Ranking the NFL draft prospects: Defensive backs
The Journal Sentinel’s Bob McGinn assesses the top cornerbacks and safeties in the NFL draft April 27-29. Included is each player’s height, weight, 40-yard time and projected round.
1. MARSHON LATTIMORE, Ohio State (6-0, 194, 4.36, 1): Third-year sophomore. “He’s the best,” said one scout. “He’s got length, he’s an athlete, he can bend, he can run, good ball skills, he can tackle. But he only has 12 starts. He’s got enough ability to be a top-10 pick, and that’s where he’s going to be.” Redshirted in 2014 after undergoing surgery to repair a chronic hamstring injury dating back to high school track. Limited to seven games as a backup in ’15 because of hamstring issues. “A tremendous athlete but I really am concerned about his hamstrings and the ability to stay healthy,” another scout said. “He’s a big corner that can press and run and will tackle well. Not a lot of holes in his game.” Minimal statistics: 46 tackles, 4 interceptions and 12 passes broken up (PBUs). “He’s not a no-brainer but he’s probably the cleanest total package,” a third scout said. “He is a little bit off at the top of the route.” Scored 23 on the Wonderlic intelligence test. Latest Buckeyes standout to hail from Cleveland Glenville High School.
2. MARLON HUMPHREY, Alabama (6-0, 198, 4.41, 1): Third-year sophomore, 29-game starter. “For a guy with a track background he will hit you,” said one scout. “Sky’s the limit. He’s just big and fast and athletic and tough.” The universal knock on him is playing the ball downfield. “His deep-ball skills concern me,” said another scout. “He’s had great coaching, too. Nick (Saban) coaches him every day, starting with drills. He coaches the corners.” Father, Bobby, was the Broncos’ first-round pick in 1989 as a RB. His mother was a successful 400-meter runner at Alabama-Birmingham. Marlon was a world-class hurdler. “I think he’s spoiled,” said a third scout. “I think he’s soft. He’s been given everything all his life.” Finished with 81 tackles, 5 picks and 13 PBUs. Wonderlic of 20. “Can run, jump, do a lot of things,” a fourth scout said. “He gives up some stupid plays and you wonder, ‘Marlon, what the hell are you doing?’ He’s getting bad advice from his dad. He’s losing grace and favor with some (NFL) people.” From Hoover, Ala.
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3. GAREON CONLEY, Ohio State (6-0, 194, 4.46, 1): Third-year junior with 26 starts in 41 games. “Really a tremendous tester,” a third scout said. “Great character kid. We prefer Conley over Lattimore just a little bit. Little bit smoother.” Longest arms (33 inches) of the top CBs, a 37-inch vertical jump and a swift 40. “Everybody loves the kid,” said a second scout. “Really a good teammate. Leader of the group. Makes it looks easy. Good in press man. Short-area burst. Likes to jump routes. He can track the ball deep.” Finished with 91 tackles, 6 picks and 15 PBUs. “He’s functional enough,” a third scout said. “Not going to be a Pro Bowler or your No. 1 guy. He’ll be a really good complementary starter.” Wonderlic of 17. From Massillon, Ohio.
4. SIDNEY JONES, Washington (6-0, 185, 4.51, 2): It all changed for Jones when he blew out his Achilles running through drills at pro day in mid-March. “That’s a shame,” one scout said. “My guess (now) is third round. I think if teams have extra picks they might look at him earlier. If he has a negative it’s probably strength. For a lean guy he tackles well. Really a good cover guy.” Two teams said they had Jones slotted second behind Lattimore before the injury. “Good worker, willing to do extra,” a second scout said. “Really smart. Doesn’t get rattled. I question his long speed.” Third-year junior with 39 starts. Finished with 145 tackles, 9 picks and 30 PBUs. “More of a finesser,” said a third scout. “He can run and mirror anything. He wasn’t real physical with the jam. Not very big.” Added a fourth scout: “He’s 186, 4.51. There’s not a lot of special traits.” From Diamond Bar, Calif.
