide on the No.1 or in the slot against guys that should be too big for him to cover AND, as if that wasn’t enough, he can hit you like a truck if you want him to move inside and take on run detail. Jeff Okudah does it all.
Having watched his 2019 season a couple of times though, the biggest draw for me is actually what he doesn’t do.
Corners (and young college corners especially) invariably come with two, sometimes three, boat loads of swagger and arrogance. It’s part of the make up of the position. Okudah though doesn’t bring any of that with him, at least not in the traditional sense. The one overarching quality I got from watching him play, was confidence. He knows how good he is, I think he knows he can do it at the highest level, and I think he also knows he doesn’t need to shout about it. He will be a Day 1 locker room influence in all the right ways wherever he ends up, I’m sure of it.
Aggression, speed, strength, agility, mobility, versatility, leadership, confidence. Jeff Okudah has the lot in bucket loads and I think I may love him. I suspect several GMs out there already do too.
This is where it gets tricky. Really tricky. As I said earlier, any number of prospects could go next, depending on which team places a higher priority on a corner and, even then, I think several teams will have a “don’t mind which” list of two or three prospects. To that end, I’ll try and keep it fairly brief to facilitate covering several players I thought deserved the nod.
First up is CJ Henderson out of Florida. If anyone can get close to beating Okudah off the board, I think it will probably be CJ. He’s another from the can-do brigade and has both the strength to handle the big guys and the speed to track the whippets.
He loves being aggressive up at the line with his hands and doesn’t back down when it comes to initiating contact, although that did seem to get him in trouble a few times if coming back downhill on run detail. His man coverage was tight and fluid and he seems equally adept at getting his head around or playing the receiver when he doesn’t. It’s these top end coverage traits that mean a few teams will turn a blind eye to those inconsistencies in his tackling in the run game.
Some may have been slightly concerned over a nasty knee injury last year that saw him miss a chunk of the early season, but he finished well and had two solid years before that, and pretty much nailed the combine, so will probably have put many of those fears to bed. I think he’s set to make a name for himself in the NFL.
Another who I think might is already a well known name in the NFL. Well half of it anyway. Trevon Diggs from Alabama is the younger brother of Stefon Diggs and, as you may expect with that sort of lineage, is an ex-wideout and kick returner who has incredible hands and ball locating abilities.
He had three interceptions for Alabama last year and probably could have doubled that tally such is his ability to get his hands to the ball, even against the best of receivers.
He’s definitely an out and out cover guy and will happily blanket a receiver all game or sit on one side and defend his territory – both of which he did several times last year. Add in that kick-returner heritage and he brings added value to teams likely wanting to pack their roster with flexibility for extended seasons so will almost certainly be high on the list for a number of teams.
Someone who will be a bit more chalk and cheese for teams I think is Kristian Fulton from LSU. He had a solid combine and a solid 2019 season plagued by injury, but some will likely be put off by his inconsistency and lack of dominance in 50/50 situations sometimes.
He reminds me a lot in that regard of another former LSU corner – Greedy Williams. My concern with him coming in to last year’s draft was his ability to go missing in games and I think, maybe to a lesser extent, there is the same concern here. Like Greedy though, Fulton is really good when he is “on”. You don’t have the most forced incompletions of anyone in the class by luck.
Others I wouldn’t be surprised to see go Day 1:
AJ Terrell out of Clemson. Didn’t finish his season too well against LSU, but then no one really dominates against that offense! Works hard every play and is disciplined in his approach. Doesn’t seem to go off script like some corners and, as a result, rarely gives up the big one. He’ll be a head down, just work kind of corner rather than Mr Razzamatazz, but he’ll be a solid option for a number of teams looking to lock up one side of the field I think, particularly with his coverage abilities irrespective of scheme.
Bryce Hall from Virginia is one of the sharpest I watched when it comes to reading the QB. Had great anticipation when playing in zone coverage and got the step on the receiver a number of times. It may be a trait he’s had to develop as his speed is a little questionable against the faster receivers, but in zone or up at the line he’s more than capable.
Injured ankle played a part last season, and he had a nightmare against Florida State and their speed guys, so will be more scheme specific I think, but can certainly do a job in the NFL.
Jeff Gladney from TCU. Maybe a little undersized for the more physical NFL, but have you ever had a Jack Russell yapping around your ankles? Those things are irritating! He’s got speed to spare and is surprisingly strong for a little guy (he squats 600lbs!!) and will appeal to some DCs for his sheer tenacity. Maybe a little more scheme specific too.
We started with a Buckeye, so lets finish with another – Damon Arnette. Had a really solid year in 2019 by the looks of it, more so than previous years, and backed it up with some impressive box score numbers.
Did have issues with the coaching last year at times it’s reported, but if you’re playing in Okudah’s shadow then maybe frustration plays its part. Will definitely be something coaches will have asked him about.
Outside of that though he has many great attributes, and is another versatile corner who will be able to line up in a number of roles and against various opponent ball catchers.
So there we have it. A long and by no means exhaustive list of prospects this year. If your team needs a corner then you’re in luck because I think several of these guys (and probably a few more I’ve not mentioned) are going to handle their own in the NFL. So much so we may look back on the 2020 class as one of the better years at the position.
There’s certainly at least one here ends up in Canton for me.