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2021 NFL Draft: Cornerbacks

There will be many names to consider and the Rams might need to take one

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 04 UCF at Cincinnati Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams may have the best situation at cornerback of any team in the NFC West, if not the entire NFL. Not many teams can boast a 26-year-old Defensive Player of the Year candidate at one outside position, and a top-rated number two corner opposite of him. As ESPN’s Seth Walder tweeted on Thursday, the stats show that no duo was more dangerous in 2020 than Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams:

However, that doesn’t mean that the Rams can rest and relax at the position entirely. In fact, given the likelihood that Williams will not return after 2021 (he is a restricted free agent this year and it seems like it would be difficult, if not unwise for the team to extend him given other needs) and the well known Les Snead strategy to draft replacements a year early, it would not be surprising to see the Rams pick a corner on day two.

With Troy Hill probable to leave in free agency this month, LA may even need to consider what options they could find in a draft who would be able to help replace the ~1,000 defensive snaps that he’ll be taking with him when he departs.

If there’s no Hill in 2021 and no Will in 2022, then what will the Rams be left with after Ramsey? David Long, Jr., a 2019 third round pick who has yet to help us understand what Sean McVay’s long-term plan with him is meant to be. Long was healthy all of last season, but only played in 116 defensive snaps.

One other added bonus of selecting a cornerback on day two is that if the Rams find a gem, it will be one less corner going to the Seahawks, 49ers, or Cardinals, all of whom have critical needs at the position right now.

I have previously done a round-up on this year’s class of quarterbacks and inside linebackers, and in all cases, THIS IS NOT A RANKING. It is also not a suggestion of what the Rams should do. The following is information and I trust you readers to know what to do with it as you approach the next six weeks of speculation leading up to the draft.

The Rams hold picks 57, 101, and 104 on day two, as well as picks in rounds six and seven. It is possible that LA traded one of their comp picks to the Lions, which would mean that the Rams actually have pick 88 in the third round and not one of those two comp picks, but this has not been confirmed yet.

First Round Range, The Top-3

Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech

6-2, 207 lbs

The top corner appears to be Farley or the next guy. It begins to get murky after that. Remember last year, Jeffrey Okudah was the consensus number one corner the whole way, but then C.J. Henderson snuck into the top-10 when few predicted that to happen.

NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has compared Farley to Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith:

Biggest takeaway: Farley is one of the better big cornerbacks I’ve evaluated over the last few years. The NFL has turned into a man coverage league, and he possesses the ability to go nose to nose (one of my podcast partner’s favorite phrases) with the bigger, more physical wideouts. He wasn’t asked to play inside or travel (he played solely on the left side), but I believe he has the tools to move around at the next level. Every NFL team is trying to find players with his size and skill set.

He reminds me of: I see a lot of similarities to Jimmy Smith when he was coming out of Colorado. Both guys are big, physical and instinctive. They’re at their best in press coverage, and they can mirror and match all over the field. Smith was a more fluid mover, but I think Farley is more consistent and reliable. When healthy, Smith has been one of the premier players at his position, and I see a similar trajectory for Farley.

I’ll include some quotes from the PFF cornerback rankings, so all quotes by PFF will be from that article unless otherwise noted.

Farley has the combo that every team is looking for. From size to speed to length to ball skills, he has already displayed it all. His tape shows a player who could make up any cushion down the field. Unsurprisingly, he’s reported to run in the 4.3s, which shows on tape repeatedly.

But he’s not solely an athlete playing corner. Farley has legit instincts for the position. While he’s been known to get caught with his eyes in the backfield, he has some amazing breaks from off-coverage on his tape.

Patrick Surtain II, Alabama

6-2, 202 lbs

We know that the NFL is copycat league, and what is more “copycat” than copying a copy of a copy? What I mean to say is that Antoine Winfield, Jr. was pivotal in helping the Bucs win the Super Bowl and he was a copy of his dad. Well, not a carbon copy, but you know what I mean.