5. ADOREE JACKSON, Southern California (5-10, 186, 4.41, 1): Third-year junior, three-year starter. Returned eight kicks for touchdowns. “Probably the best overall athlete of the group,” said one scout. “Little bit smaller than the rest.” Is the height an impediment? “I don’t give a (expletive) about 5-10,” said a second scout. “He’s a football player and will be your starting punt returner and kick returner and nickel. Great kid. Hell of a player.” Grew up in Belleville, Ill., before moving to Gardena, Calif., for his final three years of high school. “Size is his only hole,” said a third scout. “He’s also a little laid-back on the field. Tries to bait guys. Doesn’t always play with technique.” Two-time Pacific-12 long jump champion. Finished with 139 tackles, 6 picks and 39 PBUs. “He shut down Alabama’s Calvin Ridley in the first game and had no problem with Washington’s John Ross,” said a fourth scout. “Only problem he had was against a big receiver from Utah. He reminds me of Darrell Green, who was just 5-8.”
6. TRE’DAVIOUS WHITE, Louisiana State (5-11, 192, 4.52, 1): Only senior among the top six. “When you wear No. 18 at LSU, that’s a special man,” said one scout. “Great kid. The whole thing.” Started 47 of 49 games, finishing with 167 tackles, 6 picks and 34 PBUs. “Is he as good an athlete as Humphrey?” asked one scout. “No, but he’s really consistent. He’s played nickel and corner. The Arkansas game, those guys ran right by him. Not a great punt returner. Skill level? I don’t know if he’s first round.” Had more reps (16) than any CB on the bench press but ran a disappointing 40. “He should be second round,” a third scout said. “The 4.53. The (Cover 2) scheme they used to run in Chicago would have been perfect. They’d have been all over that guy.” From Shreveport, La. “Kind of a steady Eddie,” said a fourth scout. “He may get into a little bit of trouble against the DeSean Jacksons, those elite burners. But he’s such a good technician and is good with his hands. As much hell as they can give him he’ll give them hell back. Just a very smart, plug-and-play guy.”
7. QUINCY WILSON, Florida (6-1 ½, 211, 4.56, 1-2): Third-year junior played 39 games (24 starts). “He’s got really nice length and body control,” said one scout. “Passion for the game. He will need some work on his tackling but has good hips. He wants to be physical with the receivers. Press corner.” Finished with 84 tackles, 6 picks and 17 PBUs. “He’s big and strong and physical and has really good feet,” another scout said. “He’ll tackle. When you get that big you’d love for them to be in the 4.4’s. Sometimes you’ve got to give up a little bit to get something else.” From Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “He ran well,” a third scout said. “Be a good press corner. He can play off a little bit. He’d be better (playing) up because he’s a big, strong kid.” His size has spawned talk of a shift at some point to safety. “He wants to play corner,” a fourth scout said. “He’ll be somebody’s press outside corner.”
8. KEVIN KING, Washington (6-3, 198, 4.46, 1-2): Starting FS in 2014 before moving to CB the past two years. “Was not highly rated until the combine,” said one scout. “When people saw how he ran and moved around his stock went up. He’s a little leggy. I think change of direction and quicker receivers will be a challenge for him.” Started 34 of 45 games, finishing with 165 tackles, 6 picks and 28 PBUs. “A lot of times he played in the slot, which is (strange) for his body type,” a second scout said. “He’s an instinctive, aware player. He could be a starter. He ran faster than I thought he would.” Coached at Bishop O’Dowd in Oakland by former Pro Bowl MLB Hardy Nickerson. “Big guy, ran fast,” a third scout said. “He just doesn’t move well enough. Not productive at all. He just gets beat all the time. Very limited toughness in the run game.”
9. FABIAN MOREAU, UCLA (6-0 ½, 204, 4.35, 1-2): Started 40 games over three seasons. “I liked him on tape and then he had a real good East-West Game,” one scout said. “He can run. He’s big. He’s borderline first round but his value is probably more top of the second. Hey, 6-foot corners that run 4.37 and have good tape, bring them here.” Finished with 146 tackles, 2 picks and 21 PBUs. “Looks pretty,” said another scout. “Got the speed. Got the test score (Wonderlic of 23). But as far as his play, he doesn’t show a lot of instincts or cover movement.” Led CBs in the broad jump (11-4). Suffered a torn pectoral muscle bench-pressing March 21 at pro day. “He’s gotta get discounted,” said a third scout. “That’s a six-month injury. He had surgery.” From Sunrise, Fla.
