There are plenty of teams in dire need of corner help. Luckily, this is the draft for them. Even with two very talented corners suffering injuries in March, there is still a ton of quality depth at the position. Continuing the theme of breaking it down into different roles like the previous two:
For corners, we'll talk press, off, ball skills, athlete, slot, and overall.
Some traits that I've noticed from the best of the best press man corners are they are obnoxiously patient at the line of scrimmage. If only for a half-second to a second more so than most. But that's all it takes. "Dead feet" is a term that's thrown out a lot. Not falling for the initial move while the receiver is tap dancing at the line of scrimmage. Getting a hand on so you're able to stay in phase throughout the route and either get to the receiver’s hip or upfield shoulder.
Where the confusion comes with press man is that it's not all about physicality at the line. Plenty of teams ask their corners to play "mirror man." Two of the best that come to mind are Denver's Chris Harris or Jason Verrett of the Chargers. They'll never lay a finger on you at the line but they will essentially be your shadow and often run your route for you. Patience. Balance. Quickness. Recovery speed. Top traits that matter here.
**Sidney Jones of Washington and Fabian Moreau of UCLA would be on this list if not for injuries
5) Jourdan Lewis
4) Gareon Conley, Ohio State
3) Ahkello Witherspoon, Colorado
2) Cordrea Tankersley, Clemson
1) Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State
Lewis is a feisty little guy. More of the mirror type but he has the quickness and footwork to cut you off at the line of scrimmage. He blanketed a solid receiver from Penn State in Chris Godwin.
Conley had games this last year where he was the best corner on the team. Conley has tremendous balance and patience at the line of scrimmage. His main issue is dealing with in-breaking routes. When he has to turn to the sideline he's as good as it gets.
If I were making a list of "best corners under 10 yards, Witherspoon would be right at the top. He's a long lanky corner that uses his length at the line but also shows impressive footwork. He has surprisingly good change of direction and he can take away any 3-step route you can think of.
Tankersley is my guy. He'll probably go in the 3rd or 4th round. That's fine. From a technique standpoint, at the line of scrimmage, he's the best in the class. He is remarkable at getting a hand on the receiver and riding them down the sideline. His games against Louisville and North Carolina State were two of the best games this year at the position this year.
What Lattimore lacks in technique he makes up for in his ability to recover. It's special. When he looks like he's beat, the QB throws it, and boom, he's right there. Lattimore ran a 4.36 but trusts himself. So his patience and balance let allow him to stay in phase, then his recovery speed lets him beat receivers to the punch.
All eyes on me
One of the biggest areas where I think "we" overrate the position is "zone corners." There's just not that much value. Let's take the Philadelphia Eagles. Jim Schwartz runs quite a bit of "Cover 6" which is where one side of the field is playing cover 2, and the corner and safety to the opposite side is playing Cover 2. That's what you run when you're either trying to trap the QB into throwing an underneath route or you're trying to hide a corner you don't want to cover.
Off ball corners have value. You can still run plenty of coverage schemes without being up in the receivers face. Awareness and recognition are super important here. Sometimes it can be as simple as knowing that if a route is leaving your area, you can expect one to come back. It can be 3rd & 9 and you are sitting at the sticks just squatting on routes. Being able to "see ball see man" makes off coverage tough to conquer. Reaction time is a big deal here as well.
5) Corn Elder, Miami
4) Adoree Jackson, USC
3) Desmond King, Iowa
2) Teez Tabor, Florida
1) Damontae Kazee, San Diego State
Most of these guys it's the same thing. They're better going forwards than backward. That's the case with King and Elder, at least. Elder played a bit of zone and thrived in that role. King lacks the athleticism coveted for the position but his recognition is outstanding.
Jackson might not have the instincts as the duo above but he's a lot more aggressive than his size would suggest and can cover ground going in all different directions. He was able to get into several throwing lanes due to his speed.
Tabor disappointed at the combine but his skills when he's off the ball are terrific. Whether it's baiting or breaking, Tabor has great reaction skills. It shows up on underneath throws or against the run. His aggressiveness is a double edged sword but if he's able to sit on routes, he'll make you happy.
