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Top Five 2018 NFL Draft Prospects- Cornerback
These guys will be asked to shutdown an opponents receiver corps. Today I rank the top five cornerback prospects for the upcoming NFL Draft.
1. Denzel Ward, Ohio State
Bio: Playing behind future first round picks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, Denzel Ward was named to the All-Big Ten team as an honorable mention playing nickel corner. In 2017, he earned first team All-American honors after registering 37 tackles, two interceptions, and 15 passes defended.
Strengths: Supreme athleticism. Should be impressive Combine star. Can get down in a deep squat under wide receiver at the line. Patient from press coverage showing no panic or hurry in initial movements. Can back pedal and mirror for a long time without opening hips. Superbly gifted footwork. Mirrors and matches with good balance throughout the route. Matches changing route speed stride for stride. Plays from low side of route to take away comeback routes. Great acceleration for recovery and closeouts. Carries true long speed down the field. Reads quarterback's eyes and receivers in off man coverage. Reads slants and drives in front of the route in search of a pick. Allowed just over 32% completions over last two years. Ball hawk with quick hands to attack the throw. Bats throws down and will swirl arms around the catch point to prevent receivers from finishing the catch.
Weaknesses: Slim frame and he feels small in coverage at times. Lacks play strength to jam and disrupt receivers. Avoids route contact so he doesn't upset coverage balance. Physical receivers can box him out at the top of the route. Needs to turn and find football quicker with back to the ball. Always around the throw, but lack of size and length leads to misses in pass coverage. Several pass breakups came on throws with poor placement and accuracy. Coverage benefitted from deep, talented defensive line up front. Has issues getting free from big blocking receivers. Bigger running backs carry him for a ride in run support.
Projected Round: 1
Compares to: Chris Harris Jr.
Possible landing spot: Chicago Bears
2. Josh Jackson, Iowa
Bio: An all district wide receiver in high school, Josh Jackson moved to cornerback at Iowa. By 2017, he gained national attention leading the NCAA with eight interceptions and 26 passes defended.
Strengths: Off the chart ball-hawking season with 27 passes defensed including eight interceptions. Tall with long arms. Allowed 41.3% completion rate. Made a play on 25.7% of his targets. Creates his own luck. Instincts are top tier. Plays the ball and not the receiver. Displayed superb ball skills. High-point winner with ability to pull down the one-hand catch. Played big in big games. Finished with three interceptions in upset win over Ohio State and two interceptions for touchdowns against Wisconsin. Anticipates routes. Allowed no touchdowns after the fourth game. Primetime player. Praised for positive attitude and strong work ethic.
Weaknesses: One year wonder. Just 14 career starts. Early opener from press coverage. Needs more experience and more patience. Too easily influenced by release fakes at the line of scrimmage. Can be turned by quality route runners. Doesn't flash a big chase acceleration when he gets behind on crossing routes. Needs to improve tackling. Questions are being raised about his long speed. Buys into route breaks a little too hard from trail and can be double moved too easily.
Projected Round: 1
Compares to: Desmond King
Possible landing spot: Green Bay Packers
3. Mike Hughes, Central Florida
Bio: After time spent at North Carolina and Community College, Mike Hughes signed with Central Florida in 2017. That year, he helped the Golden Knights to an undefeated season and being named first team All-American Athletic Conference with 44 tackles, 11 passes defended, four interceptions, and a touchdown.
Strengths: A little short but stout and tough. Very physical from press coverage. Gives opponents a rough ride out of their breaks. Won't just jam, but looks to completely halt the route with his first punch and aggression. Tracks and catches the ball like a receiver. Ball skills include above average timing, soft hands, and an ability to adjust body to make the catch. A+ short area foot quickness to burst on ball and tremendous track down speed on deep balls. Should be able to run with every receiver in the league. Elite talent as a return man. Capable of making huge changes to field position and momentum. Eludes first tackler on punt returns and can change field position quickly. Downhill kick returner with the speed to take it to house it once he finds a hole.
Weaknesses: Just two years of college football with just one season as a starter. Not as natural with mirror and matching footwork as he will need to be at the pro level. Lacks height and gets high-pointed by larger wide receivers. Plays too tall in his backpedal and from off coverage which slows shifts on the throw. Allows physical receivers to knock him off the top of the route. Needs more practice and game experience for improved route recognition. Coverage balance is hit-or-miss. Has room for improvement as a tackler. Was suspended from North Carolina in 2015 for violating team rules after being part of an incident at a fraternity house.
Projected Round: 1
Compares to: Bradley Roby
Possible landing spot: Seattle Seahawks
4. Isaiah Oliver, Colorado
Bio: As a true freshman, Isaiah Oliver played in all 13 games for Colorado. In his junior year, he was named first team All-Pac 12 after recording 27 tackles, 13 passes defended, and two interceptions.
Strengths: Elite size and speed with long arms. Looks the way teams want corners to look. Competitive decathlete. A+ deep speed and high jumper. Disrupts route release with long jabs into receiver's body from press coverage. Easy to open and sprint against deep threat receivers. Has tools and speed to spy and challenge routes underneath from off man. Greater margin for error early in the rep due to makeup speed and arm length. Aggressive to swat hands and arms through catch attempt. Has soft hands. Requires touch and precision to drop downfield throws over his rangy frame. Added value as a return man.
Weaknesses: Struggles to slow down from his top gear. Unable to stay in position with comeback routes from bump and run. Too high in backpedal. Transitions to match pattern cause wasted motion. Mirror and match footwork doesn't come easily from off man coverage. Allows receivers to gain separation from route stems and breaks. Can't plant and redirect quickly on lateral changes of direction. Doesn't play with much anger. Too many low hits as a tackler and will need to increase aggressiveness in run support.
Projected Round: 1-2
Compares to: Artie Burns
Possible landing spot: Los Angeles Rams
5. Donte Jackson, LSU
Bio: While at LSU, Donte Jackson was a star at both football and track. In three seasons playing football, he registered 117 tackles, 18 passes defended, and four interceptions.
Strengths: Elite level athleticism and speed. Won SEC title in 4x100 relay in track. Maybe the fastest player in this year's draft. All the makeup speed you need. Loose and smooth. Fluid backpedal with very little wasted motion in transitions. Great body control to handle tight or off coverages. Electric when reading and reacting to the ball. Above average closing acceleration. Has traits and cover ability to play outside or in the slot. Closes out separation from breaks very quickly. Has ability to bait quarterbacks into interceptions. Takes steep pursuit angles and can beat running backs to the edge. Learned under former LSU defensive backs Jalen Mills, Jamal Adams and Tre'Davious White.
Weaknesses: Has musclar frame, but in a small package. Lacks desired body type to matchup with NFL size and support the run. Gets off balance by experienced route runners. Instincts are below average. Struggles to anticipate routes. Gets lost in coverage and guards the field at times. Needs better feel in zone coverage and to feel route development around him. Doesn't sink and close out drop windows behind him. Room to improve angles to the throw. Hands are poor and unreliable. Allows several interceptions to slip out of his grasp. Shoe string tackler who can get pancaked if he tries to tackle too high.
Projected Round: 1-2
Compares to: Tre'Davious White
Possible landing spot: Pittsburgh Steelers