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Ranking the top 10 cornerbacks in the draft

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This is a lot more than that

Georgia v South Carolina Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages

We have reached the portion of the draft where it’s time for some rankings. Earlier, we gave you six options at cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers. Now it’s time for some rankings. This isn’t your traditional “top 10” list. We’ll break it down a little bit. I’ve watched roughly 20-ish corners in this draft class. Let’s start with the best corners in the draft at the line.

Confrontational corners

It’s easy to fall for the corners that are physically imposing. The ones that will get in your face and erase you at the line of scrimmage. These are the three best corners at the line of scrimmage.

3-Joejuan Williams, Vanderbilt

Williams is one of the taller corners measuring over 6’3”. His performance against the Ole Miss wide receivers was impressive. Against A.J. Brown in particular. That game really highlighted Williams ability to be disruptive at the line of scrimmage. Love his physicality and patience.

2-Sean Bunting, Central Michigan

Bunting wants to fight you at the line of scrimmage. He’s so impressive. He can get a little too physical, but there’s nothing wrong with that. You want a guy with confidence that plays aggressive. No CB did a better job of using the sideline as his help like Bunting did. Plenty of occasions where he would ride the WR out of bounds, too.

1-Jamel Dean, Auburn

I haven’t seen a corner reroute receivers the way Dean has in a few years. Dean is an obvious athlete. He is also technically sound. His patience, strength, and length make it very difficult for receivers to get off of the line of scrimmage against Dean.

Sleeper

David Long, Michigan

Overrated

Isaiah Johnson, Houston

Off coverage

This is night and day from playing up in someone’s face. When you play off coverage, you really have to trust what you see. Usually the players that excel in off coverage have a high football IQ and are very good at transitioning in and out of their cuts. Here’s the top three:

3-Julian Love, Notre Dame

Love is one of the better zone corners in the draft. There are no wasted movements in Love’s footwork and because of that he is able to get to passes that he probably shouldn’t even be contesting. Smooth, fluid, smart. That’s love.

2-Nik Needham, UTEP

Needham is a stud. He’ll get labeled “raw” often, but I disagree. Needham has the athleticism that allows him to sit on routes, and it shows. He’s confident, but he’s aware. You will see him contest plenty of underneath throws. You’ll also see him “sink” into coverage when playing an underneath zone and get into throwing lanes. There’s a lot to like about Needham.

1-Byron Murphy, Washington

A lot of times when a corner is playing off coverage, you’ll see them bail out of there to maintain the cushion between them and the receiver. They shouldn’t be doing that. Murphy doesn’t. Murphy is as good as it gets in zone coverage. You see him passing off receivers and showing a very good understanding of the routes in front of him. Murphy is very comfortable playing off coverage.

Sleeper-Greedy Williams, LSU

Super Sleeper-Duke Shelley

Instincts/Route Recognition

You can tell which players know what they are doing. If you are in zone, and are chasing routes all over the place, you’re probably a developmental guy. A guy like Murphy can sniff out a combo pattern in a blink of an eye. That’s when you can tell they know what they’re doing and more importantly, are trusting what they see. Even playing at 80% last year, Richard Sherman was effective because he understood route concepts. Here are the top five for me in this category:

5. Amani Oruwariye, Penn State

4. Julian Love

3. Jamel Dean

2. David Long, Michigan

1. Byron Murphy

Takeaways!

Turnovers matter. So does ball production. These are the five players that have the best ball skills.

5. Rock Ya-Sin, Temple

4. Oruwariye

3. Murphy

2. Baker

1. Greedy Williams

It’s a really good class for ball skills. There are plenty of players that are very good in this category. I could’ve easily put Dean, Love, Justin Layne, or Joejuan Williams in here. Greedy is on another level. It may not have showed in 2018, but some of the plays he made over the course of his career were next-level. Whether it’s adjusting to a ball late, or torquing your body to get to a pass. If Greedy is an All-Pro, it’ll be because of his takeaways.

Recovery

You are going to get beat in the NFL. That’s going to happen. One of the most important traits for a corner is their ability to recover. Can they close in a hurry? There are some very good athletes in this draft at corner. Here are the top five when it comes to “click and closing” on a play, or show off their recovery speed.