Kazee is probably the best off ball cover corner in the draft. He has plenty of experience at it because it seems like that's all he played. You'll notice most of these guys are good run defenders and Kazee is no different. I thought he did a good job of "feathering" route combinations. So playing in between a curl and a go route. Where Kazee really makes his mark is reading the QB. He just doesn't get fooled. Throw in his top tier anticipation and that's why he's here.
Picture me rollin'
This is what separates an Aqib Talib from being a Sean Smith. This is why you bet on a Casey Hayward and not a Logan Ryan. Corners that can find the ball are already a step ahead. The ones that can high point it and finish will play a long time in this league. The ones that can "drive through" the receivers and take the ball away have a special place in my heart. Here are the 5 best players with ball skills.
**Jones would be very high on this list
4) Quincy Wilson, Florida
1) Kevin King, Washington
Lewis does a very good job of finding the ball and playing it in the air. A tad worried about him getting out-muscled at the next level but that's pure projection.
Wilson won't have any issue getting out-muscled. He has great ball skills and has some acrobatic plays to show for it. He wasn't targeted as often as the other corners mentioned but took full advantage when he was.
Desmond King, like Lewis, has too much on ball production to not mention him. Good at finding and judging the flight of the ball. He has come down with some wild plays you wouldn't expect a player his size to make.
Lattimore had an insane ratio of targets to passes broken up. Lattimore was targeted 35 times last year and go his hands on 14 of those. He has the length when he's going side to side to break it up and the vertical explosion to go up and get it.
Speaking of, King is out here playing on a trampoline. There is a seam route he jumps early in the game against Cal where his butt is on the receiver's shoulder. Seriously. Later that game he had an Antonio Cromartie vs Peyton Manning type interception." It's not just athleticism, though. He has a great feel for when to get his head around as well.
I ain't mad at cha
The NFL tends to fall in love with these raw athletes that are big and fast but have a ways to go as far as coverage. Few pan out. Others get a long leash because of their skill-set. Either way, here are the best athletes at the position.
2) Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
1) Kevin King
Most of these are self-explanatory. Humphrey shows up for the first time. His ability to recover is second to Lattimore in this draft. He can really run. But he also can go side-to-side as well without losing speed. Humphrey is a ridiculous athlete.
For whatever reason, we throw guys in the slot because he's slower. Um, that's not how it works. Why would you put a slower corner in the slot when they have a two-way go? Slot corners need to be tough, aggressive, good tacklers, smart, and high-end change of direction.
5) Cameron Suttion, Tennesee
4) Desmond King
3) Tre'Davious White, LSU
1) Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado
Sutton is a good fit for the slot due to his aggressiveness and ability to break with receivers. He's very quick and it shows on quick breaking routes.
If King had any kind of burst he'd be higher on the list.
White is a new name. He's not exceptional at anything. But he doesn't make mistakes. He's good at reading routes as well as using his length to make plays on the ball. He has some of the best balance in the class.
Lewis will be able to beat receivers to the spot and carve out a nice role in the NFL here.
Awuzie pops up for the first time. If you were molding a perfect slot corner this would be it. Awuzie can play the underneath zone as well as anyone. For a 6'0" 200 pound corner he is impressively quick. Colorado blitzed him quite a bit and asked him to just play the run more than most and he was excellent at this. Playing with a turf toe he was clearly hampered as he tested quite well at the combine. Awuzie will be one of the better slot corners in no time, if healthy.
These rankings have been fluid for me throughout the process. But this is where I stand with my top corner rankings
10) Damontaee Kazee
9) Quincy Wilson
8) Kevin King
7) Tre'Davious White
6) Chidobe Awuzie
5) Jourdan Lewis
4) Ahkello Witherspoon
3) Gareon Conley
2) Cordrea Tankersley
1) Marshon Lattimore
**Jones and Moreau would be top 5 if not injured
I value guys that can win early. Guys that can run. Guys that can win when the ball is in the air. Humphrey is a mess early and late, so he doesn't make the cut. Desmond King can't run, even though there's a lot to like. Adoree gets beat like a drum every game. I'm taking a player that's actually good at his position like Kazee over betting on Jackson's athleticism.
Lattimore is the lone corner I feel can be special right away. Witherspoon and King have the traits but might take time due to where they lack at. Witherspoon is down the field whereas King is at the line. Conley and Tankersley should be high-end number 2's.