10. TEEZ TABOR, Florida (6-0 ½, 197, 4.67, 2): Some scouts figured he’d run close to 4.7, which he did. “I think the guy fell out of the first round and is in the second round and he’d be a steal in the third,” one scout said. “Changes direction, very good. Short-area quickness, very good. Ball skills, very good. Instincts, very good. But he ran 4.7.” Third-year junior, two-year starter. “I was always taught the film is the most important thing, and this guy’s film’s good,” another scout said. “He’s wired the way you want a corner to be wired. I like his confidence. It’s not fake. He hasn’t done a lot of terrible (expletive) but there’s five or six things.” Tabor has been pulled from consideration by some teams because of an arrest for marijuana possession and numerous suspensions and flareups around the team. Finished with 105 tackles, 8 picks and 33 PBUs. “Richard Sherman was a little bit taller and I timed him at Stanford at 4.62, 4.63,” a third scout said. “He’s been in the Pro Bowl a few times. Florida plays against fast people and he has no problems.” From Washington. “He’s a grabber in coverage, which is a major issue,” said a fourth scout. “But the 40 doesn’t scare me. He’s an (expletive) but he’ll be all right because he loves football. Tell him to shut up.”
OTHERS: Jourdan Lewis, Michigan; Cordrea Tankersley, Clemson; Shaquill Griffin, Central Florida; Howard Wilson, Houston; Cam Sutton, Tennessee; Ahkello Witherspoon, Colorado; Brian Allen, Utah; Rasul Douglas, West Virginia; Brendan Langley, Lamar; Damontae Kazee, San Diego State; Corn Elder, Miami; Channing Stribling, Michigan; Treston DeCoud, Oregon State; Ashton Lampkin, Oklahoma State; Marquez White, Florida State.
MCGINN'S DRAFT SERIES: Position-by-position analysis, rankings
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1. JAMAL ADAMS, Louisiana State (5-11 ½, 213, 4.45, 1): Third-year junior was the nickel back in 2014 and SS in 2015-’16. “He has very good range against the run,” said one scout. “When the ball’s on the perimeter and breaks the line of scrimmages he tackles somebody for like a 1-yard gain. For most guys it’s a 5- or 6-yard gain. I don’t think he has that outstanding over the top range but it’s good enough. He’s a player with great character. Someone said on a profile test he didn’t score real well. I don’t see any mental concerns on tape.” Ran just 4.58 at the combine but erased doubts associated with that by turning in a blazing 40 at pro day. “That 4.43 is what you thought he’d run,” a second scout said. “He plays at a different speed than everybody. He’s not Sean Taylor, but he’s one of the top five players in this draft. Phenomenal leader. Pro’s pro.” Father, George, was a RB drafted in the first round by the Giants in 1985. Wonderlic of 11 was the lowest of the top 19 safeties. “Adams is more explosive than (Ha Ha) Clinton-Dix,” a third scout said. “Ha Ha is a better deep-field player from a range standpoint but you’re going to get more wow plays from Adams. He had more in his body than Ha Ha.” From Lewisville, Texas. “I liked him more last year,” a fourth scout said. “He’s a box guy. He struggles in space. You have to be able to play in space today.” Finished with 209 tackles, 5 picks and 15 PBUs.
2. MALIK HOOKER, Ohio State (6-1, 208, no 40, 1): Buckeyes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano has compared Hooker to Ed Reed, whom he coached at Miami. “He’s the best middle field guy by far,” said one scout. “Rare middle safety ability.” Third-year sophomore played little in 2015 before a seven-pick, 3-TD explosion in ’16. “Former basketball player,” said another scout. “Great body. Not a blazer. Got a lot of up side.” Largest hands of any DB (10 3/4). Underwent surgery Jan. 31 for a labrum tear and sports hernia. “You’re taking a bit of a risk because the kid’s only been a starter one year and he’s got the injury,” another scout said. “Good kid. Limited (two years) high school football.” Finished with 84 tackles, 7 picks and 11 PBUs. Wonderlic of 17. “He just struggles as a tackler,” a third scout said. “Lot of awkward positions, not very strong. Against the pass, he gets a lot of gifts. The Michigan game, the guy (Wilton Speight) threw the ball right at him. Does that make the guy a great ballhawk safety when he’s just standing there and they throw it right into his chest? Had a bunch of those this year. You do see the ball skill on some interceptions but he’s a little bit of a gambler. Kind of puzzling to me why he’s such a sure-fire top, top guy.” From New Castle, Pa.
