by Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)
April 4th, 2021
1) Patrick Surtain II, Alabama; Ht: 6-2 Wt: 202
In a draft chock full of really talented cornerback, Patrick Surtain II is easily the best of all of them. The Alabama product and National Champion dominated all of the top receivers in the SEC as well as the pass catchers of Notre Dame and Ohio State with a bit of ease and was key in shutting down opposing quarterbacks. It’s easy to hyperbolize and say that there’s no flaws in his game, but I genuinely believe that he doesn’t have any issues in his game. He’s an absolute ballhawk with quick and accurate reads, consistent tackling, fantastic hands, excellent positioning, and fluid hips. At all times he’s either reading the wide receiver or quarterback and adjusting constantly to always hold an advantage. Surtain flatly doesn’t get beaten and I’m not sure there’s a team outside of Miami where he wouldn’t walk into the starting eleven.
2) Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech; Ht: 6-2 Wt: 207
I’ve seen a few mocks and rankings that have Caleb Farley going ahead of Patrick Surtain II and while the Virginia Tech player is excellent, I don’t agree that he could hop Surtain. Farley is clearly one of the two best corners in this draft with a ton of upside, but he’s a bit more rigid than Surtain and despite his anticipation benefitting him often, it can also get him into trouble when he’s fooled on double moves. I don’t want this to be seen as Farley hate, though, because I love him as a prospect. He’s versatile, with the ability to cover tight ends and wide receivers, and his hips and footwork are very technical and refined. I love the positioning and spatial awareness of Farley and his ability to get into the catch basket of a receiver without interfering is probably unrivaled in this draft.
3) Jaycee Horn, South Carolina; Ht: 6-1 Wt: 205
There aren’t a lot of players in the SEC that are avoided with consistency, especially outside of the super powerhouses, but Jaycee Horn is one of those players who drove offensive coordinators to the other side of the field. He’s very talented in press thanks to his quickness and his in-play positioning and adjustments help him stick to even the best wide receivers. He prefers to set up outside on wide receivers because his speed can help him recover on inside routes and his sight lines are improved from that outside spot. I would love to see him improve his shedding abilities on run plays or when a runner comes his way, but a corner that can completely take away Elijah Moore is a player any front office will be watching.
4) Eric Stokes, Georgia; Ht: 6-1 Wt: 185
Eric Stokes is another really talented press cornerback, but that’s something that will be common among the best wide receivers in any class. Scheme versatility is a must for high draft pick and corners aren’t an exception. One reason I love watching corners is because every player is different in the way they approach their drops and coverages. Stokes prefers to drop with his hips half flipped, ready to turn and burning necessary. That approach can lead to him being beaten short on occasion, but more often than not he’s simply impossible to beat. He prefers to read wide receivers for their moves and does that well, helping him employ his very good hands and keep between the pass catcher and the end zone.
5) Elijah Molden, Washington; Ht: 5-10 Wt: 190
Elijah Molden wasn’t a traditional corner at Washington and seemed to prefer a nickel assignment, often dropping to a deep flexible zone and attacking from there. Initially I thought he might be a safety, but that’s not really the case. He’s a very talented tackler, though he could be a touch better in the open field, and he’s very good in slot press. He has good speed and plays physical, though he may struggle with vertical routes in man coverage. However, Molden was Washington’s savior this year and was best when he could read the game and roam from his zone position. He flies to the ball and is always in on the play and was excellent at finding a way to interrupt the offense. He’s the best zone corner in the draft and I’m very interested to see how he’s used in the NFL.
6) Ambry Thomas, Michigan; Ht: 6-0 Wt: 183
Ambry Thomas is one of the better zone corners in this draft, though his man doesn’t lack as much as some of the other names on this list. Thomas’s key is that he’s an excellent athlete with fantastic hops, helping him mitigate a slightly slighter frame. Despite being a bit lighter than most players on this list, Thomas plays very physically with an impressive press coverage. The Michigan product reads quarterbacks very well and does great work in zones, using fantastic hands to break up and intercept passes with regularity.
7) Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 213
Ifeatu Melifonwu was arguably the best player in a loaded Syracuse secondary, so it makes sense that he’s going this high after competing with a talented crop of ACC wide receivers. Melifonwu prefers to read his cover, but that doesn’t deter him from being very good at finding the ball during the play. Melifonwu is exceptional at sticking with routes, especially vertically, and uses active hands to cause problems when passes are thrown his direction. I don’t like when he sags past five yards because he becomes much easier to beat and I would love to see him improve his tackling, but he’s very polished as is.