The draft has three of those types of guys at the top of the corner class, including Surtain 2.

From PFF:

Surtain is about as polished a college cornerback as you’ll see in press-man coverage. It is of very little surprise, given who his father is. His 277 snaps in press-man coverage over the past two seasons are more than anyone else in the draft class. His ability to maintain contact along the route without grabbing or being overtly physical is something many top-flight NFL corners haven’t even mastered.

Jaycee Horn, South Carolina

6-1, 205 lbs

The son of Joe Horn, who didn’t play cornerback, but who did get a close look at many of the greats from 1996-2007. Some people are projecting Horn for the middle of the first round, while CBS didn’t rank him in the top-30 overall.

From PFF:

Horn is an absolute animal at the cornerback position. He plays every snap like the man across from him personally offended him. It’s why you see reps, like the one below, of him demolishing guys fairly regularly.

That is the mindset you want from a press corner. His 240 snaps in press-man coverage over the past two seasons are second-most in the draft class.

First Round Range, The Next Tier

Asante Samuel, Jr, Florida State

5-10, 184 lbs

Please pump any brakes you may have on saying, “Wait, no, no, no, (this player) IS a top-three corner in the class!!!” Your opinion is valid. This article is not even a ranking. Good luck finding a consensus on the top-three or the top-10, not just for cornerbacks, but for any position this year. Evaluations are all over the map. I’m not ranking cornerbacks here. I’m just doing my best to aggregate the order at other sites and to start putting these names in your brain and then we’ll see how the order unfolds between now and the end of the draft.

Samuel is the third player on this list already to have a father who played in the NFL relatively recently. If he were drafted by the Falcons, he would be teammates with Matt Ryan, just like his dad was from 2012-2013.

From PFF:

Samuel doesn’t have the size or the length most look for from an outside corner, but he’s got pretty much everything else. He may be the single most gifted mover in the cornerback class when you consider speed, burst, agility, change-of-direction ability and leaping ability. He could be described as “plus” in all of those categories.

He undoubtedly got his instincts from his old man as well, as he produced three picks and five pass breakups in eight games this season. What he didn’t get was the elder’s tackling aversion — the Florida State prospect will come up and lay a lick if asked to.

He’ll be a perfect fit in zone-heavy schemes or in the slot with the skill set he brings to the table.

Tyson Campbell, Georgia

6-2, 185 lbs

Campbell seems to be settling in as a borderline first round cornerback. He was the number two cornerback recruit in the nation in 2018, after Surtain. This despite the fact that his dad isn’t Jason Campbell or any former pro football player.

From PFF:

Campbell is still far more unrealized athletic potential than he is polished product at cornerback. The Georgia cornerback has been starting ever since his true freshman year for the Bulldogs and came to campus heralded for his blazing speed. He was going stride for stride with Auburn’s Anthony Schwartz — the fastest man in college football — back on the camp circuit.

Greg Newsome II, Northwestern

6-1, 190 lbs

Following a 4.38 40-yard dash and a 40” vertical leap at his pro day on Wednesday, Newsome could end up in the first round.

From PFF:

Newsome is a super-long and super-smooth cornerback who makes the not-so-easy look easy. His hip-flipping ability is truly second to none in the draft class. It’s that ability to alter course on a dime that led to him allowing only 12 catches from 34 targets for 93 yards in six games this season.

While we’d have loved to have seen more of Newsome against top competition — he left midway through the Ohio State game this year — we saw enough to know he has the movement skills to be a top-flight corner.

Feels More Like Day Two

Tay Gowan, UCF

6-2, 185 lbs

Want to see what I mean about there not being any consensus? PFF has Gowan as their number six corner in the draft but some outlets don’t even have him in the top 30! Like many of you, I’ve been following the draft closely for 20 years, and I’ve never seen draft opinions vary as wildly as this with less than two months to go until the enchilada. I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I think some monumental shocking moments could happen on days one and two.

