McGinn on NFL draft: DBs | Cornerbacks tall, safeties strong

Bob McGinn
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore is the top-ranked cornerback in the NFL draft.

Seventh in position-by-position series previewing the 2017 NFL draft.

GREEN BAY - It’s safe to say this is the tallest draft class of cornerbacks in NFL history. It also might be the best group of safeties ever.

What a great year it might turn out to be for teams looking for upgrades in the secondary.

“This is probably the best group of corners I’ve done in years and years,” said one NFC executive with more than 20 years in the scouting profession. “I see seven in the first (round), for sure. Safety isn’t bad, either. Not nearly as good as corner but there are some good players.”

Now hold it right there. Some of that scout’s peers would vehemently disagree with his tepid assessment of the safeties.

When five scouts were asked if the cornerback position 1-to-10 or the safety position 1-to-10 was better, safety gained a 3-2 edge.

In fact, one personnel man harkened to the draft last year when the first safety selected, Karl Joseph, went 14th to the Oakland Raiders. He measured just 5 feet 9 ½ inches and was coming off a torn ACL.

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“The West Virginia kid (Joseph) wouldn’t be in the top 10 of this group,” an AFC executive said. “You’re going to get a safety in the fourth, fifth, sixth round that is going to be a hell of a player. I’ve looked at it over and over. It’s as deep a safety draft as I’ve ever seen.”

The record for most safeties selected in the first round is four, set in 2014 and ’07. The record for most first-round cornerbacks, six, was set in 1997.

“It’s a hell of a DB draft, it really is,” said another AFC personnel man. “Both positions are really deep. The top cornerbacks are all top-shelf character kids, which is really rare for this position.”

At safety, there’s just so much speed and intelligence and explosive athleticism. You can find two size-speed players from the state of Michigan, the Wolverines’ Delano Hill (6-0 ½, 220) and the Spartans’ Montae Nicholson (6-2 ½, 212), sitting just 14th and 15th on the list despite their blazing 4.47 clockings.

What differentiates this class of cornerbacks isn’t the number of can’t-miss prospects.

“In my mind (Marshon) Lattimore is the only first-round corner,” said one executive. “There will be other corners that will get pushed up into the first round that are second-rounders. It’s just not a great class. Not even close.”

The distinguishing mark this year at cornerback is the sheer size of the players and the numbers of what looks like realistic contributors.

“At the top, no, it’s not an all-time group,” said an AFC scout. “It’s the depth, and these guys are long.

“Typically, you have a mix of little (expletive) and big guys. It’s mostly little guys and an occasional big guy. This draft for corners is big all the way, and they can run.”

Of the top 20 cornerbacks in the Journal Sentinel rankings, 15 measured 6 feet or taller. Of the five that didn’t, not one was below 5-10.

The trend toward big started last spring when the ratio of top-20 cornerbacks 6-0 and over compared to those shorter than 5-10 was 10-0.

From 1998-’15, there were an average of 6.7 top-20 cornerbacks standing 6-0 or above compared to 3.2 cornerbacks below 5-10. In the eight drafts from 1998-’05, there were 44 standing 6-0 or above compared to 35 under 5-10.

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The evolution of tall wide receivers started much earlier than at cornerback.

In 1998, the first-round cornerbacks included three comparative midgets: Duane Starks (5-9 ½, 170), Terry Fair (5-9 ½, 181) and R.W. McQuarters (5-9 ½, 193). In that same draft, wide receiver Randy Moss (6-3 ½, 200) entered the league.

In 2004, six of the seven wide receivers taken in the first round stood at least 6-2. At the same time, just six of the top-20 cornerbacks touched 6-0.

The avalanche of big, fast wide receivers rolled on with superstar Calvin Johnson (6-5, 239, 4.35) in 2007. The 2010-’11 drafts produced Dez Bryant (6-2, 224, 4.54), Demaryius Thomas (6-3, 229, 4.47), A.J. Green (6-3 ½, 211, 4.49) and Julio Jones (6-2 ½, 220, 4.39).

Fortunately for the defensive coaches charged to contain them, the pace has slowed somewhat.

Size is certainly widespread in this year’s class of wide receivers, with pacesetters Corey Davis (6-2 ½, 209, no 40) and Mike Williams (6-3 ½, 4.52) followed by five others in the top 10 standing at least 6-1 ½.

“Teams want bigger and faster corners,” said an NFC evaluator. “You don’t need to be quick and fast if you’re big and long. It (press-man coverage) is easier to teach than playing off.”

Lattimore, the third-year sophomore from Ohio State, dominated the voting in a Journal Sentinel poll of 17 evaluators. Each was asked to rank the cornerbacks on a 1-to-5 basis, with a first-place vote worth five points, a second worth four and so forth.

Lattimore gained 14 of the 17 first-place votes and won going away with 80 points.

Following, in order, were: Marlon Humphrey, 41 (one first); Gareon Conley, 37; Sidney Jones, 30; Adoree Jackson, 24 (one); Tre’Davious White, 14; Kevin King, 13 (one); Quincy Wilson, 12; Chidobe Awuzie, two, and Fabian Moreau and Teez Tabor, one.

In most cases, scouts ranked Jones strictly as a player regardless of the torn Achilles that he suffered March 11 working out during Washington’s pro day.

The voting among 16 evaluators at safety revealed two top players and then a considerable gap.

Jamal Adams won with 70 points and 11 first-place votes, just ahead of Malik Hooker (64, four).

Following, in order, were: Jabrill Peppers, 31 (one); Obi Melifonwu, 24; Budda Baker, 14; Marcus Williams, 13; Marcus Maye, 8 ½; Josh Jones, 7 ½; Awuzie and Justin Evans, three, and Eddie Jackson, two.

“I’m excited,” an AFC personnel man said. “There is so much depth at a lot of positions that there’s no need to reach.”

COMING NEXT: Specialists

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