8) Paulson Adebo, Stanford; Ht: 6-1 Wt: 192
One of the players who took the season off to safely improve their games individually was Paulson Adebo. I actually think the player will drop a bit because he didn’t play this season, but that just means a team will get a steal later in the draft. Two seasons ago Justin Herbert and Oregon tried to pick on a younger Paulson Adebo, but that was a huge mistake with Adebo proving he was going to be great under pressure. He’s very talented at sticking to wide receivers through their first move, especially in press, and his physicality helped him win when passes were contestable. Adebo is excellent when attacking the line of scrimmage as well, with very good blitzes and run stop to go with his coverage. I would like him to become a better evaluator of whether the ball is “break up-able” or not because he can allow extra yards when trying to break up plays as well as improving his body control when tackling, but I love the potential for this player. I think he’s extremely close to being a great player and could easily be one of the best players to come out of this draft if his pro development goes well.
9) Aaron Robinson, Central Florida; Ht: 6-1 Wt: 193
Whenever a non-Power 5 team can snag a recruit that Alabama was hot on the trail of, they ought to be very happy. That’s what UCF got in Aaron Robinson, a great player that excelled against good competition in the AAC. Robinson played a bit of Cash to go along with his duties at corner and excelled all over the field. He plays a very sticky press and uses excellent speed to cut off passing lanes from behind wide receivers. His hands are very good and active while he processes the game and he tackles and blitzes well. He can struggle with a quick player that utilizes inside routes well, but otherwise he’s pretty clean. He’s the first player in that third tier, a tier that can still make a big effect on the NFL game this season but might not be one of the two starters on NFL teams.
10) Trill Williams, Syracuse; Ht: 6-2 Wt: 198
Trill Williams was the second half of the Syracuse corner pairing that did so well against ACC teams last season. Williams is an extremely versatile player who might be a fantastic tool at nickel. He’s very long and athletic, something that defenses are beginning to look for in prospects, and he’s close to unbeatable when the pairings become physical. He can play man or zone and does very well when he’s targeted on big plays. The player’s instincts are still developing and he needs to get better at turning his head and finding the football, but there’s absolutely massive potential here and I’m giddy to see where he ends up and how he’s used.
11) Robert Rochell, Central Arkansas; Ht: 6-2 Wt: 195
Robert Rochell might be the least-known player on this list, but he’s an exceptional corner who will make a difference in the NFL this season. Rochell is very good in man coverage without being a physical player, being one of the better players to break up passes without initiating contact. He sticks with routes and is able to identify and defend the route before the receiver even indicates where they’ll be heading, meaning he has fantastic anticipation. He’s a sticky defender with really nice hands and great anticipation. What more does a defensive coordinator want?
12) Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State; Ht: 5-10 Wt: 184
The name on Asante Samuel Jr.’s jersey might have seen him get a bump in rankings for some evaluators, but I think the player is good enough to stand on his own and still be seen as a great player. Samuel was a bit overlooked because Florida State was so poor recently, but his doubling as a return man helped him as a corner. Samuel is very good with the ball in his hands and his ability to diagnose a wide receiver was accentuated by that skill. Samuel’s hands are very good and his fluid hips and ability to read the quarterback made him very tough to lose. I liked his press but his size was occasionally an issue. He’s very talented and loves to make big plays, but that ability could bite him if he’s to liberal with his decision making.
13) Tyson Campbell, Georgia; Ht: 6-2 Wt: 185
Tyson Campbell is a largely cerebral player who takes fewer risks than most players and doesn’t get beat often as a result. Campbell preys on receivers and quarterbacks by reading the game, positioning accordingly, and attacking in response to the offensive moves. He plays a very fundamental press with good speed that helps him stick to his assignments, but he thrives when he can sag a bit and really see the play and improve his sight lines. He’s good at blitzing and pursues the ball well, so it couples well that he’s a talented tackler too.
14) Keith Taylor, Washington; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 195
I was a bit unimpressed with the film on Keith Taylor, but when you have a ton of talented players around you like Joe Tryon and Elijah Molden, it’s tough to look like the best player on the field. That being said, I still love the upside of the player. He was able to work his way through the traffic of screen plays to find tackles and that body control transitioned to coverage well. Taylor is very good in man and was able to stop and start with receivers well, rarely losing his mark. He has nice speed and gives good effort, but there are things I want to see him do better. I’m begging him to become a more physical tackler and I would love to see him take better angles and shed better. Taylor has a very high ceiling, he just needs to get some of the boring stuff straightened out.
