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2017 NFL Draft position rankings: Top 5 cornerbacks before the NFL Combine

Today, we take a look at some of the top cornerbacks in the 2017 NFL Draft, heading into the 2017 NFL Combine.

Today we will be focusing on the Cornerback position. While the 49ers have many pressing needs, cornerback isn't at the top of the priority list. Still, with injuries and other circumstances that can surface, having depth at all the positions is a must and a priority for every team. At the position, the 49ers have some intriguing talent in Rashard Robinson, Tramaine Brock, Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser, and Jimmie Ward. Robinson has a lot of promise and a bright future with the team. Let’s hope he can stay healthy throughout the 2017 season. Brock has one year left on a four year contract. He is scheduled to be a free agent in 2018.

The San Francisco 49ers recently hired Jacksonville Jaguars linebackers coach Robert Saleh as their new defensive coordinator. With new head coach Kyle Shanahan taking on offensive coordinator duties and focusing much of his attention on the offensive side of the ball, it means Saleh will have a lot of responsibility overseeing the defense.

The 49ers can certainly invest some of their projected $80 million in salary cap space at the position. The following is a list of scheduled 2017 free agents at the cornerback position.

Trumaine Johnson (27, Los Angeles Rams)
Brandon Carr (30, Dallas Cowboys)
Sam Shields (29, Green Bay Packers)
Tramon Williams (33, Cleveland Browns)
Prince Amukamara (27, Jacksonville Jaguars
Captain Munnerlyn (28, Minnesota Vikings)
Justin Gilbert (25, Pittsburgh Steelers)
Leodis McKelvin (31, Philadelphia Eagles)
Stephon Gilmore (26, Buffalo Bills)
Morris Claiborne (27, Dallas Cowboys)
D.J. Hayden (26, Oakland Raiders)
Darius Butler (30, Indianapolis Colts)
Corey White (26, Buffalo Bills)
Brandon Boykin (26, Cincinnati Bengals)

Following free agency, everyone's focus will turn to the 2017 NFL Draft, where there will be plenty of intriguing and talented cornerbacks. This is a very deep class, and it is expected many cornerbacks will be selected in the first couple of rounds. Below is my ranking of the top five cornerbacks heading into the 2017 NFL Combine. I have also included some prospects on the outside looking in. Depending on how high the 49ers have cornerback on the priority list, the guys on the outside looking in might actually be the corners the 49ers keep an extra eye on. So be sure to check out those prospects as well.

Thinking of someone not mentioned in the rankings? Please share them in the comments below!

Marshon Lattimore, CB - Ohio State: 6’0 192 lbs. 40 Time: 4.50

2016 Stats: 41 Tackles, 4 Interceptions, 9 Passes Broken Up

An explosive corner, who runs fluidly through his hips both vertically and east-to-west. Lattimore has sudden burst that can keep up with with the fastest receivers, and thanks to the spring in his legs, he can defend against those receivers who have size. He tackles with authority, especially in the open field. His footwork is clean and precise, and his football instincts continue to get better and better each season. Thanks to his dynamic coverage skills Lattimore can be placed anywhere on the field. In the open field, Lattimore wraps-up his opponent when bringing them to the ground. Lattimore is able to slow down receivers and can be disruptive at the line of scrimmage. Has ballhawk abilities, and can follow the quarterback's eyes to see where the pass is heading.

One issue to keep in mind is that Lattimore only has one year of starting experience. Injuries have been a concern as well. Lattimore frequently dealt with hamstring injuries that eventually required surgery causing him to miss an entire season (Freshman Year). Durability will be monitored at the next level. While he was able to boggle up receivers at the line in college, he may find that a bit more difficult at the next level. There will be some growing pains transitioning to the next level, however his blend of speed, physicality, coverage skills, and football instincts are what makes him an explosive plug-and-play day one starter in 2017.

Draft Projection: Top 10 Pick (1st Round)

Marlon Humphrey, CB - Alabama: 6’1”, 198 lbs. 40 Time: 4.48

2016 Stats: 33 Tackles, 2 Tackles for a loss, 2 Interception (1 Pick-6) , 5 Passes broken up.

One of the toughest and physically gifted cornerbacks in the country, Marlon Humphrey is the kind of playmaker who got stronger as the season progressed along. Much like Lattimore, Humphrey has fluid hips which helps create a sudden burst and explosive speed that allows him to go toe-to-toe with the opposition from start to finish. Like many of his Alabama teammates, Humphrey plays with competitive spirit, and a physical brand of football. Never gives up on a play, and plays with relentless aggression. Did a consistent job of forcing a receiver out of bounds and taking them out of the play. Played against strong competition throughout the season, often lining up against the oppositions number one receiver. Humphrey finishes his tackles, and also looks to strip the ball free when the opportunities present itself. Has a great blend of playmaking abilities both on the line, and in intermediate and deep coverage routes. Has “big game” experience as a starter in multiple championship conference games and national title games.

There were multiple instances this season where Humphrey struggled with allowing the receiver to separate himself, which often lead to big-gain receptions of ten yards or more, resulting in moving the chains. At times he can find himself out of position, and because he can be impatient, he looses sight as to where the ball may be heading. While he has shown the ability to defend against all routes, he has been burnt on the deep ball on multiple occasions, and that can be worrisome at the next level against the more speedy receivers, especially on the outside. Still though, Humphrey was perhaps the most physical and lockdown corner in the country, and has the skills package that should transition well to the next level.

