NFL Combine: 10 immediate impact corners

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On Sunday, the deep defensive back class of 2020 completed their workouts and drills at the scouting combine. With an earpiece connected to the NFL Network broadcast and a completely private workspace, I was able to watch and analyze 30 of the best available cornerbacks. The following article displays ten coverage defenders that have the potential to immediately impact the franchise that will make a tough decision in late April. 

Jeff Okudah – Ohio State

The highest rated cornerback in the 2020 draft class played in Lucas Oil Stadium for the Big Ten Championship back in December. Okudah was named to First Team All-Big Ten after leading the Buckeyes with three interceptions and nine pass deflections in 2019. Ohio State certainly has a case for the self-proclaimed “DBU” as the Buckeyes have had ten cornerbacks (most in FBS) drafted in the first round in the last twenty NFL drafts. The first team AP All-American’s six-foot stature, elite quickness and brick wall press coverage have him projected as a top-five draft pick. His shocking 41” vertical was tied for best amongst the cornerback class.  Do not be surprised to see Okudah be the second defensive player taken after college teammate Chase Young.

C.J. Henderson – Florida

The Miami native posted the second fastest 40-yard dash time amongst the cornerback group at 4.39 seconds. Henderson made First Team All-SEC in 2019 after leading the Gators with 11 pass deflections. During his freshman season, Henderson gained notoriety by tying for second in the nation with two touchdown returns and four picks in 2017. His sophomore year displayed incredible versatility with three sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Elite footwork was put on full display as Henderson looked like the quickest athlete participating in drills. Twenty repetitions on the bench press as a defensive back is also impressive. With the ability to jump routes and perfectly time blitzes, Henderson is projected as a mid-first round prospect.

Trevon Diggs – Alabama

The younger brother of Minnesota Vikings receiver, Stefon, played all four years for the Crimson Tide. He began his collegiate career as a receiver like his brother, yet transitioned to defense full-time in his sophomore season. Diggs earned Third Team AP All-American and Second Team All-SEC in 2019 after leading the team with eight pass deflections. His three interceptions, two fumble recoveries including a 100-yard scoop and score have Diggs projected as a late first round pick. His family background and former receiver abilities give Diggs an instinctive advantage than traditional defensive backs. His six-foot size and play making abilities are pros for the Saban product. A broken foot cost Diggs half of his junior season and not participating in the 40-yard dash could be a red flag to teams.

Kristian Fulton – LSU

A New Orleans native, Fulton finished his college career as a national champion for the Tigers. Fulton delivered six tackles, including a pass deflection against the 2018 national champion, Clemson Tigers. The collegiate career for Fulton became controversial after Fulton was suspended for two seasons in 2017 by the NCAA for using fake urine sample during a PED test. He was reinstated in 2018 after the NCAA reviewed his case. In his final two seasons for LSU, Fulton tallied 63 tackles, 2 interceptions and 25 pass deflections. A sub-4.5 dash time has raised Fulton’s draft stock and depending on team necessities, the former Tiger could be a day one or two steal.

Jeff Gladney – TCU

The competitive nature of Gladney is an aspect that cannot be overlooked by NFL scouts. Despite a 5’10” 190 pound frame, Gladney reportedly can bench press 400 pounds and squat 600 pounds. The Texas native allowed the lowest passer rating in the conference in 2018 and was tied for fifth in the FBS with 14 pass deflections in 2019. The sub 4.5 speed of Gladney makes him a dependable man coverage corner. Not many other athletes in this class have the mirror footwork or the ability to stay on the hip of a receiver like Gladney. An absolute shutdown corner and screen annihilator as the tape against West Virginia displays his best work allowing zero receptions. As a slot cornerback, this prospect is extremely underrated in a deep draft class and could quite honestly be the most polished senior defensive back available.

Cameron Dantzler – Miss State

At 6’2” Dantzler was an irritant to vertical receivers in the SEC during his time at Mississippi State. The former high school quarterback caught his first interception in a bowl game against NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. His 4.64 dash time was second to worst among the cornerback group just above Nebraska cornerback, Lamar Jackson. His athletic ability is not undermined, however, his tackling skills are not up to par with other players at his position. The pros of Dantzler are of his tape against the two highest rated quarterbacks in this year’s draft class, national champions Joe Burrow of LSU and Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama. The cons are avoiding pass interference calls and adjusting to NFL vertical threats. Dantzler is projected to be a starter within his first few seasons.

Damon Arnette – Ohio State

On the opposite side of the field as Okudah, the Florida native had an opportunity to shine in several games this season as quarterbacks stayed away from throwing to his counterpart. Arnette had draft ambitions last off-season but decided to stay for his senior campaign. A Second Team All-Big Ten honor along with a Big Ten title was completely worth the stay. Arnette played in all four seasons for the Buckeyes producing 140 tackles, 22 pass deflections, five interceptions, and a forced fumble along with a fumble recovery. He scored his first college touchdown in 2019 against Indiana. His 4.57 dash time makes him best fit for zone coverage, however, the best aspect of this prospect could be his ability to step up as a team’s no. 2 corner. With implausible experience, the former Buckeye heads into the draft as the biggest sleeper with a teammate projected over him.

AJ Terrell – Clemson

The Dabo Swinney product showed out in the 40-yard dash on Sunday running in just over 4.4 seconds. The junior is coming off a horrific game as he was targeted by Joe Burrow and the LSU offense. The five-star recruit out of Atlanta played all three seasons for the Tigers and played a major role in the 2018 national championship run. In the title game, Terrell picked off Jalen Hurts for a 44-yard touchdown. Terrell earned First Team All-ACC this past season as a national runner-up recording two interceptions and six pass deflections for Clemson. Terrell stayed lower than most participants in Sunday’s drills and impressed with a few diving catches and matching his anticipated dash time. The pros for Terrell are experience and catching ability whereas the major con is the national title tape where Terrell was punished by the LSU receiving core. His draft stock remains questionable to where he will land but teams needing a cornerback would not pass up the chance to select the former Tiger if available.

Jaylon Johnson – Utah

The Fresno native participated in all of the drills on Sunday and performed extremely well to raise his declining draft stock. The former Ute ran a 4.5 flat in the 40-yard dash and caught each deep ball thrown his way. Johnson also tied for third amongst the cornerback group for his 4.13 second twenty yard shuttle sprint. First Team All-12 as a sophomore wasn’t enough for Johnson as he repeated all-conference in 2019 and earned AP Second Team All-American by leading the Utes with 11 pass deflections and two interceptions. The four star recruit will unfortunately undergo surgery after the combine for a torn labrum. His draft stock declined solely through injury but the six-foot prospect’s athletic ability could get his name called earlier than expected in such a deep class.

Bryce Hall – Virginia

The Pennsylvania native did not participate in Sunday’s combine activities and only achieved eleven repetitions on the bench press. He led the FBS with 22 pass deflections in 2018, earning First Team All-ACC honors. Hall recorded 62 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles that season. His senior year campaign was unfortunately cut short due to requiring surgery on his left ankle. His long 32” arms assist him on short routes but his injury particularly makes him a zone corner. Hall could use some help from NFL safeties against deep balls and covering professional receivers while recovering from his ankle injury. Not participating in the scouting combine decreased his chances of being taken in the first round.  A major concern is his catching ability as the former Cavalier dropped several interceptions during his collegiate career. When healthy, Hall has an opportunity to become a pro-style defensive back that can play early because of his instinct to make a play on the ball rather than the receiver.

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