3. JABRILL PEPPERS, Michigan (5-11, 214, 4.47, 1-2): Third-year junior probably was the most versatile player in college football. Played safety, WLB, nickel, RB and returned kicks and punts. “I still don’t know if he’s offense or defense,” said one scout. “I still got a couple days. I’d like him at the right price but I’m not going to spend a first-round pick on him.” Whatever Peppers does, he goes all-out. “This kid is very passionate about football,” a second scout said. “Almost to the point where if you’re not at his level of passion he has no time for you. His skill set says free safety but he’s better closer to the line.” Among players mentioned as comparables are Troy Polamalu, Deone Bucannon, Tyrann Mathieu and Mark Barron. “I think he’s getting beat up a little bit,” a third scout said. “He’s not Polamalu but you’ve got to play him in a role where he can just roam and play the run.” In 27 games (25 starts) he finished with 125 tackles (21 ½ for loss), just 1 pick and 10 PBUs. Also carried 45 times for 239 yards (5.3) and caught 10 passes. Tested positive at the combine for a banned substance. Wonderlic of 26. “One of the most versatile guys there’s ever been,” a fourth scout said. “I don’t know what the problem is. He’s a dynamic utility safety for us. Guy’s a winner.” From East Orange, N.J.
4. MARCUS WILLIAMS, Utah (6-0 ½, 202, 4.60, 1-2): Third-year junior. “He’s like Eric Weddle in his ability to work,” one scout said. “True professional. Teammates love him. He is a rare athlete. Very good ball skills. May be a corner.” Had a vertical jump of 43 ½ and a Wonderlic of 34. “Only thing I know about Williams is he’s soft,” said another scout. “And, he can run and cover. Plays faster than that (timed speed).” Referred to as “frail” by one personnel man. “His hole is run support,” a third scout said. “Not very physical. Inconsistent angles in support.” Started 30 of 37 games at FS, finished with 189 tackles, 11 picks and 19 PBUs. Posted a 4.0 grade-point average in high school in Corona, Calif. Said a fourth scout: “I questioned how tough he was, and I didn’t think he was real fast.”
5. OBI MELIFONWU, Connecticut (6-4, 221, 4.42, 1-2): Four-year starter at FS in a downtrodden program. “UConn was a bad team but he was a good player,” one scout said. “My benchmark for big safeties is Kam Chancellor. This kid can cover. He’s not the thumper Kam is but he’s a better athlete.” Born in London but hometown is South Grafton, Mass. “Kind of a different guy,” the scout said. “Keeps to himself. Not very vocal. Looks like a Greek god. Freakishly athletic.” Registered combine bests in the vertical jump (44) and broad jump (11-9). “Looks the part,” another scout said. “More of a downhill type but he brings a presence.” Finished with 351 tackles, 8 picks and 16 PBUs. “If a guy’s 6-4, 220 and runs 4.4, and he’s got fluid hips, why not let him fail at corner?” a third scout said. “If he does, move him inside.”
6. BUDDA BAKER, Washington (5-9 ½, 193, 4.50, 2): Third-year junior with 40 starts in 40 games. “He ain’t Earl Thomas,” one scout said. “He’s a box safety, but he can make some plays. Only thing that kills him is length. Short arms (30 ¾) and not very tall.” Classified with Peppers as a strong safety/dime by one scout. Has covered wide receivers in the slot. “He’s at his best playing nickel corner,” another scout said. “I think he’ll have limitations playing safety. I do buy into the kid and the player. He’ll be hell on (special) teams.” Finished with 200 tackles, 5 picks and 22 PBUs. Played on a high school team in Bellevue, Wash., that never lost a game (42) in his three seasons. Wonderlic of 14. “The coaches will tell you he’s the best player on their team,” a third scout said. “They love that guy. Small guy that can run.”
7. MARCUS MAYE, Florida (5-11 ½, 208, 4.54, 2): Three-year starter. “He’s better than Peppers,” one scout said. “You see him do it (play safety). His holes are deep part of the field, vertical angles and man cover.” Started 32 of 45 games, finishing with 210 tackles, 5 picks, 21 PBUs and seven forced fumbles. “Natural-born leader,” another scout said. “He’s got deceptively long speed. Secure tackler.” Started alongside Keanu Neal in 2015. “He’s a lot like Matt Elam coming out,” said a third scout. “You don’t want him in coverage. If you can match him on tight ends and big slots you’ve got a better chance of not getting him exposed. He’s not a guy that’s creating the interception, mirroring routes and undercutting. He’s physical. He’s not afraid to put a hat on you.” From Melbourne, Fla.
