NFL draft 2018 CB rankings: Denzel Ward is class of deep group
The top cornerback prospects entering the 2018 NFL draft:
1. Denzel Ward, Ohio State (5-11, 183): The Buckeyes have produced three first-round corners in the past two drafts (Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley and Eli Apple), and Ward is next in the pipeline after being named a first-team All-American in 2017. A supreme athlete with outstanding ball skills, he is unmatched in this class in terms of his ability to stay in a receiver's hip pocket. A lack of ideal size might be his only notable shortcoming, as bigger receivers could prove challenging in press coverage. Projected: potential top 10
2. Josh Jackson, Iowa (6-0, 196): In his first year as a starter, he established himself as a dominant defensive back with a Football Bowl Subdivision high of eight interceptions. Jackson's rare ball skills and aggressive mindset could make quarterbacks hesitate when deciding whether to throw his way. The NFL's more refined route runners could provide a challenge for Jackson, who only transitioned to corner from receiver in 2015, and his pedestrian 40-yard dash (4.56 seconds) at the combine might be a slight concern for some teams. Projected: Round 1
3. Jaire Alexander, Louisville (5-10, 196): Something of a forgotten man in 2017 after missing about half the season with knee and hand injuries, he put himself squarely back into the conversation of the draft's top corners with a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the combine and a smooth run in position drills. Alexander has the tools to thrive on the outside, but he might make a living in the slot given his penchant for shutting down underneath passes. Projected: Round 1
4. Isaiah Oliver, Colorado (6-0, 201): A standout decathlete, he has athleticism NFL teams crave. Oliver has the size to excel as a press corner and the speed to close when the ball is in the air. His footwork, however, leaves him vulnerable to sudden changes of direction, and he must improve his route recognition. Projected: Round 1-2
5. Mike Hughes, Central Florida (5-11, 191): After starting his career at North Carolina and transferring to junior college, he was one of the breakout stars of the Knights' undefeated season. His rugged, relentless approach in press coverage is not what one might expect given his stout frame. Certain teams might not see Hughes as a fit given his height and length, as well as his potential problems adapting to off coverage, but he'll contribute early as a returner at minimum. Projected: Round 1-2
6. Carlton Davis, Auburn (6-1, 206): Perhaps the draft's most imposing defensive back off the line of scrimmage, the three-year starter excels at jamming and re-routing receivers. Despite recording just four interceptions in 36 career games, he finds his way to the ball and makes life difficult for receivers on contested passes. An upright runner, Davis' change of direction skills are subpar, and he can be thrown off by double moves. Projected: Round 2
7. Donte Jackson, LSU (5-10, 178): His pledge to top John Ross' combine record in the 40-yard dash (4.22 seconds) went unfulfilled, but Jackson tied Ward and Tulane's Parry Nickerson for the top overall mark in Indianapolis at 4.32. Jackson's game is all about making a play with the ball in the air, as the former track standout consistently shows dangerous closing speed. However shortcomings in his route recognition and overall feel for the game are readily evident, and a maxed-out frame could leave him vulnerable to physical receivers. Projected: Round 2
8. Anthony Averett, Alabama (5-11, 183): In his two years as a starter, he established himself as a solid if unspectacular cover corner. His game depends more on sticking with a receiver throughout the route than making a play on the ball, and he will need to fill out his frame. Projected: Round 2
9. Rashaan Gaulden, Tennessee (6-1, 197): A 4.61-second 40 at the combine could prove to be an anchor on his stock, or at least a harbinger of a move to safety. But Gaulden proved to be both physical and fluid against the Southeastern Conference's best receivers, and he should find the field early in nickel packages. Projected: Round 3-4
10. M.J. Stewart, North Carolina (5-11, 200): His 41 career pass breakups set a UNC record, tying him with Wisconsin's Nick Nelson for most in this draft class. Stewart might be a candidate to move to safety given his lack of lack of explosiveness, but teams will find a way to utilize his savvy route recognition and tenacious style. Projected: Round 3-4
Teams in need of cornerbacks
1. Browns: They brought in T.J. Carrie and E.J. Gaines, but this group is still a hodgepodge lacking a true No. 1.
2. Seahawks: The release of Richard Sherman left Seattle perilously thin at a once-fortified position, with 2017 third-rounder Shaquill Griffin looking like the only real asset.
3. Packers: A failed pursuit of the Bears' Kyle Fuller revealed how much Green Bay wants to address this need after trading Damarious Randall.
4. Panthers: Sending Daryl Worley to the Eagles and going without Bashaud Breeland after he failed his physical leaves Carolina with a hole opposite James Bradberry.
5. Redskins: Orlando Scandrick can take over for Kendall Fuller in the slot, but a starter on the outside is needed after Breeland's departure.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.