The NFL Draft is slated to take place in the city of brotherly love from April 27th-April 30th. As you get ready to watch who your team will select, CBS Local Sports will preview the top available prospects in the various different position groups.
As the NFL has continued its evolution from a run-first league to a pass-happy one where seemingly every offense has at least one big, strong, fast wide receiver that can blow the top off an offense, defenses have had to adjust accordingly.
We already chronicled defensive ends/edge rushers and discussed their importance when it comes to slowing down offenses by getting to the quarterback, but when they fall short, it’s up to the cornerbacks/secondary to contain things for the defense and prevent big plays.
This year’s draft features a number of defensive backs that can be difference-makers at the NFL level almost immediately, including a number of which you’ll see drafted in the first and second rounds.
Let’s take a closer look.
**All stats from 2016 season
6′ 0”, 193 lbs
College Stats: Targeted 35 times, 14 passes defensed, 4 INTs
Combine Stats: 40 Time – 4.36, Vertical – 38.5”, Broad Jump – 132”
Marshon Lattimore’s redshirt sophomore season was a success of the highest order, especially considering the trials and tribulations that littered his first two years at Ohio State.
Lattimore’s suffered through chronic hamstring injuries throughout much of his football life and those injuries came to a head in his freshman year when he finally underwent surgery to fix the issue.
Unfortunately, they weren’t completely fixed and Lattimore struggled to stay healthy for much of the 2015 season.
But last year, at long last, Lattimore was healthy, and boy was he a difference maker for the Buckeyes.
14 passes defensed, four interceptions and a first-team All-Big Ten selection later and Lattimore is projected to be the first cornerback off the board and a possible Top 10 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Lattimore is known for his excellence in press coverage and thrives when he gets in a receiver’s face and knocks him off his route. At 6-feet tall, he might have trouble doing that against some of the league’s bigger and faster wideouts, which he didn’t see much of in college. But by all accounts, Lattimore has the skill set and the head to adjust quickly and become a standout in the NFL in year one.
His injury history is worrisome, but assuming he’s overcome his hamstring woes, he should be a Pro Bowl-caliber corner.
6′ 0”, 197 lbs
College Stats: 5 Passes Defensed, 2 INTs, 1 TD
Combine Stats: 40 Time – 4.41, Broad Jump – 125”, 3-Cone Drill – 6.75 Seconds
After redshirting as a freshman for the Crimson Tide, Humphrey proved worthy of his national All-American status coming out of high school and put up some big numbers at cornerback for Nick Saban’s squad in 2015.
That year Humphrey was responsible for 45 tackles — 3.5 of them for loss — along with 3 INTs and eight passes broken up.
With Humphrey, similar to Lattimore, you’re getting a cornerback with an ideal build for the position but also with a little bit more strength and aggression. According to NFL.com, Humphrey is “extremely competitive with an edge that spikes after he’s beaten,” a great attribute to have at a position that you’re almost guaranteed to take your lumps at in year one.
Humphrey has a knack for stripping the ball, recording three forced fumbles during his time at Alabama. He’s also an adept tackler and won’t shy away from contact.
While he’s not as fluid as Lattimore, he’s quite the consolation prize for any team looking to snag a cornerback that won’t have a play at Lattimore.
5′ 11′, 192 lbs
College Stats: 34 tackles, 2 INTs, 14 passes defensed
Combine Stats:40 Time – 4.47, Vertical – 32”, Broad Jump – 119”, 3-Cone Drill – 6.90 Seconds
Fellow SEC product Tre’Davious White stepped right into the fold at LSU and thrived in his two years there, making the SEC’s All-Freshman team in 2015 and the All-SEC team last year.
While White lacks some of the footspeed and quickness of his peers listed above him, he has some pluses that Lattimore and Humphrey lack.
White was a punt returner in each of his final three years at LSU and scored a return touchdown in each of those seasons, so clearly he’s got good hands and is elusive enough.
White has also taken on slot corner duty over the years, so he can play on the outside as well as in the middle of the field against slot receivers.
The reason he’s taken on slot duties ultimately has to do with his smaller size and his trouble playing the aggressive press-cover game like Lattimore and Humphrey, but it also makes him versatile.
6′ 3”, 200 lbs
College Stats: 13 passes defensed, 2 INTs, 44 tackles
Combine Stats: 40 Time – 4.43, Vertical – 39.5”, 3-Cone Drill – 6.56 Seconds
Kevin King is one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft, especially on the defensive side of the ball. On one hand, he’s unusually tall and has struggled in the tackling game. But on the other, King possesses pretty good speed and quickness for someone his size as he demonstrated at the combine.
King’s reminiscent of Antonio Cromartie in many ways in terms of his height and lankiness, but also unfortunately regarding his tackling issues and inability to be very physical with receivers.
King, like Cromartie, can be a weapon against taller receivers in jump balls.
While questions persist about King’s ability to adjust to the cornerback position at the NFL level, he’s proven a capable starter in the Pac-12 for four straight years for the Huskies.
King has also put some time in at safety, so he could be used in a hybrid role, or could possibly catch the eye of a team that thinks he could serve them well in that role.
Either way, King is likely to get drafted in the mid-late first round, second round latest.
6′ 0”, 195 lbs
College Stats: Eight passes defensed, 4 INTs
Combine Stats: 40 Time – 4.44, Vertical – 37”, Broad Jump – 129”
Conley has been a staple at cornerback for the Buckeyes over the last two years and his solid play saw him named to the Big Ten’s All-Conference team in his junior year in 2016.
While he hasn’t merited the same accolades as Lattimore, Conley plays a similar, aggressive style off the line and has the instinct and quickness to keep up with fast receivers, while maintaining the physicality to play with larger wideouts as well.
He’s not a great tackler and only registered 26 tackles total last year in 12 games of action for Ohio State.
Still, Conley is long and showed good ball-awareness in college, which should translate well to the NFL.
Scouts also note that he has the ability to play in zone, which will make him intriguing to teams that play that style but also want someone who can be a reliable cover corner when called upon to do so.