5. Murphy

Murphy is good at just about everything.

4. Baker

Baker doesn’t have great top end speed, but he has some suddenness to him that allows the former Bulldog to put himself back in position.

3. Kendall Sheffield, Ohio State

2. Dean

1. Needham

These last three are all speedsters. It’s no surprise to see them here as even when the receiver has a step on them, they’re able to close in a hurry.

Wouldn’t touch

Before I get into the final rankings, there are some players in this draft that I wouldn’t touch. Let them be someone else’s problem. Whether it is technique, route recognition, or speed, these are the three that I wouldn’t want any part of.

  • Trayvon Mullen, Clemson
  • Justin Layne, Michigan State
  • Isaiah Johnson, Houston

So much projection with the last two. Both are inconsistent at best. Against the more nuanced receivers, they look lost. With Mullen, he’s getting a Clemson bump. Mullen gets beat far too much for me. You don’t see him confident in what he’s asked to do. There are change of direction and technique issues with all of these three. That’s tough to teach. For that, I’m out.

Rank ‘em

Okay. We’ve made it. Here are my top 10 corners in the draft with a brief reason why. From who I watched, these are the guys I’d feel comfortable taking in the third round or higher.

10- Amani Oruwariye, Penn State-Late 3rd

Oruwariye is a late bloomer with limited starting experience and that shows in his technique. The athleticism, ball skills, and route recognition are there, though. That’s a good foundation.

9- Joejuan Williams, Vanderbilt-Mid 3rd

I really want to love Williams, but him running a 4.64 40-yard dash is a concern and it does show up when you watch him. Can shut you down at the line and change directions with you, but you’ll probably run by him or make a contested catch.

8- Deandre Baker, Georgia-Early 3rd

Baker is good, but I never got the feeling he was good enough. I do like the way he competes and plays the ball in the air. He can also close. The issue is he’ll have to do that often with his transition issues.

7- Julian Love, Notre Dame-Early 3rd

Probably the best zone corner in the draft. Love has terrific instincts and fluidity. He is a “mouse” and that might limit him to playing inside. Love is a sound football player.

6- David Long, Michigan-Early 2nd

Long is a ridiculous athlete that also has very good route recognition. Receivers just didn’t catch the ball against him. Long gave up 18 catches his entire career. Long can excel both inside and outside. He’s better in your face than he is off. He’s just a nuisance.

5- Greedy Williams, LSU-Early 2nd

Greedy is tough because in 2017 he was much better. Amazing ball skills will allow him to get away with a lot. Williams is also good at just about everything, but something is lacking with him. At the top of routes you’ll see the receiver gain separation. The little things with Williams need improvement.

4- Sean Bunting, Central Michigan-Early 2nd

If Bunting played at a bigger school, this wouldn’t come as a shock. Maybe the most physical corner in the draft. Bunting thrives in press man, but can stay in phase with the receiver throughout the entire route. These are the type of athletes you bet on.

3- Nik Needham, UTEP

Like Bunting, the only thing Needham is missing is exposure. A high-end athlete that gets from point A to point B faster than any CB in the draft. Needham can play.

2- Byron Murphy, Washington -

Good. At. Everything. Murphy has a lot of Honey Badger to his game. His ceiling is capped due to not the size/length. That will show up when Murphy is asked to press.

1- Jamel Dean, Auburn-Mid 1st

In my mind, this isn’t a hot take. To you, it probably is. So here it is.

Dean is the closest thing I’ve seen to Jalen Ramsey since Jalen Ramsey.

The only thing he’s missing is Ramsey’s health. Dean is superb. As the primary defender, no CB in the draft had a better “deserved catch percentage” than Dean. He was third in passer rating, and sixth in man coverage snap leaders, per the SIS handbook. Dean is a physical specimen that is much more than an athlete. Smart football player that is going to make some team very happy.

I know this isn’t going to be anywhere near what the consensus is, but these are my thoughts from watching the cornerback class. Now, it’s your turn.