Cornerbacks will be popular at this year's NFL Draft
(Sixth in a series)
In each of the past three NFL Drafts, five cornerbacks were taken in the first round. In 2013, four corners went in Round 1.
More of the same is expected this year, and depth is so good that 12 cornerbacks could be drafted in the first two rounds. The more NFL offenses throw the ball, the more defenses need players who can defend the pass.
Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley could be the first two cornerbacks taken because of their elite speed and ability to blanket the other team's top receiver. And some of this year's other top cover corners come with the ability to contribute in additional areas.
LSU's Tre'Davious White, USC's Adoree' Jackson and Michigan's Jourdain Lewis all will bring kick-return skills along with cover ability to their NFL teams.
And Colorado's Chidobe Awuzie is the rare cornerback who could factor as a pass rusher. He's played corner, nickel, a bit at both safety positions and even a little linebacker. He had 10 sacks over the past two seasons, the most in school history for a defensive back.
"Instincts," Awuzie said when asked to explain his knack for the sack. "I'm just a ballplayer. I always have the mentality of 'See ball, get ball,' no matter where I'm lined up. That's the way my mentality is."
Awuzie also gets high marks for his toughness and versatility plus the football intelligence that has enabled him to learn several positions. All of that could get Awuzie into the first round, and if not, he won't last long in Round 2.
Teams that interviewed Awuzie at the Scouting Combine frequently asked him what position he sees himself at in the NFL.
"I just see myself as a baller," Awuzie told them. "Get me on the field, and I'm going to make plays."
Though he only intercepted 3 passes in 42 starts for the Buffaloes, Awuzie had 34 pass breakups.
LSU's White had 6 career interceptions, 34 pass breakups, and he also scored 3 punt-return touchdowns. He started 49 games in the rugged SEC, where he proved his toughness in run support and showed man-to-man cover ability.
USC's Jackson is even more dangerous as a returner. He tied the NCAA career record with 8 kick-return TDs and averaged 29.5 yards on kickoff returns last year and 15.8 yards on punt returns to go with his 5 interceptions.
Oh, by the way, Jackson is also the two-time track All-American and Pac-12 long-jump champion. Jackson is undersized and not a physical factor vs. the run, but he's a threat to score anytime the ball is in his hands.
Next up: Safety.
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Top 10 cornerbacks in 2017 draft
Name, school Ht. Wt. 40-time
Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State 6-0.0 193 4.36
Phenomenal talent with perennial Pro Bowl potential. Sticky in coverage and unafraid in run support.
Gareon Conley, Ohio State 6-0.0 195 4.44
Plays smaller than his size vs. run, but size-speed combo and cover skills should get him into Round 1.
Tre'Davious White, LSU 5-11.2 192 4.47
Shut-down cover ability and PR threat, but not physical vs. the run. Projects best to slot.
Adoree' Jackson, USC 5-10.0 186 4.42
Projects to slot. Lacks size, strength outside, but has elite athleticism and ball, cover and return skills.
Marlon Humphrey, Alabama 6-0.2 197 4.43
Has full tool belt but can rely too much on athleticism while ignoring technique in coverage.
Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado 5-11.7 202 4.43
Rare size-speed combo. Has cover skills but just 3 career picks. Big enough to play S if needed.
Quincy Wilson, Florida 6-1.4 211 4.54
Marginal speed, but big and physical enough to play S, which could be his best NFL position.
Jourdain Lewis, Michigan 5-10.2 188 4.56
Plays fast with good ball production (31 pass breakups last 2 years) but size could limit him to nickel.
Sidney Jones, Washington 6-0.0 186 4.47
Will plummet after tearing Achilles at pro day. Likely headed to PUP. Ball athlete who could be more physical.
Cordrea Tankersley, Clemson 6-1.2 199 4.42
Great size-speed combo with 9 picks last 2 years but lacks toughness vs. the run and is a poor tackler.
*Under "Ht." the number following the period refers to eighths of an inch.