Gowan seems to fall into the category, like many prospects this year, of being relatively unknown and highly intriguing.

From PFF:

Gowan was certainly a surprise opt-out, given that he only had one year of FBS football on his resume. For us, though, that one year was good enough to justify this slot. Listed at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, Gowan is one of the fastest cornerbacks in the country. In 2019, he was going step for step with Stanford’s Simi Fehoko, who has been timed in the 4.3s. That speed is a big reason why he only allowed one 25-plus-yard catch all season. Playing a good deal of press coverage, Gowan only allowed 20 catches from 50 targets for 274 yards.

From InsideTheIggles:

I am not sure why this is but Tay Gowan may be the most underrated defender in the draft right now. He has gone under the radar for whatever reason, and you see this type of stuff happen every year. But, I will tell you this. If he’s sitting there in the second round of the draft the Philadelphia Eagles better sprint to the podium.

Aaron Robinson, UCF

5-11, 193 lbs

The Draft Network mocked Robinson to the Rams last month.

A 4-star recruit that originally committed to Alabama, Aaron Robinson transferred to UCF and became the featured slot cornerback in 2019 and 2020 for the Knights. While he has some experience playing out wide, his best fit at the next level is likely in the slot. Robinson is a versatile defender that can function in both man and zone coverage and he will make the run defense better with his ability to fill and defend the D-gap. Overall, he’s a physical player with quick feet and sufficient athleticism

From PFF:

Robinson has 15 pass breakups over the past two seasons. And while he played primarily in the slot, the skill set and role he showed were akin to that of an outside corner. He played 323 snaps in press over that span and allowed a completion percentage of 56.3%.

Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse

6-3, 213 lbs

Melifonwu’s brother Obi was a combine superstar in 2017 but quickly flamed out of the NFL (he’s a practice squad player, now on the 49ers 90-man roster) because he had never been an on-field superstar. There seem to be some similarities in that regard, but that doesn’t mean that Melifonwu can’t develop just because his older brother didn’t.

From SI:

Melifonwu has the kind of size and length to leave scouts in awe of his physical potential. He used that effect well in his final year for the Orange, being ranked by Pro Football Focus as the 26th best cornerback in the country last season.

Melifonwu’s length gives him a lot of room for error when he’s in coverage, as he can easily alter a receiver’s catch point. He doesn’t lack for explosiveness either, even for a corner of his size. Melifonwu is capable of going stride for stride with receivers, and scouts also note that he’s very fluid in his hips, which makes him able to have smooth transitions.

When it comes to flaws, maybe the most surprising is that scouts haven’t seen Melifonwu use his size as a way to bully wideouts. They note he often gets by on his athletic gifts, and that whatever team that takes Melifonwu would need to coach that physical mentality into him.

Thomas Graham, Oregon

5-10, 193 lbs

Graham has had a meeting with the Rams already.

From PFF:

Graham opted out of the 2020 season after three straight years as a starter for the Ducks. His tape was already good enough that it was surprising he returned to school in the first place. Graham earned coverage grades of 79.8 and 82.9 in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Without much in the way of high-end traits, it was unlikely to see him push his draft stock much higher anyway.

Eric Stokes, Georgia

6-1, 185 lbs

There is no combine this year and unfortunately that means that we have to rely on a lot of unofficial pro day times. In his case, Stokes ran an unofficial 4.25 in the 40-yard dash. Is it real? Will it translate to high-quality NFL play? In any case, Stokes might be the fastest player in the draft.

From PFF:

Stokes started his Georgia career like a house on fire, allowing only 10 receptions from 25 targets for 113 yards as a freshman back in 2018. He failed to replicate that dominance over the next couple of years but was still productive, earning coverage grades of 78.5 and 73.4.

Elijah Molden, Washington

5-10, 190

From WalterFootball:

Under Jimmy Lake and Chris Petersen, Washington has produced a lot of quality defensive backs prospects for the NFL, and Molden will carry that tradition on in the 2021 NFL Draft. Lake was a former defensive backs coach with Tampa Bay, and the Huskies’ defensive back prospects have been a very polished and well-rounded players. That grooming has Molden looking like an early contributor at the next level.