8. CHIDOBE AWUZIE, Colorado (6-0, 199, 4.46, 2): Started 42 games over four years, all at CB, but some teams view him as a FS. “He and Budda Baker fall in the same mix,” one scout said. “Little bit of a tweener. He’s played outside corner, safety, nickel corner. More of a zone corner. He would have been great in Lovie Smith’s system.” Bright (Wonderlic of 34) and athletic (broad jump of 11-0). “He may end up moving to safety because he’s so strong,” another scout said. “People got down on him because he had some problems against (WR) James Washington but he had a right turf toe against Oklahoma State (in the Alamo Bowl). Physical guy, team leader, has his degree. He’s put together.” Finished with 273 tackles (26 for loss), 3 picks and 34 PBUs. From San Jose, Calif.
9. JOSH JONES, North Carolina State (6-1 ½, 221, 4.40, 2-3): Fourth-year junior. “Just on the player, I’d take him over Adams,” said one scout. “He’s a deluxe strong safety. He’s got instincts, coverage. Really good.” Three-year starter ran the fastest 40 by a safety to go with an 11-0 broad jump and position-best 20 reps on the bench press. “Even played some corner,” another scout said. “Big guy, can run. It’s crazy, the 4.40. He played corner and moved OK. I think he’s a safety but if you’re playing press. …" Finished with 233 tackles, 6 picks and 18 PBUs. Wonderlic of 17. “Not a fan,” a third scout said. “Looks the part. Ran well. I just think instincts might hold him back.” From Walled Lake, Mich.
10. JUSTIN EVANS, Texas A&M (5-11 ½, 197, 4.57, 3): Played better in 2015 than in ’16. “You’ve got to love his very reckless style,” one scout said. “Throws his body around. Supports the run. Misses a lot of tackles. There’s going to be a role for this guy. He should be a heck of a special-teams player as well.” Out of Wiggins, Miss., he started out with two seasons in junior college. Wonderlic of 25. “Better version of (Alabama’s Eddie) Jackson,” said another scout. “Good athlete, not a special athlete. He will mix it up. Probably be a backup who ends up being one of those bargain starters.” Finished with 165 tackles, 5 picks (no return yards) and 16 PBUs.
OTHERS: Tedric Thompson, Colorado; Eddie Jackson, Alabama; Desmond King, Iowa; Delano Hill, Michigan; Montae Nicholson, Michigan State; Rayshawn Jenkins, Miami; Xavier Woods, Louisiana Tech; Rudy Ford, Auburn; John Johnson, Boston College; Lorenzo Jerome, St. Francis (Pa.); Josh Harvey-Clemons, Louisville; Nate Gerry, Nebraska; Chuck Clark, Virginia Tech; Shalom Luani, Washington State; Jadar Johnson, Clemson.
Lorenzo Jerome, S, St. Francis (Pa.): Attempting to become the Red Flash’s first draftee since RB Ed Stofko in 1944. Jerome (5-10 ½, 202, 4.67) is small and slow. However, he picked off 18 passes as a four-year starter and then two apiece in the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl. “St. Francis Pa. was an absolute abyss forever,” said one scout. “They went to the (FCS) playoffs this year and this kid was the heartbeat of the defense.”
Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, Colorado: He’s tall (6-2 ½, 199), smart (Wonderlic of 29) and athletic (40 ½ vertical jump). He made numerous plays on the ball, too. However, he has shown little or no interest hitting or tackling anyone.
Packers' Pick to Remember
Fred Vinson, CB, Vanderbilt: Second-round pick in 1999. Played 16 games largely as an ineffective dime back. In April 2000, GM Ron Wolf traded Vinson and a sixth-round pick to Seattle’s Mike Holmgren for RB Ahman Green and a fifth-round pick in a swindle of epic proportion. Vinson suffered a torn ACL that June, sat out the season and then reinjured it in 2001. He went to training camp with Carolina in 2002 and was cut, ending his career.
Quote to Note
NFC personnel man: “It’s amazing the players Ohio State has. He (coach Urban Meyer) keeps filling these guys in. You got two starting corners in the National Football League coming out and Malik Hooker, the safety. That guy knows how to recruit.”