15) Israel Mukuamu, South Carolina; Ht: 6-4 Wt: 205
If there’s a player that might excel in a different position, something like a Cash or even a small outside linebacker, it’s going to be Israel Mukuamu. The Gamecock has a huge frame that can really disrupt an offense if positioned correctly and some of the best hands in this draft, so it should be really interesting to see how he’s employed. On occasion Mukuamu was lined up at safety because he’s able to read the game well and put his helmet on the ball, but he’s so talented as a corner as well. He tracks the ball well and his hips help him do well in man coverage despite being bigger, as do his length and hands.I would like to see Israel play a bit more under control and take the game by the horns more often, but the potential here is worth a Day 2 pick if the opportunity arises. He’s like a slimmer Isaiah Simmons.
16) Tre Norwood, Oklahoma; Ht: 6-0 Wt: 194
Oklahoma is never really known for their defense and this season didn’t see that trope change, but even though Tre Norwood didn’t set the world on fire I can still see him make an impact this season. The player was tested in one of the highest-paced offensive conferences in the country and struggled as much as one might expect, but there’s still traits that are very desirable. Norwood played a good amount of nickel and safety to go along with his other duties. He was very good at identifying plays, though he struggled to find the appropriate angle of approach to pair with the play. Norwood hits very hard and was set in a high quarter zone pretty often, but when he played man you could see some serious athleticism and very good hands to pair with a very intelligent football mind.
17) Shaun Wade, Ohio State; Ht: 6-1 Wt: 195
I might be a bit severe with my evaluation of Shaun Wade, but he wasn’t able to rise to the hype around him and to me that indicated he might fold under pressure. The player has a lot of redeeming attributes, but I was unimpressed by a lot of his play this season. He was burned in press repeatedly this season despite diagnosing plays quickly and well and he doesn’t have a particularly strong base. Sometimes Wade will sag off his assignment only to be beaten short repeatedly, but then when he plays tighter, the receiver will beat him deep. He was picked on by Clemson repeatedly in the national semi-final and struggled against good receivers. I love his approach to coverage, watching the wide receiver’s eyes to make adjustments and anticipate routes, but there’s a lot to worry about. I list so much I don’t like only because the player is so well known with what he does well that I just want to explain why I disagree with some of the evaluations. He’s a very good player and I think he could work in the NFL this season, but the situation has to be close to perfect.
18) Benjamin St-Juste, Minnesota; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 205
St-Juste heads one of the lower tiers of cornerbacks that I don’t think will impact the NFL too much this season, but could be a good player down the road with some good development. I love the player’s size and the athleticism and length that accompanies it. I would like to see his speed and quickness improve a bit because when he sticks with his mark he can be very disruptive, but he can be left behind sometimes. I would also like to see St-Juste improve his play identification. The risks associated with the player might be tough to cope with but the upside if he gets his issues ironed out might be worth the potential miss.
19) Zech McPherson, Texas Tech; Ht: 5-11 Wt: 195
Like Eric Stokes, Zech McPherson is a player who prefers to drop into coverage with his hips half flipped while reading the quarterback. He seemed to enjoy an eight yard sag on his cover which is a bit too much for me, but if it works best for him then it might need to stay that way. In the NFL where quarterbacks release the ball so quickly, it may be a problem. He’s fine in man coverage thanks to his position, but I have an issue with his tackling. McPherson prefers to tackle very low and he’s good at it, but it came back to bite him a couple times when he should have had tackles for losses but instead gave up a touchdown. I don’t see huge potential with this player, so he may be a late round pick.
20) Camryn Bynum, California; Ht: 6-0 Wt: 200
Bynum is another player that plays half flipped to the inside, but his coverage is much more preferable to that of McPherson. Camryn Bynum was very good at switching coverages in zone and making very important plays. The player was a very good disrupter in press coverage, though he prefers to sag to begin plays and let receivers come to him. I really liked him when he blitzed, but he gets in bad positions that force him to make ankle tackles and I don’t love that. I want to see Bynum wrap up more and be more effective at stopping the play when he comes in contact with it. I like the potential of the player down the road.
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