Molden had an impressive 2019 season, showing good ball production and a willingness to tackle. In limited action, he played well in the shortened 2020 season. Some team sources don’t think Molden can play corner in the NFL and should move to safety and could be a safety similar to Ricardo Allen.

Kelvin Joseph, Kentucky

6-1, 197 lbs

The SEC leader in interceptions: Kentucky's Kelvin Joseph

Kelvin Joseph will take THAT The Kentucky Football DB leads the SEC with four interceptions this season!

Posted by SEC Network on Friday, December 11, 2020

From WalterFootball:

Joseph flashed an excellent skill set for Kentucky with size, speed and athleticism. His play did not match up with his talent, however, as he was extremely inconsistent, allowing him to get burned at times. Joseph was torched by Florida, especially tight end Kyle Pitts, and Joseph’s giving up big plays led to him getting benched at one point. Joseph has a ton of physical talent, but he is going to need a lot of coaching on technique for the NFL.

Paulson Adebo, Stanford

6-1, 192 lbs

From ProFootballNetwork:

After his 2018 season, Stanford cornerback Paulson Adebo was penciled in as a first-round NFL Draft prospect. Now, however, after a down 2019 campaign and an opt-out in 2020, Adebo’s stock is in limbo. It’s been a while since Adebo has played quality football, and many have forgotten the kind of upside he provides.

Three-year starter at Stanford who decided to opt-out last season. Performed brilliantly as a redshirt freshman, leading the nation with 24 pass breakups. Tall, long corner who flashed the ability to shut down opponents in the past. Physical, battles opponents and beats down receivers to defend the throw. Uses his size as an advantage, effectively times his pass defenses, and possesses a closing burst. Quick to read and anticipate, displays good recognition in zone, and has a nice move to the throw. Gives effort defending the run and wraps up tackling.

Slow getting his head back around and struggles making plays with his back to the ball. Deep speed is suspect. Struggled at times early in 2019 and was pummeled by Gabe Davis of Central Florida.

Marco Wilson, Florida

6-1, 191 lbs

I’m sure that Wilson doesn’t want to hear it, but he will be associated with a dumb penalty that may have cost Florida a win over LSU. If he succeeds at the next level though, it won’t be what he’s known for.

Shaun Wade, Ohio State

6-1, 195 lbs

From WalterFootball:

Wade is still developing as an outside corner. Team sources say Wade is big and fast and has upside, but he has a lot of issues in technique that lead to him giving up plays.

Shakur Brown, Michigan State

5-11, 190 lbs

Daniel Jeremiah:

“You watch the tape, then you watch a cut up of his ball production, he’s got some crazy interceptions, man, like really phenomenal ball skills,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said during a conference call on Tuesday. “I think he’s kind of like a fourth-round type nickel that will come off the board.”

Rodarius Williams, Oklahoma State

6, 195 lbs

From WalterFootball:

Sources from multiple teams say Williams play was massively improved in 2020 and think he will be no worse than a second-day pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Williams did produce a huge stat line in 2020, but scouts love the coverage ability he showed in 2020. He probably will go no later than the third round.

Williams has quality size and will enter the NFL with significant experience after playing all four years for the Cowboys. However in his first three years, teams threw at Williams, and his play was that of a late-rounder according to team evaluators. His draft stock could continue to rise.

More Names

Camryn Bynum, Cal

Kary Vincent, Jr., LSU

Ambry Thomas, Michigan

Tre Brown, Oklahoma

Israel Mukuamu, South Carolina

Trill Williams, Syracuse

Chase Lucas, Arizona State

Poll

Day 2 corner?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    Sure
    (47 votes)
  • 31%
    Nah
    (31 votes)
  • 22%
    I guess
    (22 votes)
100 votes total Vote Now