Draft Projection: Top 20 Pick (1st Round)

Sidney Jones, CB - Washington: 6’0, 180 lbs. 40 Time: 4.52

2016 Stats: 39 Tackles, 3 Interceptions, 2 Forced Fumbles, 6 Passes Broken Up

One of the most consistent ballhawks and cover defenders in the country. Out of all the corners I have watched and studied this season, Jones was the best corner as far as anticipating where the ball was going, and covering routes from the point of snap to the end of the play. Thanks to his top notch instincts, Jones is able to undercut many routes, often disrupting the receiver and breaking up plays. Often gets his hands on the ball either breaking up the pass or intercepting the pass outright. Has shown the ability play at multiple points all over the field. Has light feet and runs cleanly through his hips. While he is not as physical as Humphrey, Jones still completes his tackles, wrapping around his opponent, bringing them to the ground. Has shown tremendous leadership abilities this past season, and was really able to pick up where All-Pro Marcus Peters left off.

Jones will need to bulk up at the next level. His current frame leaves a little to be desired, and because of that, durability will have to be monitored. Due to his frame and size, Jones showed struggles against the bigger receivers, especially on the outside. Will need to improve his play in run-support. Jones has the skill set and abilities to follow in the footsteps of former teammate Marcus Peters, and if he can add muscle to his frame, he has the potential to be a lockdown starting cornerback at the next level.

Draft Projection: 1st Round

Adoree’ Jackson, CB - USC: 5’11”, 185 lbs. 40 Time: 4.42

2016 Stats: 55 Tackles, 5 Interceptions, 11 Passes Broken Up

The Jim Thorpe Award (Top Defensive Back) winner had himself another successful and effective season for the Trojans of USC. An elite athlete, Jackson has continued to improve and strengthen his coverage skills. Runs fluidly through his hips and his feet are light off the line, which help him generate a burst of speed to stay toe-to-toe with receivers in one-to-one matchups. Makes clean tackles, bringing the opposition to the ground quickly. Has made improvements in run-support, and has shown tremendous football instincts. Has the ability to read the quarterback’s eyes and anticipate where the ball is going.

While we are discussing him as a cornerback, his overall package as a kick and punt returner make him extremely valuable to any team that selects him in April. He has eight career returns for touchdowns, and can be explosive in open space. Thanks to his abilities on special teams, Jackson can be utilized by his next team in multiple ways, which only adds more value to his already impressive resume as a defensive back. There is some height and frame concern as Jackson will need to add some muscle weight. It may be a difficult transition at the next level for Jackson defending on the outside. I wouldn't be surprised if he is assigned specifically to slot coverage. The good news is that he will be able to compete for that starting role immediately. There is a lot to like about Jackson, who’s stock continues to rise. For now I am going to say he’s an early day two selection, however don't be surprised if he ends up in the first round by the time the draft arrives.

Draft Projection: 2nd Round (Arrow is pointing up)

Jalen “Teez” Tabor, CB - Florida: 6’0, 191 lbs. 40 Time: 4.49

2016 Stats: 33 Tackles, 4 Interceptions, 6 Passes Broken Up

Tabor’s blend of speed and athleticism made him one of the best cover corners in the country this past season. His light and quick feet help him stay with his opponent on the intermediate and deep coverage routes. Thanks to the spring in his legs he is willing to constantly match receivers for jump-balls. Has the ability to quickly change direction and get himself in position to make a play on the ball. Uses his hands effectively in coverage. Was a hard hitting corner in the SEC and nation since the beginning of his career with the Gators. He hits with the mentality of trying to knock the ball out of the receivers hands. His closing burst can put him with many of the top receivers he was up against this season, and a skill that should translate smoothly to the next level. Tabor has struggled in open space with tackling. He can find himself out of position, which at times causes inaccurate footwork. Struggled with matching intensity against some of the more physical receivers in one-to-one matchups. Has had character issues off the field, including being suspended for drug offenses, as well as an altercation with a teammate. However if Tabor can clean up his act and maturity, he has the skills set and ability to become a starter at the next level.

Draft Projection: 2nd Round

Outside Looking In:

TreDavious White, CB - LSU: 5’11”, 191 lbs. 40 Time: 4.53

2016 Stats: 35 Tackles, 2 Interceptions, 14 passes broken up.
Draft Projection: 2nd Round

Quincy Wilson, CB - Florida: 6’1”, 213 lbs. 40 Time: 4.50

2016 Stats: 33 Tackles, 3 Interceptions, 6 Passes broken up
Draft Projection: 2nd Round

Gareon Conley, CB - Ohio State: 6’0”, 195 lbs. 40 Time: 4.55

2016 Stats: 26 Tackles, 4 Interceptions, 8 Passes Broken up
Draft Projection: 2nd-3rd Round

Desmond King, CB - Iowa: 5’10”, 206 lbs. 40 Time: 4.54

2016 Stats: 58 Tackles, 3 Interceptions, 7 Passes broken up
Draft Projection: 2nd-3rd Round

Jourdan Lewis, CB - Michigan: 5’10”, 188 lbs. 40 Time: 4.52

2016 Stats: 25 Tackles, 2 Interceptions, 11 Passes Broken up
Draft Projection: 2nd-3rd Round